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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / The Whitfield County Health Department is seen on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 in Dalton, Ga.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 109 new coronavirus cases and two deaths in Whitfield County in the last 24 hours.

The 109 new cases is the biggest daily spike yet in a county that is dealing with a mounting outbreak. The previous daily high in Whitfield County was 98 on July 7.

On July 2, Whitfield County had 1,181 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths. By July 7, the county had added 283 cases — bringing the total to 1,464 — and five more people died in that same time frame.

As of Wednesday, the county has added 514 new cases in the last week, an average of 73 a day.

Most alarming for public health officials is the growing number of hospitalizations in the county. Dr. Zachary Taylor, director of the North Georgia Health District, said in early June that although cases were on the upswing, hospitalizations were still low.

Nearly halfway through July, that trend has changed. On June 30 the county reported 50 hospitalizations. A week later there were 70. Eight days after that, there are now a reported 88 hospitalizations as of Wednesday, which follows an alarming trend of increased hospitalizations in the state.

Out of Georgia's 159 counties, Whitfield County now ranks No. 11 for total COVID-19 cases.

The dramatic rise in cases comes on the heels of the Dalton City Council and Whitfield County Commission both voting to mandate face masks in city and county buildings.

The county commission made the decision Monday night on a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Greg Jones voted no, saying mask wearing should be a choice.

Whitfield County Chairwoman Lynn Laughter floated the idea of a countywide face mask mandate last week, one similar to the Hamilton County mandate issued Monday.

The mandate didn't have a lot of support with other commissioners, however. Both the county and city reiterated the fact a local mandate wouldn't have much teeth due to Gov. Brian Kemp's executive order that has overall say on mask mandates in the state.

Whitfield County has been at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus as one of the state's new hot spots. Kemp was recently in Dalton to urge people to wear masks as coronavirus cases steadily increased around the state.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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