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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.

Whitfield County reached a grim milestone Sunday, surpassing 1,000 cases of people testing positive for the coronavirus — as the state of Georgia set records for newly reported cases for three straight days over the weekend.

Whitfield County reported its first coronavirus case on March 18. It took nearly three months for the county to reach 500 cases. It did so on June 8.

Only 21 days later, cases doubled in Whitfield County. As of Monday afternoon there were 1,055 COVID-19 cases, and the virus continues to affect the Hispanic population disproportionately.

Hispanics make up about one third of the population in Whitfield County, and they make up more than two-thirds of the COVID-19 cases, officials said.

Hospitalizations for the virus are also on the rise. On June 17 there were 39 hospitalizations in Whitfield County. That number is now 50.

The state reported 1,900 and 1,990 additional COVID-19 cases on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and 2,225 confirmed cases on Sunday. Each day set a new state record.

The state reported 2,207 new cases Monday.

There are now 79,417 confirmed cases in the state of Georgia, including 2,784 deaths.

The state health department is urging residents to participate in contact tracing as numbers continue to increase across the state. The department started a statewide "Answer the Phone" campaign that encourages Georgians to respond to contact tracers as they attempt to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A campaign video was shared Monday morning in Spanish that is targeted toward the Hispanic population that has been hit hardest in Whitfield County.

Whitfield County's recent surge in cases is on track with Georgia's numbers as a whole. From June 21 to 27, Georgia reported 11,176 new cases, a new one-week record that easily topped the state's previous high set the week before.

In that same time frame, Whitfield County averaged more than 30 new cases a day.

Surrounding counties in Northwest Georgia have been able to avoid similar outbreaks. There are 502 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Floyd County (15 deaths), 356 in Gordon County (18 deaths), 315 in Walker County, 304 in Catoosa County (seven deaths), 210 in Murray County (two deaths), 65 in Dade County (one death) and 56 in Chattooga County (two deaths).

Bartow County was a hot spot earlier in the pandemic, but Whitfield County has taken over as the main problem area for public health experts and those in the medical community.

On Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp specifically called out Whitfield County as one of the state's hot spots.

Kemp also said he was not considering imposing new restrictions and said he wouldn't require people to wear masks in public.

Since then, Whitfield County has added 138 confirmed cases in three days.

Kemp and his team announced the governor will be traveling around the state to communities that have been hit hard by the virus and will encourage people to wear masks. Dalton will be one of Kemp's handful of stops.

A recent analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed adults under 30 make up the fastest-growing group of new infections in Georgia.

The spike in cases overall and among people aged 18 to 29 in Georgia mirrors other Southern states, including Florida, which are also well into the reopening of their economies. Adults under 30 now make up Georgia's largest cohort of cases.

Georgia was one of the first states in the country to reopen certain businesses and was known to have the most aggressive plan to do so.

On April 24, hair salons, spas, gyms, barbershops, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys were among the businesses that reopened to the public. Three days later, movie theaters and restaurants were able to open with capacity restrictions.

Since then, Kemp has ended the statewide shelter-in-place for all but "medically fragile" residents and has opened most businesses such as bars and nightclubs.

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

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