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

Volunteers plants some of the 15,000 flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur. 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)
Volunteers plants some of the 15,000 flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur. 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

The seven-day rolling average of newly confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 is down about 70% from the peak on Jan. 11, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data. But the rate of decline has slowed.

In Georgia, the seven-day rolling average of new and suspected cases has essentially plateaued. Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a bump in new cases nationally.

More than 2,000 people in the state on Friday were in the hospital Friday for the coronavirus, down about two-thirds from January’s all-time high of more than 5,700. But the COVID-19 patient load in Georgia hospitals remains higher than it was in October, analysis of state data shows. And the death count remains stubbornly high.

Georgia, meanwhile, is racing to vaccinate as many vulnerable people as possible as more virulent strains of the virus continue to spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously has warned that a United Kingdom strain, which has overwhelmed hospitals there, could become the predominant one in the U.S. by the end of March.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced that hundreds of thousands of Georgia teachers and school employees, as well as some vulnerable residents, will be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations in early March.

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

Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director James Stallings speaks to members of the press to give an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director James Stallings speaks to members of the press to give an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia teachers, others to join vaccine pool

After weeks of pressure from frustrated parents and teacher groups, Kemp announced that the state’s roughly 450,000 educators and school staffers will join the pool of those eligible for vaccines on March 8, along with adults with intellectual disabilities and parents of children with “complex medical conditions.”

Kemp tied the expansion, which officials said will add an estimated 1 million more people to the vaccine pool, to resuming in-person classes in school districts that haven’t reopened.

“Our children cannot afford to wait until the fall. The costs are simply too high,” Kemp said. “Georgians deserve to return to normal as soon as possible, and that will not happen without schoolhouse doors open for face-to-face instruction each and every day.”

The governor and state health officials have been reluctant to move teachers up in the line, saying the scarce supply of vaccines already has made it difficult to inoculate Georgians who are 65 and older, plus other high-risk residents.

But he’s now prepared to do so after seeing a partial state survey suggesting tepid demand for vaccines from educators, as well as a slight increase in the state’s supply of vaccines.

Before the announcement, the governor had faced tremendous outcry from teachers and parents angry that most educators have yet to receive vaccines in Georgia. They were upset about Kemp’s decision to move people age 65 and older from the third inoculation phase to the first, leapfrogging teachers in “Phase 1b,” who were set to be next in line.

While most school districts have resumed in-person learning, the governor has expressed increasing frustration at public school systems that haven’t. He urged administrators in those school systems not to wait until teachers are inoculated or until next school year.

“I’m not ordering schools to open,” Kemp said. “But, I believe now with this other tool, there should be no reason for us not to get kids back into the classroom.“

Right now, the vaccine is limited to those who are 65 and older and their caregivers; first responders; health care workers; and staffers and residents of long-term care facilities. About 57% of older Georgians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Kemp said.

Not eligible yet are other “medically fragile” Georgians, though the governor indicated they would be included in the next expansion.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
In this file photo, DeKalb County Board of Health medical worker Sandra Armstead, right, explains a few possible symptoms of the COVID-19 vaccination to Army Veteran and Rockdale County resident Larry Mitchell. She administered the vaccine to him during a DeKalb County Board of Health and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority event at the Lou Walker Senior Center in Stonecrest. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
In this file photo, DeKalb County Board of Health medical worker Sandra Armstead, right, explains a few possible symptoms of the COVID-19 vaccination to Army Veteran and Rockdale County resident Larry Mitchell. She administered the vaccine to him during a DeKalb County Board of Health and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority event at the Lou Walker Senior Center in Stonecrest. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

More demand than supply

The governor said his decision to expand the pool was eased by a state Department of Education survey last week that found only 45% of educators would choose to take the vaccine, saying there wasn’t as much demand as he expected.

The success of the vaccination plan also hinges on hopes that the state’s allotment of vaccines will continue to rise. Georgia now receives about 215,000 first doses of vaccine a week, up from about 150,000 earlier this month.

Overall, Georgia has administered nearly 1.9 million vaccinations. The state has the fifth-lowest vaccination rate among all states per 100,000 residents, according to CDC data.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter recently got vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter recently got vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Credit: @CarterCenter/Twitter

Credit: @CarterCenter/Twitter

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter vaccinated

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife have been cleared to return to their church in Plains after being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Maranatha Baptist Church announced on its Facebook page that Carter, 96, and Rosalynn Carter, 93, were again attending worship in person. The couple has been in the sanctuary the last two Sundays, Pastor Tony Lowden said in a video.

The former president hasn’t resumed teaching his Sunday school class. But video from last Sunday’s service showed both of the Carters sitting in their customary spots on the front pew and wearing face masks. The former president waved as members applauded their return.

Staff writers Eric Stirgus, Ty Tagami and Tim Darnell contributed to this article.

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