New cases and deaths from the coronavirus have declined in Cherokee County since the winter surge in December and January, but a Northside Hospital Cherokee doctor says the hospital is starting to see another rise in emergency room patients with the virus.

As of Wednesday, Cherokee was reporting an average of 72.3 total COVID-19 cases a day, down from 113.1 at the beginning of March, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. That number is slightly up from the 55.1 cases a day average reported March 15.

Coronavirus-related deaths have also been steadily declining, at 0.7 a day, down by over half from 1.6 deaths a day March 1.

The percent of those tested who test positive for COVID-19, however, has seen a slight bump in the last few weeks. After a peak of about 22.3% percent positive average Jan. 3, the average percentage fell to 5.6% March 11, per the Georgia DPH. Wednesday, that average was 7.3%.

Dr. Todd Martin, medical director of internal medicine at Northside Hospital Cherokee, said the percentage of emergency department patients testing positive for COVID-19 fell from 15% to 7% over the last two months, but has since risen to about 10%, he said.

Martin

Dr. Todd Martin

“There’s a good chance that the total raw numbers are gonna go higher, but also that there’s going to be an increase in hospitalizations over time,” Martin said.

Martin said the hospital has seen the intensive care unit’s COVID-19 rate increase by 2-3% in the last few weeks, a slower rate than during the winter surge.

The medical director said he thinks residents resumed safety measures like mask wearing and social distancing after the holidays, which helped drive numbers down, along with more people becoming vaccinated against the virus.

“What happens, I think is happening now, is that the weather is becoming warmer, people are going outside, people are being more sort of active in closer areas with other people,” he said, adding that spring break-related travel may affect local spread.

Martin advises people to get a vaccine and practice recommended public health guidelines: wear a mask, practice good hand washing and avoid large groups. About 35% of Cherokee County residents 65 and older have gotten vaccinated, and about the county’s overall vaccination rate is about 7%, he said.

“Those things are encouraging. but I think that we just have to continue to stay vigilant and, you know, hopefully in the very near future, we can come out of this,” he said.

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Shannon Ballew is the managing editor at the Cherokee Tribune and the Cherokee Ledger-News. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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