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

Grady Hospital staffs a vaccine question desk in the main lobby of the hospital Tuesday with Emory senior resident Dr. Billy Joe Mullinax, seated back left, and professor Dr. Kimberly Manning, seated front, available in the 'no judgement zone' for anyone with concerns or questions still looking for information on the Covid vaccinations.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Grady Hospital staffs a vaccine question desk in the main lobby of the hospital Tuesday with Emory senior resident Dr. Billy Joe Mullinax, seated back left, and professor Dr. Kimberly Manning, seated front, available in the 'no judgement zone' for anyone with concerns or questions still looking for information on the Covid vaccinations. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Georgia continued to fall sharply while new infections held steady over the past week.

The number of Georgians hospitalized for COVID-19 dropped to 1,053 Friday, down from more than 6,000 in early September.

The seven-day rolling average for newly confirmed and suspected COVID-19 infections dropped below 1,400, which was down slightly from a week earlier, but a drop of more than 80% from the late August peak, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

While the trend line is encouraging, Georgia also hit a grim milestone this week, reaching 25,000 COVID-19 deaths. Here’s a look at major developments related to COVID-19 during the past week.

CDC backs vaccine for ages 5-11

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the way for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized for children ages 5 to 11, a moment many parents have been eagerly awaiting.

ExploreHow to find Covid vaccine appointments for children

Across the state, pediatricians, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other sites have either started to administer the vaccine — or were getting ready to.

In expressing support for authorizing vaccines for younger children, members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices talked about vaccination helping prevent coronavirus infections and stopping the spread of the COVID-19 as well as being a key to keeping kids in school and ultimately helping give them more normal lives.

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Teddy Lucas, 10, shows off his vaccinated sticker after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday at a Viral Solutions drive-up site in Decatur. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Teddy Lucas, 10, shows off his vaccinated sticker after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday at a Viral Solutions drive-up site in Decatur. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Combined ShapeCaption
Teddy Lucas, 10, shows off his vaccinated sticker after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday at a Viral Solutions drive-up site in Decatur. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The committee members questioned data presented by manufacturer Pfizer and the CDC on potential adverse effects from the vaccine, but ultimately agreed the benefits outweigh any risks in this age group. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC reported 8,300 children in this age group have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and at least 94 have died from the disease. Among those hospitalized, approximately one-third had no pre-existing condition that made them more susceptible to the virus.

A CDC panel unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine be authorized for children as young as 5. And in a final step, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, signed off on the recommendation hours later.

Georgia has almost 1 million residents between 5 and 11 who are now newly eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s equal to about 9% of the state’s total population.

Georgia pandemic deaths top 25,000

On Thursday, Georgia recorded 25,000 confirmed deaths in the 20-month-long coronavirus pandemic. The state reported the record number of 25,042 deaths the same week that the U.S. toll reached 750,000 and the global toll 5 million.

Georgia now has more dead from the pandemic than if the entire city of Acworth were wiped out.

The number is likely a significant undercount, experts say. In addition to undiagnosed cases, the state listed an additional 4,351 deaths as “probable” pandemic deaths, ones attributed by health authorities to COVID-19 based on rapid COVID-19 tests and not PCR tests, which are considered more accurate for coronavirus testing.

The milestones come as the nation reaches the downward slope of the worst surge yet in infections and deaths brought on by the delta variant. Hospitals across Georgia have overflowed so badly that intensive care units had to turn away many patients.

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Volunteers plants some of the 15,000 flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur on Saturday, February 20, 2021. The flags represent the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia, and the effort aims to raise awareness about the toll of the coronavirus. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Volunteers plants some of the 15,000 flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur on Saturday, February 20, 2021. The flags represent the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia, and the effort aims to raise awareness about the toll of the coronavirus. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Volunteers plants some of the 15,000 flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur on Saturday, February 20, 2021. The flags represent the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia, and the effort aims to raise awareness about the toll of the coronavirus. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

At this time, the surge is ebbing. How long it will last is an open question.

The answer lies in whether more people agree to get vaccinated, said Amber Schmidtke, a researcher who tracks data on the pandemic in Georgia.

Georgia this week also reached a milestone in vaccinations, with 50% of all residents now fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health. The pace of vaccination picked up during the delta surge but slowed again, and has hovered just barely under 50% for several days.

There is no consensus on how many people must be vaccinated to stop the pandemic, but experts agree 50% is nowhere close.

“I don’t know that we’re convincing enough people to prevent the next wave,” Schmidtke said. “I expect, and I think most people think, that there will be a winter wave.”

In 2021, 92% of Georgians who died of COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE

New vaccine requirements issued

Georgia companies and health care facilities are wrestling with new federal government requirements for vaccinations.

An estimated 84 million workers at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules issued Thursday.

Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people working in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing — they will need to be vaccinated.

Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

ExploreGeorgia employers react to deadline for healthcare workers be vaccinated

The new requirements are the Biden administration’s boldest move yet to persuade reluctant Americans to finally get a vaccine that has been widely available for months — or face financial consequences.

The requirements will not apply to people who work at home or outdoors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.