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

Clayton County Public Schools nurse supervisor Micah Sawyer packages a COVID-19 testing sample during a vaccination drive at G.P. Babb Middle School in Forest Park.  (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Clayton County Public Schools nurse supervisor Micah Sawyer packages a COVID-19 testing sample during a vaccination drive at G.P. Babb Middle School in Forest Park. (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The number of new coronavirus infections is falling, and the strain on Georgia’s hospitals is easing. But the number of daily reported COVID-19 deaths from Georgia’s brutal fourth wave remains high.

The rolling daily average of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Georgia has topped 100 since Sept. 18. The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed and suspected infections has declined by about half since peaking Aug. 31 at about 9,500.

On Friday, 4,077 COVID-19 patients were in Georgia hospitals. That was about a quarter of all hospitalizations. The state reported an all-time high of more than 6,000 COVID-19 patients, or more than one-third of all hospitalized people, just three weeks ago.

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

CDC gives OK for COVID booster shots

Many Georgia adults who originally got the Pfizer vaccine can now get booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has given the final green light.

That clears the way for large-scale operations to ramp up across the state immediately. The eligible groups include many, if not most, adults who got Pfizer at least six months ago.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health said that the state would be ready to give shots to the patient groups that are federally approved starting Monday.

“DPH currently has adequate inventory of the Pfizer vaccine and will work to ensure accessibility to booster doses statewide,” said spokeswoman Nancy Nydam.

Not all adults will be eligible.

First, the green light only applies to people who originally got the Pfizer vaccine.

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In this file photo, Dr. Jason Laney walks back to an intensive care unit at Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In this file photo, Dr. Jason Laney walks back to an intensive care unit at Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
In this file photo, Dr. Jason Laney walks back to an intensive care unit at Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Second, there were specifics for age groups.

The CDC recommends that older people get the booster shot. That goes for anyone who is at least 65, or living in a long-term care facility. For those 50 to 64, the CDC recommends a shot if the person has underlying medical conditions.

People who are 18 to 49 can get a booster if they have underlying medical conditions. The CDC suggests they weigh their individual benefits and risks. And anyone between the ages of 18 and 64 can get a booster if the person is at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of an occupational or institutional setting.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE

Vaccine for younger kids on its way

Pfizer-BioNTech said its COVID-19 vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will soon ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize shots for that age group.

The vaccine already is available for anyone 12 and older. With kids now back in school and the extra-contagious delta variant causing a huge jump in pediatric infections, many parents are anxiously awaiting the go-ahead to vaccinate their younger children.

For elementary school-aged kids, Pfizer tested a much lower dose — a third of the amount that’s in each shot given now. The lower dose still prompted coronavirus-fighting antibody responses just as strong as the regular shots given to teenagers and adults, said Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president.

Gruber said the companies aim to apply to the FDA by the end of the month for emergency use in 5 to 11 year olds.

ExploreCOVID-19 vaccine and younger children: What you need to know

Some UGA faculty to require masks, despite prohibition

More than 50 University of Georgia faculty members say they will soon require their students to wear masks in their classes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, despite rules against such mandates. The educators say they are risking disciplinary action that includes losing their jobs.

The faculty members, many with expertise in the study of infectious diseases, sent a letter Tuesday to university administrators detailing their plans. The potential action is likely the largest effort by faculty at any University System of Georgia school. At least one UGA professor has already enacted a mask requirement for his classes.

“All reputable research shows that vaccination, social distancing and mask requirements can reduce COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths,” the letter said. “The absence of these requirements has led and continues to lead to infections and outcomes that were avoidable and continued spread of this highly infectious disease. Due to the extreme inaction and inappropriate requirements placed on state-run universities ... we have chosen to take what action we can to protect the students and staff we directly teach or supervise, even if these actions are in defiance of current (University System of Georgia) rules.”

The University System of Georgia has urged, but not required, students, employees and faculty to get vaccinated and to wear masks in classrooms. Gov. Brian Kemp has been outspoken in his opposition to mandates.

UGA says that reported positive COVID- 19 cases have declined significantly in the last two weeks. The school also says it is committed to ongoing efforts to increase vaccinations, such as $1,000 prizes drawings.

Staff writer Eric Stirgus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.