Georgia, Washington Both Shatter COVID Case Records Ahead of New Year's Eve Celebrations

Georgia and Washington state both broke their previous records for most confirmed COVID-19 cases in one day over the past week.

Georgia reported 13,670 cases on December 28, while Washington reported 6,235 on December 24.

Both new records surpassed numbers from earlier in the pandemic when vaccines were not widely available. Washington's previous highest number of confirmed cases was 5,526 on December 7, 2020, while Georgia's highest peaks occurred in January and in fall 2021 when the new schoolyear started.

The two states both showed dramatic increases in positive test rates compared to previous weeks. In Washington's King County, average daily cases increased by 213 percent. Last month, Georgia was reporting fewer than 1,000 new cases per day, but the recent record-breaking peak has bumped up the state's average for the week to 9,798 cases.

With the Omicron variant rapidly spreading around the world and New Year's Eve celebrations coming up, many states are fearing that hospitals could be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Public Health—Seattle & King County reported Monday a 58 percent increase in hospitalizations related to the virus. Georgia has not yet seen as dramatic of an increase, with only a 10 percent increase being reported Tuesday. However, state data showed that in the Atlanta area, 25 emergency rooms had to turn away ambulances Tuesday, with only six taking them in.

COVID-19, Seattle, downtown
Washington state reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day since the start of the pandemic Friday with 6,235 cases. Here, normally busy downtown streets are virtually empty at rush hour due to coronavirus fears on March 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The climbing number of virus cases is forcing changes in plans. The city of Atlanta announced it was canceling the New Year's Eve Peach Drop at the Underground Atlanta complex downtown, the third year in a row that the event won't be held. Emory University said it will start its spring semester online, with in-person classes not starting until January 31 at the earliest. And some public schools are saying students and employees must wear masks when their classes resume in early January, with the 1,100-student Dooly County district joining that group on Tuesday.

Among the Georgia hospitals turning away emergency medical transports were the flagship hospitals of three of the area's four major hospital systems: Emory, Piedmont and Northside. Data showed emergency rooms in regions around Atlanta, Rome and Carrollton, Columbus and Augusta were exceeding 100 percent capacity.

Officials are urging people who need testing not to tie up emergency rooms but to instead seek out testing sites and pharmacies.

Washington state health officials also confirmed 3,847 new cases and 17 deaths on Monday, bringing the state's totals to 834,235 cases and 9,801 deaths.

While more fully vaccinated people are testing positive, King County public health officials said unvaccinated people still have the highest risk of contracting and transmitting the virus.

Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, said the state is working to increase testing capabilities and has 2,500 National Guard troops on standby who could be used to aid testing sites and hospitals. She said the state Department of Community Health would decide who to send where in coming days. She also said Kemp continues to communicate with hospital leaders and has five calls with hospitals planned Wednesday.

Byrd, though, reiterated that the Republican governor, who has joined a series of lawsuits against Biden administration vaccine mandates in recent weeks, won't " be implementing any measures that shutter businesses or divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated or the masked from the unmasked."

"Governor Kemp is fully vaccinated and boosted, and he will continue to urge Georgians to talk with their doctors about the benefits of getting the vaccine or receiving their booster shot," Byrd said in a statement. "Ultimately, he feels that we must trust our citizens to do what's right for themselves and their families."

Emory President Gregory Fenves said Tuesday that Georgia's largest private university is switching to virtual classes to start the spring semester because of a national surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant. Fenves said Emory will transition back to in-person learning on January 31 if conditions permit. The switch to remote learning applies to undergraduate, graduate and professional courses. Residence halls will remain open, though students are encouraged to delay their return to campus.

Fenves wrote in a letter that he knew that "beginning the semester with remote learning and teaching is inconvenient."

"But we must be adaptable during this surge so we can continue our important work—learning, teaching, creating, and discovering—in the face of this ever-evolving pandemic," Fenves wrote.

Emory students, faculty and staff are required to get a booster shot by January 19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Atlanta, COVID, vaccine
Atlanta reported a record-breaking 13,670 positive COVID-19 cases in one day on Tuesday. Here, an Atlanta Braves fan receives the COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive at an MLB game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on May 7 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images