Camden sees steady drops in virus data

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After a surge of cases in July that reached its peak in early August, Camden has seen lower coronavirus case numbers over the last few weeks and dropped to the yellow zone on the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report published Sunday. While the numbers are looking better across the...

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After a surge of cases in July that reached its peak in early August, Camden has seen lower coronavirus case numbers over the last few weeks and dropped to the yellow zone on the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report published Sunday.

While the numbers are looking better across the state, Georgia still has a case rate that is 1.7 times higher than the national average and the death rate per 100,000 is double the national average, based on numbers from the Aug. 30 White House report and the Georgia Department of Public Health.

For communities in a yellow zone, the White House report recommends that people wear a mask and maintain social distancing, avoid bars and night clubs, reduce public interactions and activities to 50% of their normal activity, limit social gatherings to 25 people or less and only dine-in where social distancing can be maintained inside, outdoors or while picking up food.

Except for a spike in mid-August, Camden’s seven-day rolling average has been trending downward from an Aug. 3 peak of 24.57. As of Wednesday, the rolling average was 8.71 and Camden’s total case count is 1,032 since March, according to data from the Coastal Health District.

“The numbers are definitely trending in the right direction,” health district director Lawton Davis told the Tribune & Georgian. “I firmly believe that the everyday preventive actions our residents are taking, such as wearing masks and hand washing, are making a difference. But this pandemic is far from over. We don’t yet have a vaccine or specific course of treatment. If we let down our guard, the positive trends we’re seeing now could reverse course quickly.”

Camden’s percent positive — another key metric in evaluating community spread — also steadily dropped throughout August. Camden’s percent positive was 11% on July 29 and 5.7% on Aug. 28, according to the health district.

Camden has left the red zone reserved for percentages above 10 and is within reach of the green zone, which is less than 5%. In May, the World Health Organization set a percent positive rate of 5% or lower for at least 14 days as a benchmark for reopening.

Hospitalization numbers have also dropped from a peak in early August but hospital capacity remains high at 96% in Camden and there are nine positive inpatient as of Tuesday. Capacity refers to how many beds are available for anyone who needs advanced care.

Camden is still solidly in the red, though, on the health department’s community transmission index, which “reflects the number of newly confirmed cases in the last 14 days per 100,000 residents,” according to the department’s website. The red or high zone is for communities with more than 110 new cases per 100,000 residents. Orange or moderately high is for 51 to 100 cases. Camden has been in the red since July 6, ranging from a high in early August of 530.4 to a low in early July of 187.3. The index number has been dropping since that high, putting Camden at 289.3 for Aug. 31.

Because of the district’s higher transmission rate, the health department will not be following the CDC’s new guidelines about testing. The CDC had previously recommended that anyone with known exposure should be tested. Last week, the CDC said those who have known exposure but no symptoms don’t necessarily need to be tested, noting that local public health officials should make the final determination.

“The position of the Coastal Health District has not changed. We still recommend a nasal swab test for all asymptomatic people in quarantine on or about the 10th day of the quarantine period,” Davis told board members in an email. “… Given that our primary indicators of ongoing community transmission remain too high, even though improving in most places, we feel that our current recommendations remain the most prudent course of action.”

In addition, people who don’t have any symptoms significantly affect community transmission, especially in younger people, Davis told the board, reiterating a point he has raised throughout the pandemic. At least 40% of COVID-19 cases are completely asymptomatic, according to Davis.

“Therefore, we would like to capture as many of those asymptomatic positive cases as possible, so that we can counsel their close contacts and help limit further community spread,” Davis wrote. “Roughly 95 to 97% of people who will ultimately develop a positive test will do so by the 10th of their quarantine period, so testing on or about the 10th day seems very reasonable to facilitate the diagnosis of most of the asymptomatic cases that will develop following a known exposure.”

The health department has plenty of test kits and will continue to offer free testing to anyone, regardless of symptoms. Drive-thru testing is available by appointment only Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the health department in St. Marys. Testing is also available daily in Brunswick. Appointments can be made online at covid19.gachd.org or by calling (912) 230-9744.

Coronavirus and flu season

As flu season approaches, the health district is encouraging people to get a flu shot and take the same precautions — face masks, hand washing and social distancing — to avoid catching the flu. A severe flu season could strain a healthcare system that is already being tested by COVID-19.

“While we don’t know what kind of impact COVID-19 will have on this year’s flu season, and vice versa, it’s more important than ever that we take all appropriate precautions to prevent spreading respiratory illness,” Davis told the Tribune & Georgian.

Health district staff recommend getting a flu shot in mid-October to early November for two reasons. Immunity only lasts about six to eight months, so getting a shot too early won’t get you through flu season. But it also takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies after getting the shot and flu season usually surges in December or later locally.