Coronavirus: Rising toll, relaxed rules, and questions on CDC role

Story updated

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the CDC, said Sunday that he would feel “a lot safer’’ if he saw the Atlanta-based public health agency playing a more prominent role in the federal task force against COVID-19.

“The CDC is the nation’s leading protection agency,” Frieden told Fox News. “Fighting this without CDC central to the response has never been done with an infectious disease threat in the U.S. before, and it’s like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.”

Frieden predicted that in certain areas, there will be a surge in the number of health care workers contracting the virus, and that as a result, hospitals’ intensive care units, physicians and nurses could be overwhelmed.


Georgia, as part of a regular report, announced at 7 p.m. Sunday that there were 620 coronavirus cases in the state.


One of the newly tallied cases is state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta), who is also a physician. She’s the second member of the chamber to reveal she has COVID-19. Earlier in the week, state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) confirmed that he had tested positive for the virus, a disclosure that required all his fellow members of the Georgia General Assembly to begin a self-quarantine.

Kirkpatrick told the Marietta Daily Journal that she was still under quarantine and thanked everyone who offered support and prayers. “I appreciate the outpouring of support and prayers from the community. I am on the road to recovery and will continue to quarantine as instructed by [Georgia Department of Public Health],” she said. “Social distancing and staying home if you are sick matters.”

The AJC then reported that state Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta)  said she tested positive Sunday but had suspected she had the disease since suffering from a fever for two days. And state Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) said Sunday that his test, too, came back positive.

The state now has 25 deaths from the disease. At least eight of those deaths have occurred in Albany. Its hospital, Phoebe Putney, has reported six deaths. The hospital has 38 patients with COVID-19, and another 70 individuals in the hospital who are awaiting test results.

“The fact that we are now reserving all three of our main hospital’s ICUs for COVID-19 patients shows the seriousness of the situation in our community,” Dr. Steven Kitchen, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital chief medical officer, said in a statement Sunday.

More than 600 other people in the Albany community are also awaiting results.

Those numbers mark the city as a hot spot for COVID-19. The high total has led the state and the CDC to send a team of epidemiologists to investigate and try to contain the spread of the virus in the area.

A CDC medical officer visited the hospital Saturday. “The CDC medical officer was impressed with our operations and how we are implementing CDC guidance here on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19,’’ said Phoebe CEO Scott Steiner.

Dougherty County

The spread in the southwest Georgia city is linked to two recent, heavily attended funerals in the area.

Dougherty County, according to state figures, has 52 positive COVID-19 cases, fifth in the state behind Fulton’s 111, Cobb’s 67,  Bartow’s 56, and DeKalb’s 53. Gwinnett has 27.

According to a CNN report, Georgia is listed as having the 10th-highest total of COVID-19 cases, with New York having by far the most cases — more than 15,000.

The governors of multiple states and other leaders made urgent pleas Sunday for masks and other protective equipment to help fight the swelling outbreak, imploring the federal government to do more to increase the products’ availability.

Those needs have been voiced by Georgia hospitals, and Gov. Brian Kemp has reported continued efforts to obtain these supplies, which include gloves, gowns, goggles and face shields.

On CNN, Peter Gaynor, the FEMA administrator, said the federal government is focused on places hit hardest: New York, California, Washington state and other areas.

“I can say that there’s hundreds of requests from virtually every state in the union looking for the same exact things,’’ Gaynor said. “And it’s just not the demand nationally, it’s the demand globally, for all these items. And, again, we’re trying to make sure that we focus our efforts to those hot spots that need it the most.’’

‘’And then, if you don’t need it right away, then you’re going to be a little bit farther down the list, but . . . we will get to you.’’

The new coronavirus recorded more firsts in Georgia this weekend, according to the AJC: the first confirmed case of an Atlanta police officer, the first state prison inmates and one of the first known cases in an adolescent, a girl who was fighting for her life Saturday at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, a leading infectious disease expert who practices in Atlanta, called on Gov. Kemp in a Saturday tweet to “shut down’’ the state “to prevent a catastrophe in the health care system.’’

“The point of ‘no return’ for GA is rapidly closing,’’ the del Rio tweet read.

Kemp announcing changes related to COVID-19

Kemp on Friday issued an executive order that allows Georgia pharmacists to dispense a 90-day supply of a prescription medicine when the patient has no remaining refills but the prescribing doctor can’t be reached. Pharmacists are also now permitted to dispense “early’’ refills.

The Department of Community Health, under Kemp’s order, can allow hospitals to expand beds and services to help with the state of emergency over the coronavirus. That would appear to eliminate, at least temporarily, some important certificate-of-need restrictions.

Certificate of need, or CON, is the complex health care regulatory apparatus in Georgia, which governs new health care construction and the kinds of services health facilities can offer.