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Georgia reaches widespread community transmission of COVID-19

This is the most-critical scenario for infectious disease spread.

ATLANTA —

In a press conference Friday morning, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey announced the state is experiencing widespread community transmission of COVID-19. 

Community transmission is specific category of transmission that public health officials use to describe how a virus is spreading. The CDC said signals that a virus has reached community transmission are “Detection of confirmed cases of COVID-19 with no epidemiologic link to known cases, or more than three generations of local transmission. 

Once a virus reaches this phase of spread, there are different guidelines for how officials should mitigate more spread. The CDC provides a list of two dozen recommendations for public health officials in areas experiencing community transmission. 

Those recommendations include providing guidance on everything from social distancing to mask wear and cleaning practices. The CDC does not, however, recommend mask mandates, a point of contention between local leaders and state officials. Gov. Brian Kemp is suing the City of Atlanta over the mask mandate that go further than his executive order.    

Dr. Toomey advocated for wearing a mask during the press conference multiple times.

“It’s critical that we take personal responsibility and practice social distancing, wash our hand frequently and wear a mask when out in the community. Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of this virus,” she said. 

“Wearing a mask prevents an infected person from spreading COVID-19 to others and is the best protection we have. It’s better when we’re all wearing masks.” 

Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb Counties account for nearly 26 percent of new cases in the state over the last two weeks, Toomey said. 

Cases, tests, hospitalizations and deaths are all rising in Georgia. Dr. Toomey said the positive test rate is now 13.6 percent. That's far from the 5 percent positive test rate the World Health Organization said communities need before returning back to "normal." 

She said Georgia currently has 1,300 contact tracers and needs to hire more to get to a total of 2,000. Toomey urged people to engage with the tracers when they call. 

“When we reach out to you about contact tracing, answer the call. Work with us,” she said. 

Dr. Toomey also highlighted a lag in test results that 11Alive viewers have been concerned about for weeks. She said the state is processing 14,000 tests daily but that results can lag by 14 days.  

“That delay is unacceptable,” she said 

Toomey attributed a delay in results to commercial labs, “we also recognize that the lab capacity needs to be improved,” she said. 

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