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

Cobb County resident Willia George, 84, receives a single dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while at a Cobb and Douglass County Public Health Department COVID-19 vaccine drive thru at Jim Miller Park in Marietta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Cobb County resident Willia George, 84, receives a single dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine while at a Cobb and Douglass County Public Health Department COVID-19 vaccine drive thru at Jim Miller Park in Marietta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@

The number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia is on the decline, but still above the summer’s peak.

On Friday, the rolling average for confirmed and suspected cases was 4,820, about half what it was at the peak Jan. 11, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The number of people currently hospitalized for the coronavirus is also down by about a third from the peak.

But deaths remain elevated, with a seven-day rolling average of 106.

With the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia as high as ever and a more transmissible variant of the virus “probably widespread” throughout the state, health authorities are in a desperate race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible.

But it will be at least two to three weeks before the state is able to expand vaccine eligibility, Gov. Brian Kemp said. Right now, vaccines are limited to health care personnel, people 65 and older and their caregivers, and first responders. The state doesn’t have enough doses yet to include teachers and other essential workers, he said.

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

Georgia hits major milestone

Kemp announced that the number of Georgians vaccinated has hit 1 million, which he called “an encouraging milestone.” Starting next week, Kemp said, the number of doses allocated to the state will increase from 120,000 doses a week to 154,000, due to the Biden administration’s plan to release more supplies.

That won’t be enough to ramp up for mass vaccinations, however. While the state has been allocated about 1.5 million doses, Kemp noted there are some 2 million Georgians currently eligible to be vaccinated. That includes those 65 years and older, health care workers and public safety officers, as well as those who live and work in long-term care facilities.

“Our demand is drastically outpacing the supply that we’re seeing in our state,” Kemp told reporters at Jim Miller Park in Cobb County, where he toured a vaccination site.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
Registered Nurse Kathy Martin (center) prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to Arthur Smith at Phoebe Healthworks in Albany on Wednesday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Registered Nurse Kathy Martin (center) prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to Arthur Smith at Phoebe Healthworks in Albany on Wednesday. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

More contagious strain ‘probably widespread’

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia’s public health commissioner, said that the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom is likely spreading quickly throughout Georgia. The state has now confirmed 23 cases of the variant, known as B.1.1.7. But Toomey said that the limited surveillance system isn’t capturing the variant’s true spread.

Seven of the cases detected so far in the state are in Fulton County. Dr. Lynn Paxton, district health director of the Fulton County Board of Health, called that a “wild underestimation of the actual prevalence of this variant in our population.”

And she said it’s just a matter of time before the more contagious strain becomes the dominant one.

In this file photo, school counselor Jennifer Susko (right) is one of hundreds of Cobb County teachers and staff holding a protest in the parking lot during the school board meeting at the Cobb County School District's Offices. Cobb teachers are pressing the district for  an improved COVID-19 response.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
In this file photo, school counselor Jennifer Susko (right) is one of hundreds of Cobb County teachers and staff holding a protest in the parking lot during the school board meeting at the Cobb County School District's Offices. Cobb teachers are pressing the district for an improved COVID-19 response. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Pressure mounts to expand vaccine eligibility

With schools returning to in-person learning, teachers are demanding priority, as are mass transit employees and other essential workers. Yet throngs of people already eligible to get the vaccine, particularly older adults, have not been able to get inoculated because of limited vaccine supplies.

Expanding vaccine eligibility within a month to 1B, a group that would include teachers and other essential workers, could be overly optimistic. If Georgia continues to receive 154,000 doses per week and administers them at the same pace, it could take several more weeks, at least, to meet the demands of Phase 1A.

Several factors at play could change the outlook. Johnson & Johnson, the only major drugmaker developing a single-dose vaccine for COVID-19, has applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. If FDA signs off, the company said it would be prepared to ship doses immediately.

But, even if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine obtains that authorization, vaccines likely won’t be distributed to states for at least three weeks.

States don’t necessarily have to wait until one phase of the vaccination campaign is completed before expanding to the next phase.

Erin Freer (center), owner, talks to a customer Laureynn Elie as hair stylist Brandon Newton styles her hair at Blo Blow Dry Bar in Buckhead. The pandemic has been hard on small businesses and companies that rely on in-person transactions. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Erin Freer (center), owner, talks to a customer Laureynn Elie as hair stylist Brandon Newton styles her hair at Blo Blow Dry Bar in Buckhead. The pandemic has been hard on small businesses and companies that rely on in-person transactions. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia layoffs edge down, but remain high

The number of Georgians filing unemployment claims has edged down, but remains about five times as high as before the pandemic.

About 27,000 initial claims for jobless benefits were processed in the week ending Jan. 30. That is the lowest weekly number in the past month and far below stratospheric levels reached during the pandemic-triggered economic shutdowns last spring, according to the state Department of Labor.

However, in the year before the pandemic, weekly claims averaged 5,548.

About 1.7 million Georgians have received unemployment payments at some point since March, according to state Department of Labor spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright.

With COVID-19 still uncontrolled and vaccines still rolling out sluggishly, consumer fears continue to hamper businesses that rely on in-person interactions. The result is an economy that is still not hitting on all cylinders.

Hiring has also been strong in warehousing, logistics and trucking, thanks to an unprecedented surge in online shopping.

Georgia also continues to be a desired location for some international manufacturers, especially those that are part of the region’s auto supply chain.

Staff writers Michael E. Kanell, Eric Stirgus and Yamil Berard contributed to this report.

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