ATLANTA — Infectious disease experts are warning the rise in COVID-19 cases across the United States should be cause for alarm in Georgia as well as elsewhere across the nation.
According to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, there are 26 states with aggressive outbreaks right now, and Georgia is on the verge of joining them.
COVID-19 cases are up 18% across the nation according to COVIDTracking.com -- and public health microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke warns the cases in Georgia could spike quickly as people get together for the winter holidays.
"Given some of the gatherings that are happening in the coming months, we should be very prepared for things to get worse," she said.
Right now, Georgia is classified as "Orange" according to the White House Task Force. That means the state is at risk of an outbreak.
The states currently classified as "Red," with active outbreaks, are in colder climates. Dr. Schmidtke worries that as temperatures drop in Georgia, the numbers here will rise.
"We already have the conditions on the ground where we could see a surge in cases. We did hit a peak in cases over the summer, but we bottomed out at a level that's twice as high as we were prior to the summer surge," she said. "So, there's already enough momentum for the disease in our community to change very quickly back upwards."
She said that after months of isolation, many people have grown complacent about COVID-19.
"For many people, public health doesn't matter until it matters to them," Dr. Schmidtke said. "Meaning that they know someone in their family or social network who has gotten sick, had complications, or passed away."
She said that if people don't see a rise in their own communities, they don't believe it's happening.
"We reopened schools after public health officials warned us there could be a spike and there wasn't, and so now, we are in that complacency mode," she said.
The weather is nice in Georgia right now, making outdoor gatherings easy and safer in terms of COVID-19 spread.
But, she said that big gatherings indoors for the winter holidays could put people at risk.
"As much as we trust our family and friends, love and friendship are not protective against disease transmission," Dr. Schmidtke said. "You can love someone very much and still accidentally give them the virus."
She said that while Georgia is currently classified as "Orange," meaning at-risk for an outbreak, if you include the number of suspected cases in the state, that would put the state into the "Red" category, meaning an active outbreak.