ATLANTA — Confirmed infections from the new coronavirus in Georgia rose to just under 1,400 on Wednesday, with nearly a third of those people hospitalized, according to state health officials.
The state health department's number of confirmed cases reported at
7 p.m. Wednesday was up 290 from the night before. Nine additional deaths were reported, bringing the total to 47. The state listed 438 people as hospitalized.
But the availability of testing remains limited across the state, and results take days to produce, meaning many people now spreading the highly contagious virus may not know they've been infected.
The number of confirmed cases topped 100 in four counties, with Fulton County, the state's most populous, topping 200 infections. Virus cases were reported in at least 96 of Georgia's 159 counties Wednesday, with nine counties reporting their first cases.
In hard-hit Dougherty County, infections rose by 22 to 123. The county in the southwestern part of the state, which includes Albany, has a confirmed per capita infection rate that remains 10 times as high as statewide. Six other counties in the same region have among the 10 highest infection rates statewide, all running at least double the state per capita rate, according to Associated Press calculations.
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany has struggled with a deluge of coronavirus patients, and local officials have scrambled to create more intensive care and general beds. They said in a news conference Wednesday that effort remains ongoing. The Georgia Municipal Association recommended Tuesday that all cities impose a mandatory curfew, but Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said city and county officials are rejecting that for now, saying people seem to be complying with existing restrictions.
"What we have to do is take precautions today, immediately, to eliminate unnecessary spread of the virus," Dorough said Wednesday. But he and other officials warned that with hundreds of tests still outstanding, many more cases could surface.
Phoebe Putney CEO Scott Steiner said it has found other hospitals to take some patients from its Albany hospital that is near capacity. He says others have refused to take even non-COVID-19 patients from Albany because of virus fears.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, and the overwhelming majority of people recover. But severe cases can need respirators to survive, and with infections spreading exponentially, hospitals across the country are either bracing for a coming wave of patients, or already struggling to keep up.
A number of Democratic members of the Georgia state House renewed their call for Gov. Brian Kemp to issue harsher restrictions aimed at making people stay home to disrupt transmission of the virus, overriding the patchwork of local directives being issues by cities and counties.
"Given this stark reality, urging behavioral change and local action is simply not enough," members of the minority party wrote. "We need comprehensive statewide directives."
The Georgia National Guard deployed on support missions in Albany and at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta, spokeswoman Desiree Bamba said.
News outlets reported that state Sen. Lester Jackson, a Democrat from Savannah, had tested positive. He didn't have symptoms but went into self-quarantine and got tested after several of his Senate colleagues tested positive.
MARTA, the Atlanta area transit authority, announced changes in service to protect its staff and address a decline in ridership and revenue because of the virus, the agency said in a news release. Starting Thursday, bus fare collection will be suspended as riders will enter and exit only through the rear door instead of the front door where the fare box is.
Bus service will be reduced by about 30% on all but the busiest routes starting Monday. Rail service will start at the same time on weekdays but will operate on a weekend schedule, meaning lower frequency.
The spread of the virus also continued to take its toll on businesses big and small.
Waffle House, based in suburban Atlanta and known for its "always open" restaurants, says it has closed more than 400 of its nearly 2,000 outlets.
And Kia Motors Corp. announced Tuesday that it would suspend production at its West Point plant for two weeks beginning Monday because of COVID-19. The South Korean automaker says the halt will include a previously planned five-day shutdown to retool equipment for new models. While its 3,000 employees are home, Kia says it will clean and sanitize its auto assembly plant near the state line with Alabama. The company plans to resume making cars on April 13 but says it will follow government guidelines.