by Robin Kemp
The Clayton County Health District has identified 16,938 cases of COVID-19 within Clayton County since the pandemic began last year. At least 266 people in Clayton County are known to have died of COVID-19.
Overall, Clayton County makes up 2.4 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Georgia, according to CCHD.
Within the county, 6.3 percent of people who have tested positive have been hospitalized. That’s 1,061 people.
Out of all the people in Clayton County who have tested positive for COVID-19, 1.6 percent have died.
As of Sunday, January 24, 2021, this is how many people have tested positive for the virus by city:
CCHD is now posting its weekly summary report on its website. The weekly summary includes charts and graphs to help you see how COVID-19 affects different groups of people and everyone overall.
This week’s report shows that, of all cases in Clayton County, these groups are most affected:
- Women: 56.3%
- People between 15 and 59 years old: 75.5% (people ages 60-74 have been hardest-hit to date)
- Black people: 54.5%
- Non-Hispanic/Non-Latino people: 55.3% (Hispanic/Latino people can be of any race or combination of races)
The zip codes where COVID-19 has hit hardest, according to CCHD’s map, are 30274, 30236, and 30238:
These “hot zones” in the middle and northern parts of Clayton County “are some of our most populated areas,” noted Chairman Jeff Turner, “which also house many of our grocery stores and restaurants.” It’s easy to avoid shopping for some things in person. However, people have to eat and they tend to go where the food is. Grocery stores continue to reserve times for seniors and those with health conditions. Restaurants remain open, although some have limited sit-down dining.
Ordering fast food, whether inside or in the drive-through, is a mixed bag: You never know whether your server or cashier will be wearing their mask correctly–that is, covering both nose and mouth. With every bag you take from an improperly-masked server, and without knowing whether employees in the kitchen are following proper masking and handwashing protocols, you roll the dice on catching COVID-19. And your odds of catching COVID-19 in Clayton County are astronomically greater than your odds of winning $100 at Powerball:
Based on Clayton County’s 2019 population estimate of 292,256 residents and the county’s 16,938 reported cases of COVID-19 to date, five to six of every 100 people in the county have already been infected.
The question is, how many people does each person who is carrying the virus come in contact with each day during the 14-day incubation period?
Because people who have been exposed to the virus don’t know right away that they are sick, they can spread the disease to everyone they meet before they ever develop a splitting headache, start coughing, or lose their senses of taste and smell.
Especially if they don’t wear a mask and keep six feet away from others.
Statewide, the group most at risk of catching COVID-19 is, by far, people ages 19 to 29. The Georgia Department of Public Health graph shows COVID-19 is running wild among teenagers and young adults. Note the huge difference between ages 10-17 and 18-29, which may reflect students at home under Clayton County Public Schools distance learning policies versus greater mobility and tendency to gather in large groups for young adults:
Given both the Clayton County and the statewide numbers, Turner says he’s very worried about the risk COVID-19 poses for the county’s young people.
“From what I have observed and through conversations with our residents, it appears that the younger people are not taking it seriously,” Turner said, “mainly because they feel they are young and their bodies are strong enough to fight off the virus–which many are mistaken.”
Turner noted, “The older citizens are taking it very serious, to the point that many are not leaving their homes or engaging in activities that they once enjoyed.”
An invisible virus that lurks in the body for days or weeks before showing itself through symptoms is tough for people to understand, he explained: “I believe that unless the virus has directly impacted them or a close family member, it’s surreal to them. Unless they have personally suffered or saw someone who died as the result of having the virus, it’s harder for some people to understand the seriousness of the pandemic.”
Nowhere is this more obvious than the many festivals that continue to take place throughout the county. Not everyone wears a mask and social distancing is the exception rather than the rule. Both Morrow and Forest Park have continued to hold large outdoor events like Dia de los Muertos, Christmas, tailgate parties, and food truck gatherings throughout the pandemic.
At one point or another since the pandemic began, Forest Park officials have gone without masks in chambers and at public gatherings. They have cited COVID-19 as the reason for preventing members of the media and public from attending City Council meetings in person and for preventing in-person inspection or pickup of public records. Despite this policy, Forest Park City Councilman Hector Gutierrez said he was recently hospitalized with COVID-19. He has since returned to the dais, where other councilmembers and city staff continue to go maskless.
In Morrow, Mayor Jeff Lampl has gone without a mask both in chambers and at public outdoor festivals. One source expressed concern that the city’s Lunar New Year festival, which was well-attended last year just before the pandemic began, could become a super-spreader event this year. The celebration will take place February 6, mostly inside the Morrow Conference Center at Southlake Mall, and includes live music, dance, and games of chance. Plans for the festival that the city published before its January 26 work session noted “three large jugs” of hand sanitizer as a precaution. (The Morrow Center details its own COVID-19 precautions and procedures on its website, including more frequent sanitizing and cleaning, different food and beverage procedures, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants.) The Clayton Crescent asked city officials to comment on how Morrow plans to handle COVID-19 precautions for this event but received no response. A St. Patrick’s Day celebration is already in the planning stages.
While fewer children are reported as having the virus, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are inherently less susceptible to catching COVID-19. Those smaller numbers also may indicate that parents tend to keep their kids closer to home, especially during a pandemic. In Clayton County, those figures also may reflect the public school system’s move to distance learning as a precaution.
Based on the widespread number of cases in Clayton County between January 3 and January 16, CCPS is going to continue distance learning for the time being. During those two weeks, the county has seen 710 cases per 100,000 people. Leon Stafford of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with school board Chair Jessie Goree, who said, “I did have someone email me upset about us not being open. I hope they understand why we’re still virtual.” Stafford noted that Clayton County’s approach differs from those of other metro Atlanta school systems.
Clayton State University, which has partnered with Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services to test students, faculty, and staff on campus, puts out its own COVID-19 numbers on its website.
“During the week of 1/17–1/23/2021, we received reports that a total of 34 members of the Clayton State University community (students and employees) have tested positive for COVID-19,” the website announced.
However, documents from the University System of Georgia indicate that at least 33 faculty members and 188 students at Clayton State are known to have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Dr. Matthew Boedy, associate professor of rhetoric at University of North Georgia, has been tracking COVID-19 numbers at USG campuses. Boedy got the documents from USG after filing an Open Records Request with Clayton State, which said it would charge him copying fees for the public data, even though he is an academic conducting research.
“As of Dec. 31, 2020 – with [the] caveat that many schools stopped reporting mid-December – my tally shows roughly 14,000 cases on USG campuses (YTD, as some schools go back that far,” Boedy notes on his running tallies. His latest figure for Clayton State as of press time was 255 cases.
The Clayton Crescent has asked the university to clarify the numbers affecting the campus community. University spokesperson Kelly Petty said, “Our office can confirm the first number since that is listed on the COVID-19 webpage. It is inclusive of students, faculty and full-time and part-time staff. This number is our total of reported cases for that particular week. So for the week of Jan. 17 – Jan. 23, we received 34 reported cases. The number is updated each Monday.”
Meanwhile, masks are mandatory for everyone on all University System of Georgia campuses who are inside campus buildings or facilities “where six feet of social distancing is not possible.” Anyone not properly masked will be asked to do so or leave. Those who refuse will face disciplinary proceedings.
There is an exception for people whose documented disability would be negatively affected by a face covering. Also, students are not required to wear masks “in one’s own dorm room or suite, when alone in an enclosed office or study room, or in campus outdoor settings where social distancing requirements are met.”
Clayton State also updated its employee and staff COVID-19 policies on January 4 as it began a staggered return to campus. The university policy is to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, as well as to “encourage everyone to take the stairs” and to wear masks in the restrooms where social distancing is not possible.
Campuses all over the United States have been grappling with how best to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The #covidcampus hashtag on Twitter details the specific concerns of colleges and universities.
Turner has a message for everyone in Clayton County.
“I would like to encourage everyone to continue to follow the CDC guidelines, continue to social distance, and please, please, please take the COVID shot when available,” he pleaded. “I understand that there may be some unknowns about the vaccine but, according to the scientists and doctors, it is effective in the prevention of contracting the virus.”
Turner isn’t just talking. He and other county officials have rolled up their sleeves.
“I have personally taken the shot and I feel great but even despite that, I will continue to mask up and follow the CDC guidelines and I hope others will, too.”
As of press time, CCHD did not have any appointments available for COVID-19 immunization. Kaiser Permanente was out of vaccine but an employee on the advice line said appointments should resume around February 12. Clayton State got 400 doses a couple of weeks ago for some faculty and students in Tier One.
“As both Pfizer and Moderna are able to ramp up production of vaccine in the coming days and weeks, supply should better meet demand for each phase of allocation and administration,” CCHD’s website explains. “Until that time, providers and the public are urged to be patient as we work together to get vaccine distributed in the most efficient and equitable way possible. The criteria for allocating vaccine is based, first and foremost, on supply and shipping, neither of which DPH controls.”
CCHD also urges everyone to continue masking up and following CDC COVID-19 protocols while we wait for more vaccine to arrive in Clayton County.
Looking for an appointment to get vaccinated? Try your luck at https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.
If you live in Clayton County, we want to know how COVID-19 is affecting you. Please take our survey–it’s only ten questions long and shouldn’t take more than two minutes to complete.