A sign on a walking trail in Peek Park in Cedartown urges visitors to practice social distancing guidelines in accordance with the state’s recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 in Northwest Georgia continues to rise, but the rate of deaths and hospitalizations has declined.

“It’s still a fairly communitywide spread, I’m afraid,” said Dr. Gary Voccio, health director for the Northwest Georgia public health district.

There has been a slight bump in the number of cases in the region, but the promising news is there haven’t been any significant increases in seriously ill patients or fatalities.

Polk County’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased to 178 as of last Friday afternoon, ahead of press time, an increase of 16 from the Friday before with more than 62,000 cases confirmed statewide. The number of hospitalizations in Polk County remained at 15 and only one death had been attributed to the virus.

Many of the new cases were discovered directly as a result of testing. Workers with the Northwest Georgia health district conducted 747 tests Monday. That’s a large sum when compared with a couple of months ago, when there were on average 30 to 40 tests a week.

Another factor is testing is now open to anyone, whereas it was limited to those with symptoms earlier on.

There’s also been a spillover in people from larger metropolitan counties seeking testing. Voccio said they’ve seen a lot of people who live in Cobb County come to the Clarence Brown Convention Center in Cartersville to get tested. They talk about the longer lines in larger areas that aren’t in the counties with smaller populations.

The DPH has a site at West Rome Baptist Church where people can get tested in Rome.

But despite the state opening back up, the virus is still spreading. When the coronavirus hit Georgia early on, the rallying cry was to flatten the curve. Now it has flattened somewhat, but the number of cases hasn’t gone down.

“We’re not over this,” Voccio said.

However, there has been a decline in the number of deaths and hospitalizations.

For instance, the state reported that Floyd County had 387 cumulative cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday but the number of deaths remained steady at 15.

Floyd County has not had a death attributed to COVID-19 since May 26.

As of Thursday there were nine people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Floyd County and six in Gordon County.

Those who were determined to be at risk since the beginning are still at risk for complications related to the disease, which could kill them, Voccio said.

Wearing masks to keep from spreading the virus, social distancing — keeping at least 6 feet apart in public — and using hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands are still key.

Areas near Rome have still seen a rapid spread, including parts of Alabama as well as North Georgia.

An outbreak in some of the northern counties in the health district hit two nursing homes hard. And, since June 8, Whitfield County has racked up over 200 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to 692 on Thursday.

Deaths per day in the US drop

The number of deaths per day from the coronavirus in the U.S. has fallen in recent weeks to the lowest level since late March, even as states increasingly reopen for business. But scientists are deeply afraid the trend may be about to reverse itself.

Deaths from COVID-19 across the country are down to about 680 a day, compared with around 960 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The analysis looked at a seven-day rolling average of deaths through last Wednesday.

A multitude of reasons are believed to be at play, including the advent of effective treatments and improved efforts at hospitals and nursing homes to prevent infections and save lives.

But already there are warning signs.

For one thing, the number of newly confirmed cases per day has risen from about 21,400 two weeks ago to 23,200, the AP analysis found.

And in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona — states that loosened their stay-at-home restrictions early — daily deaths have been quietly rising since early June, said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The outbreak has killed about 118,000 people in the U.S. and nearly a half-million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins’ count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher. Potential vaccines are in early stages of testing, and it is unlikely any will be ready before early next year.

Experts note that a rise in deaths could take awhile to show up in the U.S. statistics. Stay-at-home orders imposed in March, combined with the use of face masks and other social-distancing measures, have been bringing down the daily death toll since mid-April, and the U.S. as a whole is still seeing the positive effects, even though people are starting to work, shop and eat out again.

While it is unclear how much specific treatments may have contributed to the decline in deaths, doctors are trying antivirals such as remdesivir, plasma donated from people who have recovered from the virus and steroids such as dexamethasone, which grabbed attention this week with reports confirming it can save the lives of many of the sickest patients.

While all viruses mutate, scientists say the coronavirus so far is not changing in a way that has made it less deadly.

The decline in deaths this spring might well be tied in part to warmer weather as people spend more time outdoors where circulating air disperses the virus. But that does not bode well for the U.S. come this fall and winter.

Carla K Johnson and Nicky Forster of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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