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GSU public health doctor: Don’t let down your guard, yet

Dr. Harry Heiman remains cautious, believing it will be another couple of weeks before the impact of Georgia beginning to reopen will be clear.

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday underscored how he continues to base his decisions on reopening the state on the best health data and advice from medical professionals available.

Even now, though, voices of concern continue to caution everyone to be grateful for positive signs, but also to go slow.

There is preliminary good news in Georgia, on the one hand, cases are remaining steady and hospitalizations are going down. On the other hand, there are medical concerns, still, about reopening “smart.”

“I’m still very concerned,” said Dr. Harry Heiman of Georgia State University’s School of Public Health.

He told 11Alive News on Thursday that, from his medical perspective, it will be another couple of weeks before we will know the impact, if any, of Georgia’s first steps in reopening.

“There’s pressure, now, to show that things are really okay, in spite of our having reopened our state,” Dr. Heiman said. Improvement while reopening “is not going to be a rapid kind of turning on, turning off, like it was when we shut things down."

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"People getting back to work, and businesses opening, are happening gradually. So we expect the impact of that on case numbers and on deaths to be more gradual over time," he said.

Heiman pointed to evidence of the numbers improving, statewide, but not yet, for example, in five metro Atlanta counties, Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton.

“All of those really haven’t come down from their peak,” Heiman said. “I mean, it’s flattening, but not coming down. And then if you look at places like Hancock County (west of Augusta) and other places, there are brush fires, if you will, that are still occurring all around the state, that candidly, it looks like we're scrambling to get our arms around. So I remain very concerned.”

 He said he’s is still cautious because the state is projecting that its containment strategy—including its expanded contact tracing program--won’t be fully in place until mid to late June.

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“As (Georgia Department of Public Health) Commissioner (Kathleen) Toomey pointed out in a press conference 10 days ago, she hopes to have a thousand people in place to conduct contact tracing by the end of the third week in June, about a month from now. That's the public health infrastructure that needs to be in place before you start opening things up. Not, kind of, on the fly as you've opened things up.”

But as the state does reopen, he said, it’s more important than ever that people continue to take the pandemic seriously and not let down their guard, yet.

“Even with social distancing and with wearing a handmade mask, there's a risk of contracting the virus and there's a risk of infecting other people.”

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.

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