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

People wait in an observation area after they receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
People wait in an observation area after they receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Georgia has opened wide its vaccination doors and now allows anyone 16 and older to receive a COVID-19 shot. So far, only a handful of states — including Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia — have done that, though at least 30 other states are aiming to do so soon.

The expansion here came less than two weeks after the state opened up eligibility to people age 55 and older and to those suffering from “high risk” medical conditions — a category defined so broadly that it encompassed more than two-thirds of the state’s adult population.

“Confirm your spot in line as quickly as possible,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “This is our ticket back to normal, and we’re getting closer to that point every day.”

Georgia has shown across-the-board improvement in the number of cases, current hospitalizations and test positivity. The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed and suspected cases in Georgia is down about 80% from the Jan. 11 peak.

But several experts caution we are not out of the woods yet. They stress the expanded eligibility comes at a critical time, noting that states are racing to get as many people vaccinated as possible before new, more dangerous variants of the virus get to them first. The state recently detected its first case of a particularly worrisome variant first found in Brazil. Health officials also have reported dozens of other cases of variants that originated in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Expanding eligibility now is the right call, said Dr. Cecil Bennett, medical director of a primary care center in Newnan and an adjunct professor at Morehouse School of Medicine’s Family Medicine Program.

Kemp’s approach is “spot on, in my opinion,” he said.

Here’s a look at major developments related to COVID-10 during the past week.

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Universities in Georgia are preparing to vaccinate college students who want to be vaccinated. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Universities in Georgia are preparing to vaccinate college students who want to be vaccinated. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The push to vaccinate college students

One large group of Georgians now eligible to get the vaccine is college students. There are more than 340,000 students in the University System of Georgia.

Inoculating young people may be a powerful way to combat the spread, the experts say.

According to a study in January from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest rates of infection since last June have consistently been among those 18 to 24. Even though those young adults are far less likely to suffer themselves from severe effects of the COVID-19, their high rates of infection may make them a more dangerous group to society at large if they circulate and infect more vulnerable people.

Experts noted recent scenes of young adults, many maskless, crowding party spaces in Miami Beach and at other spring break destinations.

University of Georgia leaders emailed students and employees explaining how they can sign up for an appointment. The university has been administering shots on campus and said nearly 1,800 have received both doses. UGA said it would prioritize vaccinations for students and employees with comorbidities.

Georgia Tech said it has received additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is ready to administer more doses. The school is also offering second shots to those on campus who were vaccinated elsewhere.

Delta is adding more flights this summer
Delta is adding more flights this summer

Krispy Kreme Offers Free Doughnuts to People With COVID-19 Vaccine.

Airlines adding summer flights

Airlines are adding back flights for this summer as more people are vaccinated and travel rebounds from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Air Lines has focused on a number of mountain and beach locations for its added summer flights, since many travelers have been looking for outdoor trips during the pandemic.

The Atlanta-based airline, which like other U.S. carriers operate mostly domestic flights, is adding new flights to Montana; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Reno, Nevada; and Fresno, California, near Yosemite National Park.

From Hartsfield-Jackson International, Delta is launching new flights to Bangor, Maine and restarting flights to places in Michigan and South Dakota, as well as Caribbean destinations St. Kitts, Roatan Island, Bonaire and Grand Cayman Island.

More than 1.5 million people passed through airport security checkpoints on Sunday, March 21, the most in more than a year.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways is preparing to restart flights to Atlanta in June. The carrier said it will operate more flights here and elsewhere in the United States to fill a vacuum left by other carriers that suspended routes.

Doha-based Qatar Airways stopped flying its Atlanta-Doha route a year ago on March 30 due to the spread of COVID-19. The carrier earlier this year started selling seats for a restart of service June 1 with four flights a week to Atlanta on Airbus A350-900 jets.

Tips for getting a COVID-19 vaccine

If you are having trouble booking an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, check for appointments outside your home county. Any Georgia resident can receive a vaccine at any available site in the state.

Those ages 16-17 can only get the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Because they are minors, they will need to have a parent or guardian present to provide consent.

The massive COVID-19 vaccination site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has opened. The site has the capacity to administer 6,000 vaccines a day, seven days a week and have evening appointments.

Because the process can be confusing, unofficial groups and individuals are using Facebook and other social media to help people find appointments. One example is the Georgia Vaccine Hunters Facebook group, which numbers more than 9,000 members.

For appointments, check these two websites first: Georgia Department of Public Health, https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us

My Vaccine Georgia, operated by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department: https://myvaccinegeorgia.com/

Staff writers Kelly Yamanouchi, Eric Stirgus, Ariel Hart and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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