Many of the cases of COVID-19 in Northwest Georgia have been linked to one gathering in Cartersville, the director of Georgia Public Health’s Northwest district said.

So far, Dr. Gary Voccio said, cases in the Northwest Georgia area have been mostly in five counties: Bartow, Floyd, Gordon, Paulding and Polk.

While he did not specifically mention Cartersville’s Church at Liberty Square, multiple infections stemmed from a choir session in early March.

“This is a difficult, uncertain, and frightening time,” Voccio said. “Our job now, everyone’s job, is to bear what we’re all feeling and take appropriate action to help protect our families and loved ones, ourselves, our communities, and, for many of us, our employees. Many of our Northwest Georgia workplaces, some with large numbers of employees, have had COVID-19 cases.”

The 10-county district has approximately 6% of the population but accounts for approximately 9% of the cases statewide.

“We are experiencing community spread of COVID-19 in Northwest Georgia and expect it to continue for the foreseeable future,” Voccio said. “We expect to see more COVID-19 cases and, sadly, more deaths.”

He called for businesses to actively work to prevent the spread of the illness by either letting employees work from home or enact social distancing measures in the workplace.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Thursday evening, Floyd County hospitals reported 15 patients infected with COVID-19 as well as 29 patients waiting on test results, according to Floyd County EMA Director Tim Herrington.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, was tested along with all the other state senators exposed to a colleague who tested positive. Hufstetler said Thursday his results came back negative and the he’ll be returning to work at a local hospital next week.

The Georgia Department of Public Health listed 17 Floyd County residents with positive results as of its daily 7 p.m. status update.

The number differs from the hospitals’ totals because the DPH lists confirmed cases by county of residence, while hospitals may treat those from outside Floyd County.

One of the Floyd County residents who believes he contracted the illness from the Cartersville church gathering told Fox 5 Atlanta he’s back home and on his way to a full recovery.

As of Thursday night there were 93 confirmed cases in Bartow County.

“I feel better,” Clay Bentley told the TV station from his upstairs bedroom in Rome. “I feel like I’m totally restored now.”

He was admitted to Redmond Regional Medical Center in early March and was sent home to self-quarantine until the end of the month.

“If I test OK, if the coronavirus in my system is dead, then he said you’ll be immune to it,” Bentley told Fox 5. “You can go back out in the world and be with your family. So that should happen in the next couple weeks.”

His wife has also been released from her home quarantine and lives downstairs while he remains in his bedroom.

Other church members have also been hospitalized with the illness and a 65-year-old Floyd County woman who was also present, Elizabeth Wells, died last week.

“I’ve been grieving over her,” Bentley told Fox 5. “I think she was standing next to me. We had choir practice on Wednesday night and she was standing next to me. Breaks my heart to know that other people in the church are sick and I can’t do anything. I stayed up nights just praying for them. I’m still praying for the ones who are still in the hospital. I’m just praying they get the same relief I got.”

Regionally, the first death of a Gordon County resident resulting from a COVID-19 infection was confirmed on Wednesday, according to Gordon EMA Director Courtney Taylor.

Statewide, there were 1,643 total confirmed cases, 509 people hospitalized and 56 deaths as of Thursday night.

All former passengers of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship on which 21 people tested positive for the coronavirus, have been released from quarantine at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Former Grand Princess passengers under quarantine at Clay National Guard Center have also been allowed to leave.

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