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Impact of Georgia's shelter in place order expiring may not be known for weeks

Epidemiologists and infectious disease experts say it could take 2-3 weeks to see any increases in new COVID-19 cases linked to steps taken to reopen Georgia.

ATLANTA — Before Gov. Brian Kemp announced he would be allowing the state's shelter in place order to expire, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts said it would be up to all Georgians to limit the spread of COVID-19 if the order wasn't renewed.

To avoid a spike in new COVID-19 cases those same experts said Georgians would need to continue social distancing, wearing masks, cleaning their hands often, and staying home as much as possible.

When Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday did announce the shelter in place order would expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, he added, "Moving forward I'm urging Georgians to continue to stay home whenever possible."  

RELATED: Kemp extends public health emergency, lifts shelter-in-place for most residents

While the majority of Georgians will no longer be under an order to stay home, Kemp went on to say, "To protect vulnerable populations, I will sign an order today requiring medically fragile and elderly Georgians to continue to shelter in place through June 12, 2020." 

"As we start to see some loosening of the restrictions, we are really going to want to look out, over about a two-week span," said Dr. Robert Bednarczyk, an assistant professor of global health and epidemiology with Emory University. 

Bednarczyk told 11Alive he has been looking closely at every update the Georgia Department of Public Health releases on new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. He said it will take two, perhaps up to three weeks to measure the impact of recent decisions by Kemp and steps to reopen the state.

"Even if we see some of the numbers starting to decline a little bit over the next few weeks, that doesn't mean they can't come back up again once individuals who have been exposed have that time to become ill and have time to go get tested," Bednarczyk said. "14-day window is really what we think about, our best estimate of how long cases can go from when someone gets infected and may actually be showing signs of disease."

He added once someone becomes ill, it then takes time for them to be tested, receive their results, and then have those results counted by the state. 

Earlier this week, Bednarczyk said he was looking for increases in case numbers to possibly start appearing related to Easter on April 12 and Passover which ran from April 8 -16, when people may have gathered. 

In a few weeks, he will also be looking for any increases related to Georgia allowing salons, barbershops, bowling alleys, restaurant dining rooms and several other businesses to reopen starting last Friday through this past Monday. 

Now added to that list is the state allowing the shelter in place order to expire, perhaps leading to more people leaving their homes and other events such as Simon Properties reopening malls around Georgia including Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza, and the Mall of Georgia

Infectious disease expert, Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University offered a slightly shorter time frame for seeing results during an interview hosted by Emory on Facebook Friday. 

"The decisions we make today, it is going to take about 10 to 14 days before we will see the full impact. So brace, stay tuned and we will see what happens. We can talk in a couple of weeks," he said. 

He stressed without an active shelter-in-place order, it would be up to everyone statewide to work together to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

"As individuals, as citizens, as business owners, it is all going to depend," he said. "I've talked to a lot of people who say I'm keeping my business closed, I'm keeping my restaurants closed. I've talked to people who say, 'gyms may be open, but I'm sure not going to a gym.' I've talked to a lot of people who say I'm not doing that," Del Rio said.

He gave some simple advice for once the shelter-in place expires: "Go out as little as possible, use a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing." 

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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