GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Health officials in Hall County say they are trying to stanch an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Just northeast of Gwinnett County, Hall is emerging as north Georgia’s COVID-19 hot spot – though it’s still well below levels seen in southwest Georgia counties surrounding Albany.
State data released at midday Tuesday shows that Hall County has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in north Georgia – including the rest of metro Atlanta.
Hall has confirmed 1,132 COVID-19 cases, which is 544 per 100,000 population according to the state Department of Public Health. That per capita rate is more than twice the rate of Fulton County.
Sixteen other counties have higher COVID-19 rates. All of them are in southwest Georgia.
At Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, workers are now using a temporary facility to expand the hospital’s capacity to handle COVID 19 patients.
Health officials say at least some of those patients are coming from the area’s chicken processing plants. The plants are an economic engine for the region and normally a source of pride. Now they’re also part of a pandemic.
Fifteen people have died in Hall County from COVID-19, according to the state.
"We didn’t have masks. Workers didn’t have masks" as the pandemic began, said Vanesa Sarazua, with the Gainesville-based Hispanic Alliance of Georgia, representing a community that drives much of the labor in chicken plants.
"We didn’t have the luxury of staying home during this COVID crisis, but had to hit the road running to go to work and continue to work throughout this crisis," she said.
John King, Georgia’s insurance commissioner and a Spanish-speaking native of Mexico, visited Gainesville’s Fieldale poultry plant Monday. He says poultry plant workers "really have a hunger for having accurate verifiable information that is in their language, that they can understand."
"They don’t know who to trust," he added.
King and Sarazua said in recent weeks, chicken plant operators have adapted to include safety protocols recommended by the CDC and other experts.
Sarazua says a testing event in Gainesville two weeks ago was an eye-opener.
"We had 300 people show up for a free test. Well more than half were actually positive -- with no symptoms," Sarazua said.
The good news in Hall County is the COVID death rate is low relative to other hot spots – with health care workers geared up to treat it.
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