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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.

Coronavirus cases in Whitfield and Murray counties in Northwest Georgia continue to surge, and the two counties are No. 1 and No. 2 for new cases on a per capita basis in the state.

Murray County is averaging 35 new cases per day on a seven-day average, by far the highest rate the county has run since the pandemic's start in March. Of the county's 1,623 total cases, 400 — or 25% — have come in the previous 14 days. In that same timeframe, nine people have died.

In neighboring Whitfield County, the situation is not any better. The county continues to lead the state in new COVID-19 cases per capita and has added 1,106 new cases in the previous 14 days. The county is averaging about 78 new cases a day on a seven-day average, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Previously, the most severe period in Whitfield County was around July 31, when the seven-day average was 77 new cases. Whitfield County has been hovering around that same number since Nov. 13.

The positive COVID-testing percentage for both counties has been over the 10% threshold that public health officials deem as dangerous since late October, an indication that it's not just more testing that is resulting in more cases.

As of Monday afternoon, the positive percentage is 18.7% and 13.8% in Murray and Whitfield County, respectively. Those are both seven-day averages.

The Northwest Georgia Regional Library System — which has branches in Murray, Whitfield and Gordon counties — has closed all three branches and modified its services until "the crisis has lessened" effective Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Curbside service and book returns and outdoor computing will be suspended until further notice. The library system will waive late fees and also provide expanded wireless access in the parking lots of all libraries.

"Please follow all social distancing rules in parking areas," the board wrote in a statement.

The Catoosa County Library also announced it is suspending in-person visits through Monday, Dec. 14, but will still offer virtual and curbside services.

Despite pleas from public health officials, neither the city of Dalton nor the Whitfield County Commission has passed a mask mandate. Greg Hogan, the sole commissioner in Murray County, has not issued a mandate, either.

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

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