The White House says significant behavior changes are necessary to protect families and communities this Thanksgiving in the face of "aggressive, rapid and expanding community spread" of COVID-19 across the United States.
Although some states with strong mitigation strategies are starting to bend their coronavirus curve, the White House COVID-19 Task Force's weekly reports say that's far from true in Georgia and Tennessee.
The task force recommended that both states "ensure indoor masking around vulnerable family members during any gatherings due to the significant amount of virus circulating and the high rate of asymptomatic and undiagnosed infections among family and community members."
Although the disease is currently more widespread in Tennessee as a whole — with 99% of all counties in Tennessee experiencing moderate or high levels of community transmission — the report for Georgia says the state is in "the early stages of full resurgence," with much of North Georgia already among the worst in the state.
Over the past three weeks, the areas around Dalton, Chattanooga, Calhoun and Rome were considered in the "red zone," meaning new cases were at or above 101 per 100,000 people and test positivity rates were at or above 10.1%.
"The silent community spread that precedes and continues to drive these surges can only be identified and interrupted through proactive, focused testing for both the identification of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. This must be combined with significant behavior change," the report states.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said during a news conference Tuesday that "we've known for several weeks, if not months, now that a large percentage of our cases are coming from household and community spread — not only those who live in one's household, but when you have people over for a dinner party, or a sleepover, or a backyard cookout."
She said precautions should be taken even inside the home.
"If you can avoid a gathering, you should consider doing that. If you can minimize the number of people, particularly outside of your household, you should consider doing that. And when those people do come, you can take precautions there just like you would elsewhere — spacing out, moving outdoors, wearing masks," she said.
Piercey urged those who are concerned about their status following the holiday to go get tested. Tennessee will host another free testing event on Monday, Nov. 30, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time at health departments across the state. In Southeast Tennessee, the Bradley County, Franklin County, McMinn County and Rhea County health departments will participate with extended hours.
Hamilton County Health Department is not participating in the effort but has offered testing seven days a week since April. Its testing location, at the Alstom site on Riverfront Parkway, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. most days. The site will be closed on Nov. 26 and 27 and will reopen on Nov. 28.
"You've heard me say this before: Please have a low threshold for getting tested," Piercey said. "Even if you feel well, if you think you've been exposed, if you've been in a high-risk environment, like if you go to one of those gatherings, please take the opportunity to get tested."
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