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New coronavirus case reported in Forsyth County, bringing total to 4
Georgia cases surpass 500 infections
The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is depicted in an illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020. - photo by Associated Press

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SAVANNAH — Coronavirus infections in Georgia surpassed 500 on Saturday, with more than one-third of counties in the state reporting at least one confirmed case.

Total cases of COVID-19 statewide jumped to 555, up from 485 Friday evening, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state saw six new deaths reported Saturday for a total of 20 since the outbreak.

Cases have been reported in at least 55 of Georgia's 159 counties. Metro Atlanta still accounts for the largest overall number of cases, with Fulton County reporting more than 90 infections from the new virus. 

In Forsyth County, one new confirmed case was reported Saturday evening, bringing its total to four. Little is known about those, except that was one was an employee at Panduit Corporation's manufacturing plant in Cumming.

Two counties with a fraction of Atlanta's population are among those hit the hardest.

In southwest Georgia, Albany and surrounding Dougherty County have ordered residents to stay home unless they're going to work, buying food, seeking medical care or exercising. The county has reported at least six deaths and more than 45 cases. Infections in Bartow County northwest of Atlanta have surpassed 55.

Meanwhile, a second Georgia lawmaker announced that she has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Republican state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta said she was tested after coming down with a fever a week ago and got the result Friday. Kirkpatrick said she and her husband have quarantined themselves at home and she's “comfortable that I have not put anyone at risk.”

“Fortunately, it is a great time to be on my back porch,” Kirkpatrick, a physician, wrote on her Facebook page. “Although I am in the at-risk age group, I am blessed to be very healthy and thankful that I am recovering without complications.”

One of her legislative colleagues, GOP Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, previously announced he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Georgia's 235 other representatives and senators, plus legislative employees, have been urged to self-quarantine through March 30. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who presides over the state Senate, said he is staying home.

The General Assembly has suspended its regular session because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Of Georgians who have died, the average age was just over 66, with the oldest being 85 and the youngest 42, according the state Department of Public Health. At least 10 had underlying health conditions.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe complications such as pneumonia. The vast majority recover.

While schools and colleges statewide have been closed, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has refrained from ordering restaurants and other businesses to shut down, leaving those decisions to local governments. Like Dougherty County, Athens-Clarke County has imposed some of the toughest restrictions ordering residents to stay home except for work, doctor visits or other necessities.

As the spring break season arrives, local governments have closed public beaches at Tybee Island and St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast. Officials have also shut down Jekyll Island, a state park.

Georgia has opened at least 13 drive-thru locations for virus testing and plans more. Kemp says priority for tests is being given to those at highest risk— the elderly, people who already have chronic illnesses, those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and first responders such as paramedics.

Brian Paglia contributed to this report.