Rabun COVID-19 rate is among lowest in state

  • Photo Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    Photo Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CLAYTON—Based on population, Rabun County has the lowest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases of any surrounding Georgia county, and one of the lowest rates in the state, according to the most recent report issued by the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) this week.

Rabun County has had one death attributed to COVID-19—a 68-year old female with an underlying chronic health condition—as of Wednesday morning, according to GDPH.

Rabun has a confirmed case rate—the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people for each county—of 77.

Confirmed case rates for nearby Georgia counties include: Towns 166 (one death), White 261 (one death), Habersham 790 (11 deaths), Stephens 326 (one death), Union 126 (one death), Lumpkin 204 (one death) and Franklin 99 (one death).

Neighboring Macon County in North Carolina has reported only three cases of COVID-19 so far, with one death.

Rabun County’s total number of reported COVID-19 cases rose slightly over the past week and now stands at 13, with 5 hospitalizations.

Data on the total number of local  residents who have been tested for COVID-19 is not available.

Statewide, GDPH reports 200,814 COVID-19 tests had been administered as of Wednesday morning. Georgia now has 30,015 confirmed COVID-19 cases, which have resulted in 5,666 hospitalizations, 1,322 ICU treatments and 1,295 deaths.

Last week, GDPH reported a Rabun County death due to COVID-19, then later removed the case from its report.

“When cases are changed on the website, it typically means that the person(s) was assigned to the wrong county and was then corrected,” said Dave Palmer, Public Information Officer for District 2. “Usually, this occurs when the person seeks care in one county, but they reside in another county or that missing information has been supplied during follow-up with that patient or their family.”

It was not immediately clear if the newest reported death was the same case or a different one.

Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp released most Georgians from the state’s shelter-in-place order, except for people age 65 and older, seniors living in long-term care facilities and persons with certain chronic conditions.

Older persons and the chronically ill, who health officials have stressed are most at risk for harmful effects from coronavirus, must remain sheltered-in-place through June 12.

Chronic health conditions requiring that shelter-in-place rules remain in effect include chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, severe heart disease, immunocompromised conditions, severe obesity and patients with diabetes, liver or chronic kidney disease.

On Monday, the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, said Georgia is on track to see a “plateauing” of positive COVID-19 cases, even though the state had not met all the federal guidelines for allowing businesses to reopen. She noted cases of reported flu-like illnesses, as well as hospitalizations, have been declining and that positive cases have fallen “as a percentage of those total tests.”

Many local health experts have shown skepticism toward relying on models published and updated daily on the GDPH website. They have pointed to other models and studies, some compiled by local university researchers, that indicate Georgia could see a flare-up in coronavirus outbreaks if social restrictions are lifted sooner rather than later.

One study, released this week by the University of Georgia’s Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, estimated that relaxing the social distancing measures in place since March could cause an additional 1,500 deaths from coronavirus in Georgia, plus tens of thousands more cases.

Another modeling tool, created by researchers at Georgia Tech and Harvard Medical School, predicts a second wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths could hit Georgia soon if social restrictions are loosened.

Georgia’s coronavirus-prompted judicial emergency is about to be extended for another month.

Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Monday that he will sign an order this week extending the emergency from May 13, the current expiration date, until June 12.

All criminal and civil jury trials will continue to be suspended, and courts will be barred from summoning and impaneling new trial and grand juries.

Under the new extension order, courts will be urged to develop plans for restoring non-critical operations that can be conducted remotely by videoconferencing or by maintaining adherence to public health guidelines.

Capitol Beat News, a nonprofit news service operated by the Georgia Press Educational Foundation, contributed to this story.