Fueled by the omicron variant, more than 23,000 Georgians were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the Christmas weekend and the state is now averaging 7,029 confirmed cases per day – the highest since the pandemic began in March 2020.
While Bulloch County has not seen a significant increase in cases, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 64 new cases in the past week, the highest seven-day total since 67 were reported Sept. 24-30.
Also, the county reported a weekly positive COVID test rate of 8.7% on Monday, which is the highest rate since Oct. 4. Georgia had its highest-ever rate on Monday with 31% of tests coming back positive for COVID, according to the Department of Health.
Ted Wynn, director of the Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency, said six COVID patients were hospitalized at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, the same as last week, with one patient on a ventilator. That patient is the first reported needing a ventilator since Nov. 10.
Georgia, however, reported the number of patients hospitalized statewide with the virus has climbed by more than 50% in a week, nearing 1,900 on Monday. That’s the highest number since mid-October, when patient numbers were still falling after hitting a state record of more than 6,000 in early September.
The Associated Press reported that the crush of state cases is being seen mostly in Atlanta-area emergency rooms. As of Monday afternoon, 18 emergency rooms were turning away ambulances, while only 10 ERs at hospitals caring for adults were receiving them, according to state data. Among those turning away emergency medical transports were the flagship hospitals of three of the area's four major hospital systems: Emory, Piedmont and Northside.
Katherine Watson, spokesperson for the five-hospital Northside system, said that COVID-19 patients accounted for 25% of the system's total adult inpatient population as of Monday.
Despite the massive rise in the number of new cases, deaths caused by the virus have remained fairly stable for the past month. There were 38 confirmed deaths across the state over the weekend. Bulloch County has not reported a COVID death since Dec. 3.
Amid overwhelming demand for COVID tests, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey warned people to make sure they are using a valid testing center and aren't being overcharged.
“Misinformation from unapproved COVID tests could result in people not following isolation and quarantine protocols and lead to further transmission of the virus and serious or life-threatening illness," Toomey said in a statement.
They also warned against accepting services from people going to door-to-door or approaching others on the street and said it could be a sign of a scam if someone tries to charge for an in-person test.
Georgians can find some testing sites at https://dph.georgia.gov/covidtesting, although that list may not include many private testing sites.
Carr said his office is aware of reports of overcharging for tests and urges consumers to report potential price gouging at consumer.ga.gov or by calling (404) 651-8600.
The Associated Press reported that U.S. health officials on Monday cut isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days, and similarly shortened the time that close contacts need to quarantine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.
The decision also was driven by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, propelled by the omicron variant.
Early research suggests omicron may cause milder illnesses than earlier versions of the coronavirus. But the sheer number of people becoming infected — and therefore having to isolate or quarantine — threatens to crush the ability of hospitals, airlines and other businesses to stay open, experts say.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the country is about to see a lot of omicron cases.
"Not all of those cases are going to be severe. In fact many are going to be asymptomatic,” she told The Associated Press on Monday. “We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."
Meanwhile, omicron has caused an 83% rise in the number of cases across the nation in the past two weeks – 214,000 cases were reported on Sunday alone. Some health officials fear the U.S. may see as many as 500,000 new daily cases by the end of January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.