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

In this file photo, COVID-19 survivor Irma Gooden, 100, hugs her son, Troy Goodman, as loved ones begin in-person family visits at nursing homes since the pandemic started. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
In this file photo, COVID-19 survivor Irma Gooden, 100, hugs her son, Troy Goodman, as loved ones begin in-person family visits at nursing homes since the pandemic started. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus, first identified in Britain, is now the most common source of new infections in Georgia, a troubling development that could make the battle to end the pandemic more difficult.

The B.1.1.7 variant represents close to 75% of all new cases in Georgia, according to analysis by Helix, a lab testing company.

New cases in Georgia had been steadily falling since January, but now are slightly ticking up. Nervous health officials are watching this closely, wondering if this is the calm before a variant-fueled storm, or if the increase in vaccinations will help the state stave off another COVID-19 surge.

On Friday, federal officials announced they are providing $1.7 billion to public health officials across the country, including $6.7 million to Georgia, to monitor and track fight COVID-19 variants.

The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package signed into law last month.

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

‘Fairly concerned’ about variant

Dr. James Steinberg, a professor of medicine in Emory University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said he was “fairly concerned” about how widespread the B.1.1.7 variant is in Georgia.

“I would not be concerned if people were masking, not eating in restaurants, and getting vaccinated,” he said.

Georgia is not experiencing a jump in diagnoses like Michigan, which has the nation’s highest rate of new cases. But experts point out that B.1.1.7 took hold of Michigan earlier and Georgia could be just a few weeks behind.

Dr. Doug Olson, medical director of the Emergency Department at Northside Hospital Forsyth said he is “cautiously optimistic,” though he still expects cases to rise over the coming weeks. At the moment, he said, “we are not seeing as many as we thought we would.”

Several factors may account for that. The warmer weather has allowed people to enjoy activities outside, and it’s likely more people in Georgia have immunity from already having had the coronavirus. And Georgia expanded vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older about three weeks ago.

Olson believes the No. 1 factor is vaccinations. He said the number of older COVID-19 patients has plummeted. He is seeing more patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, but he expects that number to decline as more people get vaccinated.

According to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the sharpest decline in hospitalizations over the past four weeks has been among adults over 60. Children represent less than 3% of hospitalizations, and those under 30 represent about 9%. People over 50 represent about 72% of hospitalizations.

Vaccines appear to be effective against the variants right now. But public health experts are extremely worried that future iterations of the virus could be more resistant to the immune response, requiring Americans to get booster shots or even new vaccines.

An empty Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination vial at Concord Carlton's Pharmacy in Dunwoody. The Dunwoody pharmacy stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday. Six people in the U.S. have suffered “rare” and “severe” blood clots after receiving the vaccine. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
An empty Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination vial at Concord Carlton's Pharmacy in Dunwoody. The Dunwoody pharmacy stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday. Six people in the U.S. have suffered “rare” and “severe” blood clots after receiving the vaccine. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused

Georgia has halted use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for now, and it remains unclear how much of a setback the development might pose. Federal officials insist there is enough of a supply from Pfizer and Moderna to more than meet the need.

The pause took place after six women in the United States developed a rare blood clotting disorder within about two weeks of vaccination.

All six cases of the rare and severe blood clots occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died, and another is in critical condition. None of the six was a Georgia resident, according to the state health department.

Scientists said it isn’t clear if the vaccines caused the clots.

Nearly 7 million people in the U.S. have received the J&J shots so far.

Health authorities advise people who are scheduled for a J&J shot to instead seek out Moderna or Pfizer vaccines while scientists examine any connection between the vaccine and the clotting disorder.

ExploreEverything you need to know about getting a COVID vaccine in metro Atlanta
ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
In this file photo, a Delta jet prepares to take off at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
In this file photo, a Delta jet prepares to take off at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Delta turns corner

Delta Air Lines has turned a corner as the travel industry continues to recover from effects of the pandemic.

In March, the Atlanta-based airline generated about $4 million in cash a day. That was quite a change from earlier in the year, when it was burning through $11 million in cash a day.

That suggests Delta is pointed toward financial recovery after losing a record $12.4 billion last year, when many of its planes and workers were idled.

Air travel started to bounce back this spring as more Americans have gotten vaccinated. Travelers also are booking tickets for future trips. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people delay travel until they are fully vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated can safely travel within the U.S., the agency said.

Staff writers Kelly Yamanouchi, Eric Stirgus, Ariel Hart and database specialist John Perry contributed to this article.

In Other News