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

In this file photo, siblings Jared McCauley, 14, second from left, and Maya McCauley, 15, second from right, wait to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination event held by the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Department at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Caption
In this file photo, siblings Jared McCauley, 14, second from left, and Maya McCauley, 15, second from right, wait to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination event held by the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Department at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The surge of coronavirus cases fueled by the delta variant continues to ebb.

The seven-day rolling average for new confirmed and suspected COVID-19 infections dropped below 1,700, down more than 80% from the late August peak, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The state also reported 1,345 people are currently hospitalized for the disease as of Friday. The number of Georgians hospitalized for COVID-19 peaked during the delta wave in early September at more than 6,000.

Here’s a look at major developments related to COVID-19 during the past week.

FDA advisers back Pfizer’s vaccine for kids

A panel of U.S. health advisers endorsed kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, moving the U.S. closer to beginning vaccinations in children ages 5 to 11.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks.

While children are at lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older people, ultimately many panelists decided it’s important to give parents the choice to protect their youngsters — especially those at high risk of illness or who live in places where other precautions, such as masks in schools, aren’t being used.

The virus is “not going away. We have to find a way to live with it, and I think the vaccines give us a way to do that,” said FDA adviser Jeannette Lee of the University of Arkansas.

“I do think it’s a relatively close call,” said adviser Dr. Eric Rubin of Harvard University.

There are more steps ahead before this vaccine is made available to younger children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next will decide next whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.

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Mask mandate lifted in 35 Fulton schools

Students in 35 northern Fulton County schools can remove their masks for the first time since the first week of classes.

Masks became optional on Wednesday in schools and administrative buildings located in the cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs. But they must still be worn on buses.

Face coverings now “are highly recommended” but no longer required in a third of Fulton’s schools. The high schools impacted include Alpharetta, Innovation Academy, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Northview, North Springs and Riverwood. More are expected to join that list soon.

School districts in Fayette and Henry counties recently lifted mask mandates. Other metro districts are keeping them in place, including Atlanta, Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett.

Fulton lifted the mask rules in the three cities after the rate of COVID-19 infections there fell below 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. That threshold marks the difference between what’s considered a “high” and a “moderate” rate of spread.

COVID-19 killed more Georgia cops than violence, accidents

Since the pandemic began, at least 58 Georgia police officers, deputies, and jailers have died from the virus, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s review of death certificates and the Officer Down Memorial Page’s database. That vastly outnumbers other law enforcement deaths since 2020.

Officers and deputies are essential workers who often interact with the public, so they’re at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 or spreading it. Yet law enforcement agencies in Georgia and across the nation have wrestled with the decision of whether to require officers to be vaccinated, amid pushback from some officers.

Griffin police Sgt. Michael Todd Thomas, 52, died in late September from COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, according to his colleague Lt. Chip Johns. He said losing a fellow officer hurts no matter what the cause and the fact Thomas was vaccinated makes it even more complicated.

“It’s one of those things where everybody just has their own opinions on it. Some are vaccinated, some aren’t,” Johns said, adding that his department doesn’t track vaccination status. “You don’t really know who to believe right now because when you lose somebody that’s been vaccinated, you’re like ‘Well, hell!’”

Whether it’s hesitancy, misinformation or breakthrough cases, there’s little evidence that law enforcement deaths from COVID-19 have swayed other cops to get the shot. Roughly 49% of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated, but many law enforcement agencies either report lower participation rates or don’t track their employees’ vaccination status.

No agency tracks statewide vaccination or COVID-19 death rates among law enforcement.

A few cities in Georgia are mandating vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 tests for their employees, while others are debating it, casting the issue as a broad public safety matter.

Staff writers Vanessa McCray, Zachary Hansen, Jennifer Peebles and Matt Bruce contributed to this article as well as The Associated Press.