CDC warns pandemic risk remains as Georgia permits bigger gatherings

    Center for Disease and Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Friday "It’s important that we remember that the situation is unprecedented and that the pandemic has not ended." Samuel Corum/Getty Images

    As restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 continue to ease here and elsewhere, some of the country’s leading public health officials have issued a gentle reminder: It ain’t over.

    “I know that people are eager to return to normal activities and ways of life,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a call with reporters Friday. “However, it’s important that we remember that the situation is unprecedented and that the pandemic has not ended.”

    The briefing came on the heels of Gov. Brian Kemp’s Thursday announcement that some of the last-to-reopen gathering spots – like concert halls and convention spaces – can soon restart operations with limitations, like leaving seats open to maintain social distancing among patrons.

    Kemp meanwhile extended the shelter-in-place order for the most medically fragile, such as those living in a nursing home or who have chronic lung disease. He lifted that order, though, for most Georgians older than 65.

    But even as gyms, restaurants and soon-to-reopen business try to adjust to the new normal, their customers are still left to decide whether the activity is worth the risk. The CDC has released two new sets of guidelines, “Deciding to Go Out” and “Considerations for Events and Gatherings.”

    “Every activity that involves interacting with others has some degree of risk right now,” said Dr. Jay Butler, M.D., CDC’s Deputy Director of Infectious Diseases and COVID-19 Response Incident Manager.

    “Here’s a general rule of thumb: The more closely you interact with others, the longer the interaction lasts, the greater the number of people involved in the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Butler said.

    Butler said it’s important for people to understand that risk and how to adopt prevention measures, such as wearing a mask in public and continuing to maintain distance from others. He gave a few specific examples, like using single-serve options when having friends over for a cookout.

    He said the country has been “successful in flattening the curve,” but said communities continue to be affected differently.

    Butler acknowledged the potential for an increase of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks as states reopen and there is an increase in public gatherings this summer.

    “It’s too soon to tell if this will happen,” Butler said. “The CDC is working closely with state health departments to monitor the disease activity and to support responses to any increases.”

    Kemp also eased the limit on the number of people who can gather in one place without maintaining the six-foot buffer. Starting Tuesday, the new limit will be raised to 50 people. Kemp tried to woo the national GOP to bring the quadrennial convention to Georgia, which is headed to Jacksonville this August.

    As of Friday, more than 2,400 people in Georgia had died from COVID-19. There have been nearly 56,000 positive tests in the state.

    Nearly 111,000 antibody tests yielded only about 7,000 positive responses, according to the state Department of Public Health. This test checks the blood for past exposure to the coronavirus.

    “We know the pandemic is not over, and even looking at some of the serology data, it suggests that the vast majority of Americans still have not been exposed to this virus,” Butler said.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.