A look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week

Douglasville city council member Sam Davis, shown here, often helps Premier Drugstore spread the word before and at a vaccination event. (Courtesy of Bryan Green)
Caption
Douglasville city council member Sam Davis, shown here, often helps Premier Drugstore spread the word before and at a vaccination event. (Courtesy of Bryan Green)

Credit: Courtesy of Bryan Green

Credit: Courtesy of Bryan Green

A highly contagious coronavirus variant first seen in India has been detected in Georgia, potentially threatening the progress the state has made in getting the pandemic under control, health officials say.

The White House is sounding the alarm about what is now referred to as the delta variant, with administration officials and Dr. Anthony Fauci publicly urging people to get vaccinated ahead of the spread.

The vaccines work against the variant, said Dr. David Kessler, the White House’s Chief Science Officer on COVID-19.

In Britain, almost all of the people who have been hospitalized with the delta variant were not vaccinated. And, when there are the “breakthrough” cases among those who are vaccinated, people tend not to get as sick, health authorities say.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52% of Georgia adults — and 41% of all Georgians — have had at least one shot, compared to 64% nationwide. President Biden has set a goal of having 70% of U.S. adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

Here is a look at major developments related to COVID-19 over the past week.

Beginning to spread

Helix, a company that performs genetic sequencing and tracks virus variants, says Georgia has seven cases of the delta variant, as well as four cases of a slightly different variant from India called “Kappa.”

Project manager John Nechtman (left) and director Jin-Xiong She (right) work with a newly installed Ion Gene Studio S5 Prime Semiconductor Sequencer in the genomics core laboratory at Augusta University Medical Center. The lab currently conducts genomic sequencing to study various illnesses and has the capabilities to do the type of sequencing to identify variants of the virus. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Project manager John Nechtman (left) and director Jin-Xiong She (right) work with a newly installed Ion Gene Studio S5 Prime Semiconductor Sequencer in the genomics core laboratory at Augusta University Medical Center. The lab currently conducts genomic sequencing to study various illnesses and has the capabilities to do the type of sequencing to identify variants of the virus. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Those numbers are likely an undercount, however. Not everyone who is sick gets tested. Not every test sample gets genetically sequenced. And not every sequencing is done by the Helix company.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said it does not have county-level data on where the variant cases are located.

The delta variant is significantly more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain and appears to carry a higher risk of hospitalization, health officials say. In India, where the variant was first detected in January, hospitals have been overwhelmed with cases. The country set a global record for daily COVID deaths.

The variant has now spread to dozens of countries. Just days ago, it became the dominant strain in the United Kingdom. In spite of success from rigorous lockdowns there, the delta variant has caused a rise in infections

“We cannot let that happen in the United States,” said Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
In this file photo, Kim Brown, left, and her daughter Katie Brown walk their dogs without masks along the Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community. Both of them say they are fully vaccinated and feel comfortable not wearing face coverings when outside.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
In this file photo, Kim Brown, left, and her daughter Katie Brown walk their dogs without masks along the Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community. Both of them say they are fully vaccinated and feel comfortable not wearing face coverings when outside. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Vaccinations key to protecting against variants

Kessler, the White House’s Chief Science Officer on COVID-19, said people need to complete their vaccination regimens: one shot for Johnson & Johnson, or two shots for Pfizer or Moderna.

It’s not enough to take just one shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, Kessler said.

“These mutations are real. They are challenging,” Kessler said. “But the good news is that the vaccines that we have been using protect against death and hospitalization from these variants. Period. Get vaccinated, get both doses if it’s an mRNA vaccine, and there is remarkable protection.”

Georgia passes up millions of vaccine doses

While public health officials urge people to get vaccinated, demand continues to decline in Georgia. The demand has fallen so dramatically that the state has been turning down millions of allocated doses, telling the federal government to distribute them elsewhere.

The state has donated more than three million of its allotted doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over the past three weeks, according to DPH.

Meanwhile, Georgia has tens of thousands of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hand that are in danger of expiring before they can be injected into arms. DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said that about 171,500 were scheduled to expire before the end of June.

On Thursday, amid warnings that supplies across the nation would expire, Johnson & Johnson announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the vaccine’s expiration date by six weeks, based on data from ongoing studies.

Zurriola Beach and Urumea River mouth in San Sebastian, Spain. Spanish tourism officials are optimistic that the country will have the proper protocols in place to welcome back travelers from all over the world by this summer. (Juan Moyano/Dreamstime/TNS)
Caption
Zurriola Beach and Urumea River mouth in San Sebastian, Spain. Spanish tourism officials are optimistic that the country will have the proper protocols in place to welcome back travelers from all over the world by this summer. (Juan Moyano/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

New travel advice for more than 120 countries

As more people get vaccinated and the spread of COVID-19 slows down, public health officials are issuing new travel advice for more than 120 countries.

More than 30 countries were moved into the lowest risk category, according to The Associated Press. The CDC continues to recommend avoiding travel to level four countries, which include Brazil, Iraq, India, Haiti and North Korea.

The guidance for unvaccinated people varies by how severe the pandemic is in each country.

Spain jump-started its summer tourism season by welcoming vaccinated visitors from most countries, including the U.S. It also reopened its ports to cruise ships.

Staff writers J. Scott Trubey, Johnny Edwards and Tim Darnell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.