COVID-19 pandemic hits 2 years in Georgia
Anniversary comes as state approaches 2 million confirmed cases, 30,000 deaths
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Believe it or not, it has been exactly two years since the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the state of Georgia.
On Mar. 2, 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey announced two Fulton County residents, living in the same home, had contracted COVID-19.
Since that day, now two years later, nearly two million Georgians have been infected, with almost 30,000 of those people losing their lives. And on this day, the GDPH is reporting 942 new confirmed cases and 97 new deaths. The pandemic is far from over.
The Day Everything Changed
“Georgians should remain calm.”
Those were the words from Gov. Kemp on the evening of Mar. 2, 2020 as he announced the first two cases of coronavirus found in Fulton County. They were also the first confirmed cases in the state.
“We were ready for today,” Kemp continued. “We’ve been preparing, as you know, for several weeks now, and so far, every development has come forward just as we expected it would.”
Two days prior, on Feb. 28, Gov. Kemp announced a task force was put in place to assess the state’s preparations and procedures.
“COVID-19 continues to present a low risk to Americans,” Kemp said, as he referenced a conversation he had with then-Vice President Mike Pence earlier in the day. There was a similar message from Dr. Toomey that night.
“We knew that Georgia would likely have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and we planned for it. The immediate risk of COVID-19 to the general public, however, remains low at this time,” she said.
Two years later, the magnitude of the pandemic has told a very different story.
Our World in Data
The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to the release of more public health data in two years than many have seen in a lifetime. And that data continues to tell a story today. Despite widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines over the last year, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have hit record levels over the last couple of months with the omicron variant becoming the dominant variant across much of the world.
And while the omicron variant has not proved to be as deadly as other variants, daily deaths from COVID-19, specifically in the United States, remain comparable to the 7-day rolling average from one year ago to the day.
As of two days ago, Feb. 28, Georgia remains 44th out of 50 states when it comes to the percentage of population fully vaccinated. According to CDC data compiled by Becker’s Hospital Review, 5,691,391 people in Georgia are fully vaccinated. That accounts for just 53.5 percent of the state’s population.
In comparison, Rhode Island, which ranks No. 1 on the list, has more than 80 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Neighboring Alabama ranks last on the list, with just 50.2 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Nationwide, 215,602,728 people are now fully vaccinated, which accounts for 64.9 percent of the country’s population.
One Year Ago
365 days ago, the state was smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.
819,730 cases. 15,148 deaths. 56,089 hospitalizations. 9,132 ICU admissions. That translated to approximately 2,246 cases per day — or 1.56 new cases per minute. All in just one year, in one state. Despite the jaw-dropping numbers, hope was on the horizon.
On Mar. 2, 2021, the state had just finished administering its two millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And just days later, on Mar. 5, the Federal Emergency Management Administration announced the opening of a mass vaccination site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The site opened for 11 weeks, starting Apr. 19, and administered more than 300,000 total vaccines, during a time when the state of Georgia lagged behind the rest of the country in total vaccinations administered.
Meanwhile, on Mar. 28, Gov. Kemp received his coronavirus vaccine. Kemp received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Ware County Health Department in Waycross.
Governor Kemp traveled to the southeastern part of the state to show Georgians vaccines are safe and effective.
“Like thousands of other Georgians, I was thrilled to roll up my sleeve and get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and I was proud to have my youngest daughter, Amy Porter, join me as well,” Governor Kemp said in a statement.
Despite the optimism, the worst of the pandemic was yet to come. The delta variant was on the precipice of making its presence felt — surging cases and deaths to levels not seen since the onset of the pandemic. Hospitals and testing sites would once again be overwhelmed with patients, most of whom, had not yet been vaccinated.
Months later, another variant, omicron, would quickly become the dominant strain in the United States and here in Georgia. While not as deadly, it was highly transmissible, even in people who had received their first round of vaccines. This prompted health officials to push harder than ever for people to receive their booster shot, to help better protect from the potentially deadly impacts of the virus.
Here is a timeline with significant dates from the COVID-19 pandemic in Georgia.
March 2: State officials confirm Georgia’s first cases of COVID-19 — a father and son from Fulton County who had returned from Italy in February.
March 4: Counties around Metro Atlanta begin to take proactive steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 10: All Fulton County schools closed after an employee tests positive for COVID-19 to allow disinfecting.
March 11: Emory University extends spring break for all students until March 22 with plans to welcome students back to class remotely on March 23. Other Georgia universities begin to follow suit.
March 12: Gov. Brian Kemp announces the state’s first coronavirus death, a 67-year-old who had been hospitalized at Wellstar Kennestone.
March 14: Gov. Kemp declares public health emergency, activating the state’s Emergency Operations Center as the number of coronavirus cases doubled to 66, the state’s largest increase in a 24-hour period.
March 15: Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, declares a state of emergency in the city, banning public gatherings of more than 250 people.
March 16: Gov. Kemp announces closure of all state public elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools through the end of the month. This goes into effect March 18.
March 24: Gov. Kemp orders all bars and clubs to close.
April 1: Gov. Kemp announces that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year. Fulton County is placed under a stay-at-home order to mitigate spread of COVID-19.
April 2: One month after the first case of COVID-19 was reported, the state reports more than 5,400 Georgians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 176 people have died from COVID-related complications.
April 3: Gov. Kemp signs executive order mandating all Georgians to shelter in place until April 13. Restaurants are required to close dining areas and operate solely on a takeout basis, while other businesses, including fitness centers, bowling alleys, theaters, live performance venues, massage therapy and bars must close to the public.
April 14: More than 500 Georgians die from COVID-related complications.
April 24: Certain businesses allowed to reopen under certain guidelines. Those businesses include fitness centers, hair designers, beauty shops and salons, barber shops, cosmetology, hair design, barbering, esthetics, nail care & schools thereof, licensed massage therapists, body art studios, and bowling alleys.
April 28: The Department of Public Health reports over 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the state.
May 1: Gov. Kemp extends shelter-in-place order for elderly residents and medically fragile groups. The order also requires long-term care facilities to use enhanced infection control protocols as more cases are seen among senior citizens.
May 8: COVID-19 cases reported in all 159 Georgia counties.
June 16: The Georgia Department of Public Health reports more than 2,500 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest level of infection since April.
June 30: Gov. Kemp extends the state’s social distancing rules for businesses and vulnerable residents. Kemp also extended Georgia’s public health emergency until August 11. The emergency includes a statewide ban on gatherings of up to 50 individuals.
July 12: Gov. Kemp allows spectator sports, live performance venues and conventions to resume. Other businesses also permitted to reopen.
July 16: Gov. Kemp issues order preventing local governments from issuing mask requirements. The order voids at least 15 previously implemented local orders in the state.
July 21: State and Health Department officials urge Georgia residents to wear a mask in public and social distance as cases continue to climb.
Aug. 3: Georgia World Congress Center opens with surge beds to treat COVID-19 patients.
Aug. 18: White House Coronavirus Task Force says Georgia has the highest rate of new cases in the nation for the week of Aug. 9 through Aug. 15.
Aug. 24: Georgia surpasses 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
Aug. 28: DPH reports that a 1-year-old Cobb County boy has died of COVID-19, the state’s youngest victim.
Oct. 16: Gov. Brian Kemp signs new executive order outlining coronavirus restrictions for the state of Georgia. The order includes requirements for businesses such as bars and restaurants and bans gatherings of more than 50 people.
Nov. 17: Gov. Kemp extends state’s coronavirus restrictions through end of November.
Dec. 14: Five Savannah nurses become first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Georgia.
Dec. 24: Georgia reports over 10,000 COVID-19 infections since start of the pandemic. Data includes probable cases.
Jan. 5: First case of Delta variant reported in the state of Georgia, an 18-year-old man with no history of travel.
Jan. 6: Georgia surpasses 10,000 coronavirus deaths.
Jan. 21: The state reports over 700,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 100,000-case increase from two weeks ago.
Jan. 22: Gov. Kemp issues order easing safety requirements for healthcare workers. Under the order, nurses and medical assistants no longer need to be directly supervised to administer a vaccine.
Jan. 31: A total 2,698 more deaths reported in the month of January, the deadliest case count since the start of the pandemic. State’s total death toll now at 12,570.
Feb. 22: The state opens four vaccination sites with each site dispensing up to 22,000 COVID-19 doses per week.
Feb. 26: Georgia surpasses 15,000 coronavirus deaths, days before anniversary of first reported COVID-19 case in the state.
March 2: Georgia recognizes one year since its first COVID-19 case. There have since been 821,482 confirmed and probable cases reported in the state. Over 15,200 people have died from coronavirus-related complications.
March 5: The Federal Emergency Management Agency announces a mass vaccination site will be opened at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
March 8: Public and private K-12 teachers and staff became eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines. Eligibility also expanded to include preschool and daycare staff, parents of children with certain medical conditions and adults with developmental disabilities.
March 15: Georgia residents 55 and older and those 16 and older with high-risk medical conditions become eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
March 16: Judges and courtroom staff now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine.
March 25: Georgia residents 16 and older become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine.
March 28: Gov. Kemp receives the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine alongside his daughter.
April 7: Gov. Kemp eases restrictions on businesses. Ban on large gatherings is lifted and social distancing requirements in businesses like bars, movie theaters or gyms are eased.
May 21: Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency closes eight state-run mass vaccination sites due to consistent availability of vaccines at local health centers.
May 26: Gov. Kemp issues order banning state agencies from requiring employees to prove their COVID-19 vaccination status.
June 8: DPH reports detection of delta variant in the state.
Aug. 27: Delta variant accounts for almost all new COVID-19 cases in Georgia.
Sept. 3: COVID-19 death toll in Georgia surpasses 20,000.
Sept. 27: State health officials begin offering COVID-19 booster doses in a phased rollout.
Oct. 25: 50% of all Georgians are fully vaccinated, DPH confirms.
Dec. 5: DPH has confirmed the first case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant in Georgia, an individual who recently traveled from South Africa.
Dec. 21: Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms reinstated citywide mask mandate. The city has returned to the “yellow zone” meaning masks must be worn inside all public places including private businesses.
Dec. 21: CVS Health and Walgreens limit the number of at-home COVID kits Georgia customers can buy due to huge demand amid coronavirus surge. Omicron variant detected in most COVID-19 infections reported in the state.
Dec. 27: CDC eases quarantine guidelines for vaccinated Americans who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to five days.
Dec. 30: DPH announces allocation of oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 to select retail pharmacies in Georgia.
Dec. 30: Vaccine eligibility expands to Georgia’s first responders, firefighters, law enforcement and individuals 65 and older. Previously, only healthcare workers and staff in long-term care facilities were eligible in the plan’s initial first phase.
Jan. 12: Clayton County reports highest COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 people and lowest vaccination rate in metro Atlanta.
Jan. 20: Metro Atlanta doctors plead for Georgians to get vaccinated as hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients. Cobb County extends Declaration of Emergency related to recent COVID surge. Over 1.7 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in the state since March 2, 2020.
Feb. 25: The CDC relaxes mask guidelines for the majority of the country, including Georgia.
Feb. 28: School districts in metro Atlanta lifting mask mandates amid decline in COVID-19 cases.
March 2: Georgia marks two years since first COVID-19 case was reported in the state. Since then, 2.4 million cases have been reported in the state. Over 34,100 people have died from COVID-19 complications. As of March 1, 63% of Georgia residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
730 days after the first confirmed cases in Georgia, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over in the state. But a new round of optimism shines brightly.
The Pandemic Today
Two years later, hope springs eternal.
Just days ago, on Feb. 25, the CDC significantly relaxed mask guidelines for the majority of the country, including right here in Georgia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70 percent of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
That includes several metro counties, including Cobb (medium), DeKalb (low), Fulton (low), Gwinnett (low), and many others. COVID-19 COUNTY CHECK
That same day, the City of Atlanta announced it was lifting certain COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, including the indoor mask mandate.
“Advances in life-saving vaccines, downward trends in cases and — most importantly — the vigilance and resilience of the Atlanta community have all brought us to this new space of hope,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.“ As we continue to rely on data and science, Atlanta remains forever grateful for our public health professionals, our healthcare workers and our frontline workers who continue to give their all so that we may begin this optimistic path toward our new normal.”
According to the mayor, 59 percent of Fulton County residents, 58 percent of DeKalb County residents, 55 percent of Atlanta residents and 55 percent of Georgians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, 76 percent of City employees are vaccinated and the City will continue its efforts to increase this number.
The CDC is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37 percent of U.S. counties, where about 28 percent of Americans reside.
Speaking of schools, several major school districts across the metro Atlanta area are dropping mask mandates as well. In just the last couple of days, Atlanta Public Schools, Gwinnett County Schools and the DeKalb County School District have all dropped mask mandates for students and staff.
Several other districts are expected to follow suit or never mandated masks in the first place.
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.
*Timeline news sources include: