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

The overall number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Georgia are at the lowest levels since the earliest days of the pandemic.

The seven-day rolling average of new infections is down about 96% since the January peak. Likewise, the rolling average of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Georgia is down about 91% since mid-January, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data shows. Experts say this is a signal of the extraordinary effectiveness of the vaccines.

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

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

The rolling daily average of confirmed deaths and deaths considered probable for COVID-19 was 27 on Thursday. That’s slightly higher than a few weeks ago, but down about 80% from the worst of the winter surge.

The pace of vaccinations in Georgia has slowed since their late March peak, forcing the state and local health departments to shift strategies from mass vaccination sites to targeted events, mobile clinics, pharmacies and health systems.

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

Vaccination levels

About 53% of Georgia adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to the national average of 65%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. For eligible Georgians, those 12 and older, about 50% have received at least a single shot, compared to 62% nationally.

The success of the national vaccination campaign has likely given some a false sense of security that the virus is under control, said Amber Schmidtke, a public health researcher and former Mercer University professor who tracks Georgia’s epidemic in her newsletter.

In turn, it’s likely taken away some of the sense of urgency to get vaccinated, she said in a recent interview.

But new strains of the virus remain a threat, including one first identified in India and known as delta. Delta overwhelmed India’s health system, leading to one of the worst waves of death of any country since the start of the pandemic.

In the United Kingdom, a recent resurgence of the virus is being led by the delta variant. Cases of the delta variant have been detected here in Georgia.

Schmidtke said in the U.K., urban areas have outperformed rural ones in vaccination rates, much like they have in Georgia, leaving rural areas less protected.

“I worry about seeing that in Georgia,” she said.

Georgia Tech researchers have attempted to estimate the level of immunity via prior infection and vaccination in the U.S. and each state. Because of limitations in testing and prevalence of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic spread, the researchers assume four infections have occurred for every confirmed infection.

That means in Georgia, it’s plausible about 4 million people have been infected. There’s also likely an overlap in the number of people who were previously infected and those who are vaccinated.

The Georgia Tech team estimates that 64% of Georgians have some level of protection from either at least one dose of vaccine or prior infection, compared to 70% nationwide. That still leaves millions in Georgia unprotected.

Clayton County child dies

Another Georgia child has died after contracting COVID-19, highlighting the challenge of getting kids vaccinated and the dangers if that doesn’t happen.

The child, a 14-year-old Hispanic male from Clayton County, had underlying conditions that contributed to the severity of the disease. State officials confirmed the death but could not say what the conditions were.

This brings Georgia total to 11 child deaths from coronavirus, a couple with no underlying conditions

“This disease is real,” said Dr. Jane Wilkov, a pediatrician at DeKalb Pediatrics in Decatur. Young people may not get it severely as often as adults, but they do get it severely, and they can die, she said.

“That’s why the vaccine has been approved for this age group — they know there’s a risk,” she said. “There is a risk.”

Young people aged 12 and above have been eligible for vaccine since May 10. Out of the state’s 440,000 children aged 12 to 14, about 63,000 have had at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The risks are significant — to the children themselves and other people they might infect as carriers.


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

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

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Emory University study

Emory University researchers are participating in a study that many public health experts believe will be an eventual step in containing the spread of COVID-19: a booster shot.

Emory, which has partnered with Moderna on other COVID-19 vaccine research, is working again with the biotechnology company and using its vaccine for this research. Participants are receiving one 100 microgram dose, the same amount in each dose of its initial two-part vaccine.

The research will focus on how long the COVID-19 vaccine shot will be effective and on monitoring side effects. It’s unclear how long the effectiveness lasts, but booster shots could be needed to protect against variants of the virus.

As of last week, about 15 people agreed to participate in the study at Emory, which began about two weeks ago. Researchers are looking for 400 participants nationwide. Similar studies are being conducted at 10 other sites in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state.

Staff writers Ariel Hart and Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.