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Why are the number of deaths not increasing as COVID-19 cases are surging?

One health expert warns that the trend is likely to change.

ATLANTA — It's a question that many are wondering as cases of coronavirus in Georgia reach record highs: Why is the number of deaths so low?

Dr. Jay Varkey is an infectious disease specialist at Emory. He warned that the trend seen now is likely to change.

"Given the massive influx of new cases, it is only rational to expect that we will see a rise in deaths," he said.

That's because it takes up to 14 days for the virus to show up after a person is exposed. That's when the COVID-19 diagnosis often comes in.

"Most people are able to stay at home, monitor their symptoms and hope that they're one of the eighty percent of people who have relatively mild symptoms who wouldn't require hospitalization," Varkey said.

After the virus takes hold, it often takes anywhere between two days and two weeks for those symptoms to get so bad serious medical care is needed. Varkey added about 20 percent of people will require hospitalization, and among that group, there's about three to five percent that require intensive care.

RELATED: As Georgia COVID-19 cases surge, fewer ICU beds available

From exposure to death, it's often a period of four to six weeks.

"It's that group in the intensive care unit that I worry about may - despite our best efforts in terms of caring for people with critical illnesses - they're gonna be at increased risk for dying," Varkey said.

The hope is that because we now know the average age of person with the virus is dropping, those getting the virus may have stronger immune systems. But the fear is that current COVID-19 patients are unknowingly spreading the virus across vulnerable groups - like grandparents.

"We can not take solace in the fact that the death rate has been low," Varkey cautioned. "We can be proud of it, but we need to be prepared for that number to go up."

Unfortunately, we won't know the answer to that question until later this month - or about four to six weeks after cases started surging.

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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