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Bulloch County records sixth COVID death; 48 new cases push total past 600
Kemp, Atlanta mayor at odds over restrictions
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp takes part in a tour of a massive temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Kemp took part in a tour of the 200-bed facility, constructed quickly in the lower levels of the Georgia World Congress Center which normally plays host to large conventions and sporting events. - photo by Associated Press

Bulloch County recorded its sixth death due to the coronavirus, Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn announced Saturday, also marking the first time Bulloch residents died on consecutive days due to COVID-19. A 62-year-old woman died Friday.

Also, 48 more Bulloch residents were diagnosed with COVID in the past 24 hours, Wynn said, pushing Bulloch over 600 total cases since the first coronavirus case was confirmed on March 28 to 609 cases as of 3 p.m. Saturday.

Wynn said Saturday’s victim was a woman more than 90 years old with comorbid conditions.

Also, thousands of masks were distributed free of charge Saturday to area residents.

The reusable face masks were distributed from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at BI-LO on Northside Drive East, Food World on Fair Road and Northside Drive West, Lowe’s on Northside Drive East, and Save A Lot on Northside Drive East.

The face masks were “provided by the City of Statesboro and Bulloch County in an effort to mitigate the recent increase in COVID-19 cases within the region,” said Statesboro public information officer Layne Phillips in a statement released Friday.

The efforts included volunteerism by the recently formed COVID-19 Community Response Team, organized by Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar. Members of the team include representatives from Bulloch County, the “Squashing the Spread Bulloch” Facebook group, the Bulloch County Emergency Management Agency, the Bulloch County NAACP, Share Health Southeast Georgia, and public health professionals from Georgia Southern University, she said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday that Georgia would increase hospital bed capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations surged, the state set a new single-day record on Friday for coronavirus infections.

As of 3 p.m. Saturday, Georgia has 114,401 confirmed cases, with 2,996 deaths.

Newly confirmed cases reported Friday in Georgia totaled nearly 4,500, surpassing the old daily record by more than 1,000. Experts say many more people are infected, but never tested. The number of people hospitalized for the virus rose above 2,400 on Friday, more than doubling in the past two weeks.

The state will contract for 100 new hospital beds at an unnamed Atlanta-area hospital and will reactivate an overflow hospital at the mammoth state-owned convention center in downtown Atlanta, Kemp’s office announced Friday.

Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce, in an email to reporters, said that as backlogged commercial testing services continue reporting results, Georgia expects more cases.

“Following a drop-off in specimens collected over the holiday weekend, we now expect a trend of higher case numbers as new results arrive,” she wrote.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Most recover, but some can become severely ill or die.

St. Joseph’s/Candler hospital system, which operates two of Savannah’s three hospitals, has seen a big jump in coronavirus patients. The hospitals were treating 63 COVID-19 patients on Friday, compared to 12 a month earlier. Only 11 current virus patients were in critical care, said St. Joseph’s/Candler spokesman Scott Larson.

“Although we’re seeing a significant increase in admitted patients who are COVID-19 positive, they are overall lower acuity and they have shorter hospital stays,” Larson said. “They’re also younger than what we were seeing earlier in the pandemic.”

The two Savannah hospitals can open combined 115 additional beds as needed — a that number will soon increase to 145. Larson said roughly 20 overflow beds were in use Friday.

Georgia reported 82% of critical care beds were in use Friday, down slightly from Thursday.

Also, Kemp clashed anew with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Bottoms told residents of the state’s largest city to stay home except for essential trips and for restaurants to limit themselves to takeout, but the Republican Kemp has barred local officials from taking actions stronger than his statewide mandates. Bottoms on Wednesday ordered people to wear masks, another move Kemp says is legally void.

The city has previously said its guidelines are voluntary, although Bottoms claimed Wednesday she does have the authority to order masks. Augusta on Friday became the latest large Georgia jurisdiction to order masks.

“Mayor Bottoms’ action today is merely guidance — both non-binding and legally unenforceable,” Kemp said in a statement. “As clearly stated in the governor’s executive order, no local action can be more or less restrictive, and that rule applies statewide.”

She and Kemp have clashed several times recently.

“Georgia reopened in a reckless manner and the people of our city and state are suffering the consequences,” Bottoms said.

In April, Kemp decided Georgia would be among the first states to loosen restrictions.