Positive jail tests called into question

  • The Hartwell Sun
    The Hartwell Sun

The total number of novel coronavirus cases in Hart County slightly increased again this week as more pandemic-prompted restrictions were lifted statewide.

The number of cumulative COVID-19 cases rose to 33 in Hart County as of Tuesday with one hospitalization listed, according to daily reports from the state Department of Public Health.

County administrator and emergency management director Terrell Partain said there are currently eight active cases of the virus in the county.

Three detention officers and one inmate at the Hart County Jail previously tested positive for COVID-19 after the National Guard administered nasal-swab tests at the facility.

Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland said those officers who were positive were re-tested using a blood test that came back negative for COVID-19 and did not show  they had built up any antibodies, prompting Cleveland to question the validity of the tests and whether or not it was a false positive. None of the officers who tested positive showed any symptoms, Cleveland said.

District 2 public health spokesperson Dave Palmer told The Sun the “nasal swab test is an accurate test based on detecting the DNA or RNA of the pathogen (coronavirus).” He said if the blood test was an antibody test and the body did not develop, or have enough time to develop antibodies, then this test could be negative as well, or show no evidence of antibodies to the disease.

“We continue to see many people who have no symptoms and test positive for Covid-19,” Palmer said.

When asked if it is revealed through further testing that the officers in fact did not and do not have COVID-19 would they be removed from the cumulative number, Nancy Nydam, the Department of Public Health’s State Communications Director, said case status is based on a positive polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test, so a positive PCR means they are a confirmed case in their county of residence, regardless of the results of a retest. 

Negative serology (antibody test) would not change that as those tests are still unreliable, Nydam said.

Some tests may exhibit cross-reactivity with other coronaviruses, such as those that cause the common cold, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. This could result in false-positive test results. Some people may not develop detectable antibodies after coronavirus infection, according to the CDC. In others, it is possible that antibody levels could wane over time to undetectable levels. Some antibodies are not present early in infection, so serologic test results do not indicate with certainty the presence or absence of current or previous infection with SARS-CoV-2.

The Department of Public Health recently began tracking and reporting the number of antibody tests statewide. Of the 91,325 people given an antibody test, 5,395 have tested positive.

The number of COVID-19 related deaths in Georgia reached 2,102 as of Tuesday. More than 8,300 people have been hospitalized in Georgia with the virus and 1,821 people have been admitted to ICUs.


The unemployment rate in the Georgia Mountains Region, which includes Hart County, spiked to 10.7 percent in April, climbing up from 2.7 percent just a year ago, the labor department reports.

The number of unemployment claims dramatically increased by 356 percent in April due to COVID-19 lay-offs, according to the labor department. When compared to last April, claims were up by about 6,344 percent.


Gov. Brian Kemp continued to ease restrictions placed on businesses statewide by allowing bars and night clubs to open under certain restrictions on June 1. The governor is allowing amusement parks, water parks, carnivals and circuses to reopen under several restrictions starting June 12.

The Hart County Library announced it is re-opening, but with certain restrictions in place. For more information, visit the library’s website at www.hartcountylibrary.com.

Georgia school officials released guidance this week on how to return to school amid the pandemic as Gov. Kemp allowed schools to open for summer school classes. Summer schools would have to keep students separated in classrooms and routinely sanitize facilities.


The Hartwell Service League’s annual Arts and Crafts Festival at the Pre-Fourth celebration is cancelled.

The fireworks display is also canceled due to health and safety reasons. 

The Lake Hartwell Music Festival is still scheduled for June 27, but city councilman Tray Hicks said at Monday night’s meeting that if they’re not able to hold it that day due to statewide restrictions then the date would be changed to July 18.