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A look at major coronavirus developments over the past week

By Helena Oliviero, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

With the latest numbers showing progress in Georgia’s fight to contain the coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp has extended an order that charts out how businesses should operate during the pandemic.

Kemp’s 49-page order continues to prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people, unless social distancing is enforced, and it requires Georgians in long-term care facilities and those deemed “medically fragile” to shelter in place.

It also renews rules that empower local governments and school districts to impose mask requirements, though Kemp has opposed a statewide mandate for face coverings. The new order expires Sept. 15.

Kemp signed the order as state health data shows that confirmed COVID-19 cases have declined in each of the past six weeks. The number of people currently hospitalized in Georgia for COVID-19 also has steadily declined, falling below 2,000 for the first time since early July.

Wary of another post-holiday spike in coronavirus cases, Kemp embarked on a statewide fly-around tour to urge Georgians to take precautions over the Labor Day weekend.

The governor warned that recent gains in the fight against the disease will be reversed if people “let their guard down.”

“This progress can be erased very quickly if we grow complacent and ignore the guidance and public safety measures that we have in place,” he said.

Here’s a look at other major developments related to the coronavirus:

Georgia government plans for vaccine rollout

A task force set up by Kemp will push local officials to have plans in place for distributing a vaccine by November, if one is available.

CDC Director Robert Redfield’s directive to governors, that they should devise plans in time for the election, has sparked outrage from the scientific community, which doubts a valid vaccine can be ready that quickly. Some have said they are worried that political motives are influencing the agency.

“What scares me to death is the thought that we would use our distribution system to distribute something that is neither safe nor effective,” said Mark Rosenberg, who spent 20 years working for the CDC and 16 years as president and chief executive officer of the Task Force for Global Health.

Georgia will have to overcome some hurdles to meet the deadline.Gov. Kemp said Wednesday that the source of funding for a statewide vaccine delivery system hasn’t been determined. And he has state attorneys studying whether changes to Georgia laws will be needed to expedite permits.

He has tapped acting Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King, a Georgia National Guard major general who has been deployed to other states on pandemic-related missions, to head a panel.

COVID-19 cases spike at colleges in Georgia

COVID-19 cases have surged on some of Georgia’s largest public campuses, impacting nearby communities and leaving school leaders worried about even more cases after the Labor Day holiday.

The University of Georgia reported 821 positive cases between Aug. 24-28 during its first full week of the fall semester. The number was four times higher than the prior five-day total of 189 cases. About one-half of the recent cases were self-reported by students and employees, which is required by the university.

UGA announced it is expanding its isolation housing for students who test positive. The school has set aside nearly 500 dedicated rooms on campus and in the local community for students who are showing symptoms of, have tested positive for, or have come in close contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19.

UGA President Jere Morehead called the increase “concerning.”

“Resist the temptation to organize or attend a large social gathering,” he advised students in a message Wednesday.

At Georgia Tech, which reported 544 positive cases in August, students who live with roommates are urged to live alone to slow the spread of the virus.

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera advised students not to travel. “I encourage you to find ways to stay connected — just a little farther apart,” Cabrera said.

Georgia College in Milledgeville and Georgia Southern in Statesboro each reported more than 500 positive cases in August.

Cobb Schools announce plan to reopen

The Cobb County School District will begin reopening classrooms for in-person learning next month — a decision the superintendent said was based on improving coronavirus statistics.

The district announced Thursday that kindergarten through fifth-grade students will be the first to return on October 5. Special education classes for kindergarten through 12th grade also will have an in-person option in the first phase of the reopening. When classes resume, after-school programs for those students also will be offered.

Students and staff will be required to wear masks on buses and in buildings, including when they are in classes. Educators will have to wear them whenever possible while teaching, Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said in a video message.

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