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

Kim Brown, left, and her daughter Katie Brown walk their dogs without a mask while walking along the Atlanta BeltLine in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community. Both of them say they are fully vaccinated and feel comfortable not wearing a face covering when outside. They still, however, wear face coverings when they are inside buildings.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Kim Brown, left, and her daughter Katie Brown walk their dogs without a mask while walking along the Atlanta BeltLine in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community. Both of them say they are fully vaccinated and feel comfortable not wearing a face covering when outside. They still, however, wear face coverings when they are inside buildings. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

In Georgia, the number of new coronavirus infections continues to fall. And the number of vaccinated people continues to rise — though at a slower pace than last month.

Close to half of adults in the state have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC recently said that fully vaccinated Americans can forgo masks and social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings. But the Atlanta-based federal agency was silent on how most businesses should handle workers who have opted to skip the vaccine.

The new federal guidance on masks complicates an already knotty situation faced by many metro Atlanta companies, which must decide how and when to bring workers back to the office.

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

Mundy’s Mill High School seniors Christina Jackson, right, Kirsten Culpeper, center, and Lovejoy High School senior Makhia Mosley, left,  pose for a photo during Mundy’s Mill High School prom at Cha’le Gardens in Riverdale. Masks were strongly encouraged for students during the event. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Mundy’s Mill High School seniors Christina Jackson, right, Kirsten Culpeper, center, and Lovejoy High School senior Makhia Mosley, left, pose for a photo during Mundy’s Mill High School prom at Cha’le Gardens in Riverdale. Masks were strongly encouraged for students during the event. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Questions remain about mask wearing

Local companies will have to decide if they should require workers to get vaccinated and if they should alter masking policies for those who are inoculated. The questions don’t stop there. Should they require unvaccinated workers to sit separately from vaccinated colleagues in the office? Or should they have unvaccinated employees work from home indefinitely? How can they even vet who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t?

Some retailers, including Walmart, Publix and Home Depot, were quick to announce that they were repealing mask mandates for vaccinated customers and workers. Most are relying on the honor system instead of proof of vaccination.

Employers are allowed to make vaccinations mandatory but must accommodate those with religious beliefs or medical conditions that preclude inoculations.

In this July 22, 2020 photo, a ticketing agent for Delta Airlines hands a boarding pass to a passenger as he checks in for a flight in the main terminal of Denver International Airport in Denver. Delta Air Lines announced the company would become one of the country’s largest to require new hires to be vaccinated.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this July 22, 2020 photo, a ticketing agent for Delta Airlines hands a boarding pass to a passenger as he checks in for a flight in the main terminal of Denver International Airport in Denver. Delta Air Lines announced the company would become one of the country’s largest to require new hires to be vaccinated. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: Associated Press

Credit: Associated Press

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE

Delta Air Lines made headlines after CEO Ed Bastian announced that his company would become one of the country’s largest to require new hires to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, the city of Sandy Springs balked at a vaccine requirement because of potential headaches surrounding health information privacy.

Some companies have instead aimed to incentivize employees to get vaccinated. Kroger is offering workers $100 bonuses, while Walmart recently said it would pay $75 to employees who provide their original, completed vaccine card.

At the Atlanta campus of the CDC, fully vaccinated employees are no longer required to wear masks in agency facilities, a spokeswoman said, though she did not answer questions about social distancing or whether the CDC limits the number of employees in its buildings.

Home Depot’s revenue, profits get pandemic boost

Home Depot reported sales of $37.5 billion for its fiscal first quarter, up nearly one-third from a year earlier, as the giant retailer blew past analysts’ expectations.

Fueled by a pandemic surge in renovations and homebuilding, the Vinings-based company nearly doubled its net earnings during the quarter, from $2.2 billion in the same period last year to $4.1 billion.

The retailer, which sells to both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, has seen an unprecedented burst of home improvement projects, Richard McPhail, the company’s chief financial officer, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A Home Depot store is shown in North Miami, Fla. Home Depot continues to fill the needs of the surging housing market during the pandemic, with fiscal first-quarter sales soaring and blowing past Wall Street's expectations.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
A Home Depot store is shown in North Miami, Fla. Home Depot continues to fill the needs of the surging housing market during the pandemic, with fiscal first-quarter sales soaring and blowing past Wall Street's expectations. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

Atlanta airport sees big increase in travelers

Hartsfield-Jackson International is no longer the world’s busiest airport, according to a ranking released last month, but it sure looks that way these days.

Recently, lines at the Atlanta airport stretched through the domestic terminal atrium and down hallways. The travel industry was decimated by COVID-19 but continues to rebound. Atlanta airport security waits reached more than 40 minutes at times. The overloaded checkpoints spilled into airline check-in and baggage claim carousels areas.

Around the country, more than 1.8 million people passed through airport security checkpoints on May 16, down 29% from 2019 levels but the highest level since early March 2020.

The rapid return of hundreds of thousands of travelers, spurred by vaccinations and the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, has overwhelmed some parts of the air travel industry.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, in addition to wearing masks and being in the terminal two hours early, travelers should allow extra time if they are parking. Some parking lots remain closed due to the pandemic and other lots have been reaching capacity during busy periods.

The European Union countries agreed to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions for tourists from outside the 27-nation bloc and will allow in fully vaccinated visitors from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Staff writers Tamar Hallerman, Michael E. Kanell, Zachary Hansen, Wilborn P. Nobles III, Kelly Yamanouchi and Lois Norder contributed to this report.

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