Gov. Brian Kemp touted an encouraging decline in the number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Georgia Wednesday while urging people to get their flu shots immediately.

At a news conference, Kemp noted new positive cases have dropped more than 60% from their peak in July and the two-week positivity average – a key marker to assess the virus’ spread – has fallen by half since August.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 326,142 people had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 7,259 Georgians and 48 Floyd County residents as of Wednesday.

Floyd, Chattooga and Haralson counties are still listed as “high transmission areas” for COVID-19 by the Department of Public Health. The designation is for those counties that have over 100 new cases per 100,000 residents within a two week period.

Floyd County’s two-week case totals have been slowly dropping from above the 400 mark in mid-September to 265 on Wednesday, two and a half times the number to be considered a high transmission area.

Hospitalizations stand at just under 1,300 cases statewide, marking a 60% drop from the peak of people needing medical care for coronavirus, Kemp said Wednesday.

The governor emphasized progress has been made due to Georgians by and large participating in distancing and cleanliness guidelines including keeping six feet apart, washing their hands and wearing masks.

“The key is for us now to keep doing this,” Kemp said. “We cannot take our foot off the gas.”

With schools and businesses reopening after closures since March, Kemp and the state’s public health director, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, stressed it will be critical for Georgians to get their flu shots now to avoid dual outbreaks of highly infectious respiratory viruses.

Toomey said an outbreak of the flu in Georgia could tax local hospitals to the point where they struggle to treat patients for COVID-19 and other ailments, similar to what occurred at the height of the pandemic in spring.

“Never has it been more important to get a flu shot than this year,” Toomey said. “We’re trying to prevent twin-demics of COVID plus influenza, which could be devastating.”

Schools across the state are undertaking a mix of online and in-person classes to start the year, while businesses and social gatherings remain under capacity amid sanitization restrictions that have been in place for months.

Kemp, who has faced criticism for relaxing business restrictions earlier than other states, on Wednesday touted job gains seen since July as well as steady state revenue collections in recent months. He also noted Georgia’s unemployment rate of 5.6% is below the national average.

“We have worked hard to protect people and their paychecks,” Kemp said. “And yes, we can do both.”

Beau Evans with the Capitol Beat News Service and Rome News-Tribune Editor John Bailey contributed to this report.

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