The Coastal Health District’s top doctor said that local COVID-19 confirmed-case rates have risen with increasing frequency since Georgia began relaxing emergency orders in late April, as part of an update on the pandemic response at the Chatham County Commission’s May 22 meeting.


Dr. Lawton Davis appeared downbeat while providing his assessment of Chatham’s infection rates since Georgia’s "soft reopening about a month ago," which was ordered by Gov. Brian Kemp days before his own statewide stay-at-home mandate expired April 30. While Davis noted that some increase in COVID-19 case reports can be attributed to increased testing, he emphasized that the overall threat is clearly not abating.


"I would love to be able to tell you that this thing is going away, but a picture paints a thousand words," Davis said, while presenting the commissioners with charts showing an increasingly steep climb of local COVID-19 cases over the past month. "You can see [in mid-April] we were kind of flat, and if anything, the charts are creeping up in this area."


Davis announced a grim milestone for the eight-county coastal district of Georgia’s Department of Public Health that he oversees.


"Yesterday was the single largest number of reported positive cases in the district since this thing began. Not in Chatham County, but in the district as a whole," Davis said. "This most likely reflects the fact that we’ve been taking some pop-up [testing locations] out to some of the other counties that have not had a fixed location, so we’ve probably gotten to some people who’ve not had access to testing."


On that note, Davis announced that pop-up locations for free COVID-19 testing will expand throughout Chatham County in upcoming weeks. The Coastal Health District will begin closing its fixed testing site on Sallie Mood Drive every Tuesday and Thursday to devote its resources to a series of pop-up sites countywide.


"We have identified locations in each of the commissioners’ districts, and are working to finalize the logistics for those," Davis said, while announcing that future pop-up locations include Butler Elementary School on May 26, Skidaway Island on May 28, Savannah High School on June 2, and Johnson High School on June 4.


"We’ve received numerous requests for more pop-up spots, and basically we’re doing about as many as we can afford" with current levels of personnel and equipment, Davis said.


While highlighting some recent advances in coronavirus research, Davis reiterated that the only current methods to effectively prevent widespread COVID-19 transmission are social distancing and case investigation including contact tracing and quarantines.


"Neither one of those are high-tech, and neither one of them are real sexy-sounding, but that’s basically the only tools we have," Davis said, before repeating advice to "wear your mask, wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes."


Prior to Davis’s presentation, Commission Chairman Al Scott — who wore a face mask when entering the commission chambers but not while chairing the meeting — delivered an equally disheartening assessment of Chatham’s coronavirus-infection outlook amid the long weekend that kicks off the area’s summertime tourism season.


"Memorial Day might increase the potential of those being exposed to coronavirus," Scott said, adding that he sees dangerous trends in local infection rates. "Looking at this information every day, multiple times a day, I really expect the death rate to go up in Chatham County."


Scott went on to explain coronavirus-safety protocols at the Old Courthouse, where the commission meets.


"Whoever comes in this building must don a mask, must wear a mask," Scott said after holding his mask up as a display. "I don’t come in the building without a mask on."


Flanked by his other commissioners — some of whom wore masks during the meeting, while others declined to do so — Scott elaborated on his own mask-wearing practices.


"When I’m in my workspace, I usually take the mask off when there’s nobody in there," Scott said, and he reminded his fellow commissioners that they must abide by the building’s mask requirements for entry. "As elected officials, you’re not exempt from that policy when you come in this building."