Soldiers of the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry are working with civilian partners at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion 121st Infantry are working with civilian partners at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center.

At least 524 people have died in Georgia from COVID-19, and more than 26,000 have lost their lives across the U.S. as states grapple with containment of the disease and related economic fallout.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, there are more than 15,000 reported COVID-19 cases in Georgia, and about 20% of those have resulted in hospitalizations. At least 576 people, or 3.77% of those people with confirmed cases, have died.

Here is the latest coronavirus news from Georgia for Tuesday, April 14, 2020.

Death toll tops 500

The Georgia Department of Public Health reports 576 confirmed deaths in Georgia from the coronavirus, but that number is much higher.

At least 84 people have died in Dougherty County, where more than one in every hundred residents has tested positive for COVID-19.

By comparison, 63 reported deaths are in Fulton County, the state’s most populous, where infection rates are eight times lower.

One week ago, there were 438 reported deaths, a month ago there were 8.

More long-term care facilities hit

"Right now, there are at least 80 longterm care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, personal care homes, hospice, and similar community living facilities, with COVID-19 cases," Gov. Brian Kemp said during a news conference Monday. "We’re working to verify new information on additional facilities."

But data released by the state Tuesday show at least 138 facilities have cases, though those numbers are lagging behind reports on the ground.

From the AJC:

Officials on Tuesday released a report on long-term care facilities that was riddled with errors and omissions. The report documented outbreaks in 138 facilities, up from 80 last week. But it made no mention of Summerset Assisted Living in Fulton County, for instance, even though two-thirds of residents and staff there have tested positive for the virus.

The report said at least 89 residents of long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19. But some of the facilities themselves have recorded significantly more deaths than the report captured.

Update from Albany

The Phoebe Health system in Albany reported 80 new test results yesterday, with 72 of them negative for the virus. In total, the hospital has reported 66 deaths, 170 people currently in the hospital and more than 1,800 total positive results.

973 patients have recovered.

“We continue to hear about instances of large gatherings in the community,” CEO Scott Steiner said in a statement. “We can’t stress enough how dangerous ignoring the state’s shelter-in-place order can be. People who do so not only put their own health at risk, but the health of their loved ones. Irresponsible actions make it more likely that we will continue to see waves of COVID patients for some time to come. The Phoebe Family continues to be on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle, but it will take a community effort to win that battle.”

Georgia boosts health care staffing

Jackson Healthcare is bringing close to 600 additional healthcare professionals to hospital systems around the state, Kemp announced Tuesday.


“We are committed to giving our heroic healthcare workers the staffing support necessary to win this fight,” he said. “It has been inspiring to witness the work being done by those on the front lines to combat COVID-19, and I join my fellow Georgians in expressing tremendous gratitude for their service. I want to thank our partners with the Department of Community Health for assisting us in this critical initiative.”

65 of those have already been working in the Phoebe Health system in Albany, with eight more coming soon to the main campus.

Several hundred are also coming to the Phoebe North campus, including one of four temporary medical units being built.

Other units will go to Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Northeast Medical Center in Gainesville, and Navicent Health in Macon.

Georgia Expands COVID-19 Testing Criteria, Hospital Capacity

Kemp said in a Monday press conference Georgia will expand COVID-19 testing sites and revise the criteria for who can get tested as the state enters its second full week under a stay-at-home order.

The governor called Georgia's lag in testing numbers unacceptable.

"Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag," he said. "We need to be firing on all cylinders to prepare for the days and weeks ahead."

As of noon Monday, only 58,000 or so COVID-19 tests had been processed in a state of about 10 million people.

Georgia’s peak will likely be later

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Monday updated its projection to show Georgia's peak hospital use will be May 1 and peak deaths in Georgia will be May 3, with a shortage of ICU beds coming by the end of the week.

But Kemp said across the state, the hospital infrastructure is not yet full, and over the weekend his office announced a 200-bed surge capacity hospital is being constructed at the Georgia World Congress Center.

"As of today, we have 2,617 emergency room beds, 929 critical care beds, and nearly 6,000 general inpatient beds available statewide," he said. "By the end of this week, we hope to provide this bed capacity update daily to the public."

Dearth of data

That new data point about hospital capacity underscores just how little we know about the virus’ spread, who is impacted the most and how different parts of the state are responding.

While some hospitals (like Phoebe Putney in Albany) are proactively forthcoming with statistics on cases and deaths, others have been radio silent.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is missing racial demographic data for about half of the state's 13,300 positive cases, and just recently added graphs and charts about daily case rates. At least 273 of the 524 reported deaths are black Georgians.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state's public health commissioner, said her department was focused on making sure that information proactively comes in during future tests.

"Right now our priority is not retrospective but prospective, ensuring that we proactively test to ensure we get fully filled out demographic information," she said. "I think for our staff to go back and find 4,000 individuals and ask them that information is less valuable now."

Georgia's public health emergency runs through May 13 at the moment, and a belated stay-at-home order goes through April 30.

While the governor would not speculate about future decisions to extend these orders or when to re-open the state, he said there was hope in recent numbers. 

Mask on

Kemp also announced an executive order suspending enforcement of the state's anti-mask law, originally designed to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from gathering in public, as a way to ensure people can comply with public health recommendations to cover their face in public without fear of prosecution.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth face masks for people who have to go out in public.

“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus.  CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”

UPDATED MAP: Track Coronavirus By Population Across Georgia

IRS launches new app for stimulus money

The IRS will launch an app this week for people to connect with and track their stimulus payments from the $2.2 trillion deal signed by President Donald Trump late last month, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said Friday.

The Georgia Department of Labor will also begin distributing federal unemployment funds according to the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security).

A weekly $600 supplement will be sent to any individual eligible for any portion of the Unemployment Compensation programs – state and federal. The GDOL will begin sending this additional payment to those currently receiving state unemployment benefits beginning next week. This supplement will be an additional payment to regular weekly state unemployment benefits and will include all eligible weeks beginning with the week ending April 4.

The supplement amount is contingent upon any deductions required by the state or federal government.

MORE: Georgia Elections Officials Prep for ‘Unprecedented’ Primary As Coronavirus Looms