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Monday, May 18, 2020

Don't Believe the Hype About Georgia's Dramatic Drop in COVID-19 Cases

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown - May 18, 2020 at 09:42AM

Misleading Georgia data. After ending stay-at-home orders earlier than most states, Georgia last week reported that—contrary to dire warnings—the state had seen a dramatic decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths. Very quickly, national media like The Wall Street Journal were crowing over this "welcome trend."

But that "welcome trend" appears to be a mirage. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's office has since said that cases in the Peach State have not declined significantly and tracking data suggesting otherwise was misleading.

A big part of the problem: Some data for the week of May 2 were presented as coming chronologically before the week of April 26.

Another problem: Some data for early May are still missing.

That doesn't necessarily mean those dire predictions were right. Put in the right order, the figures presented last week by Georgia health officials still suggest that the state's COVID-19 cases have plateaued or even decreased slightly, notes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But these numbers are incomplete.

"Data collection lags and a quirk in the state's method of recording cases mean that counts for recent dates are often a fraction of what they turn out to be when the data is more complete," the paper points out.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Georgia Department of Public Health has repeatedly bungled information about the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths. "Some of these errors could be forgiven as mistakes made during a chaotic time. But putting days in the wrong order, as the recently withdrawn chart did, makes no sense."

"I have a hard time understanding how this happens without it being deliberate," state Rep. Jasmine Clark (D–Lilburn), who has a PhD in microbiology and molecular genetics, told the paper. "Literally nowhere ever in any type of statistics would that be acceptable."

Elsewhere in the U.S., COVID-19 cases appear to be going down in some former hotspots while also rising in areas that had been doing OK.

This comes as state leaders have started easing and lifting lockdown orders, and as more people are doing less social distancing regardless of what authorities say. Because of lags in disease onset and data collection, the available numbers still largely reflect a period prior to the easing of restrictions.

Many areas that have been hard-hit continue to report mounting problems. "Dozens of deaths and thousands of new infections from the novel coronavirus were reported in the Washington region Saturday, even as some areas began welcoming droves of summertime visitors following the relaxation of quarantine restrictions in Virginia and Maryland," notes The Washington Post.

In Texas, some 1,800 new cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the total number of reported COVID-19 cases in the state to 47,000. "There were 33 additional deaths reported Saturday, bringing the total number of fatalities in the Lone Star State to 1,305," says CBS News.


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