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

Parents and guardians escort their E. Rivers Elementary School students to the building for the first day of in-person learning for special education students and pre-kindergarten through second grade students in Atlanta’s Peachtree Battle Alliance community, Monday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Parents and guardians escort their E. Rivers Elementary School students to the building for the first day of in-person learning for special education students and pre-kindergarten through second grade students in Atlanta’s Peachtree Battle Alliance community, Monday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

The surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, sparked by holiday get-togethers, appears to be leveling off in Georgia, according to state officials. Still, the state is far from having the pandemic under control.

Georgia is ranked sixth in the country for the number of new cases per 100,000 people. It also ranks among the worst in hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 people.

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, over 12,000 coronavirus deaths have been recorded. Close to 5,000 people in Georgia are currently hospitalized for COVID-19.

Medical staff treat a patient at the Emergency and Trauma Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville on January 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Medical staff treat a patient at the Emergency and Trauma Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville on January 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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

Health officials emphasize need to vaccinate

With the new U.K. variant of COVID-19 spreading in Georgia, the efficient roll out of vaccinations is more important than ever, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

There are at least 14 people confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 variant, Toomey said.

The U.K. strain is believed to be 50% to 70% more contagious, and British health officials say they now believe it is 30% deadlier than the dominant strain.

The spread of the new variant gives new urgency to the rush to vaccinate the most vulnerable. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, but many Georgia residents are struggling to find their second dose within the suggested time frame of three to four weeks. Because of this, the state is giving priority to people who need second doses.

Georgia is currently allocated 120,000 first doses and 80,000 second doses per week, which is “very little when you consider a state with a population as large as ours,” she said.

The approximately 1,900 vaccine providers have received nearly 2.6 million requests for vaccinations.

Vaccines are currently available to health care workers, the residents and staff of long-term care facilities, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, first responders and adults 65 or older.

As schools reopen across the state, teachers have pushed to be included, but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon because of the limited vaccine doses available, Toomey said.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
Registered nurse Aleve Reed administers a COVID-19 vaccine during an event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Fulton County School employees and their spouses who are 65 and older. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Registered nurse Aleve Reed administers a COVID-19 vaccine during an event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Fulton County School employees and their spouses who are 65 and older. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com

Credit: Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com

Another strain detected in South Carolina

Another, more problematic variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time. Two people in South Carolina have been diagnosed with it, state health officials said Thursday.

The two cases don’t appear to be connected. Neither person recently traveled, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said.

Viruses are constantly mutating, so coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe. Scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of the three from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa because they may spread more easily.

Also, scientists have reported preliminary but troubling signs that some of the recent mutations may modestly curb the effectiveness of two current vaccines, although they stressed that the shots still protect against the disease.

 Erin Freer (center), owner, talks to a customer Laureynn Elie as hairstylist Brandon Newton styles her hair at Blo Blow Dry Bar in Buckhead on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. The pandemic has been hard on small businesses. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Erin Freer (center), owner, talks to a customer Laureynn Elie as hairstylist Brandon Newton styles her hair at Blo Blow Dry Bar in Buckhead on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. The pandemic has been hard on small businesses. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Metro Atlanta’s job growth strong, but uneven

Metro Atlanta added 25,100 jobs in December — its eighth consecutive month of economic growth, the state Department of Labor said.

Despite that good news, the 29-county region’s economy is still making up ground for the massive job losses triggered by pandemic shutdowns last spring. And the economical fallout from the spreading virus has continued into the new year.

Atlanta had 72,500 fewer jobs in December than it did a year earlier.

Construction and education were two sectors adding jobs. The holiday season meant more jobs in retail, as well — at both brick-and-mortar stores and the supply chains serving online operations.

Work-from-home techies are also in demand, said Ryan Hansen, metro market manager for staffing company Robert Half International. “For these people, if they are valuable, they’ll have multiple offers on the table,” he said.

With many people fearing the coronavirus, the worst job cuts are still coming from businesses that depend on in-person contact.

Atlanta has 25,000 fewer jobs in hospitality than a year ago, with most of the losses in hotels and restaurants, according to government data. More than 20,000 other service jobs have been lost, along with 11,200 in state and local government and 8,700 in manufacturing.

The Department of Labor’s online job board lists about 95,000 open positions in metro Atlanta, while 167,830 people are officially unemployed.

The count of the unemployed does not include people working fewer hours than they desire or those who have given up even looking for a job. So, between that and the job gains, the Atlanta unemployment rate dipped in December to 5.4% from 5.6% the month before.

Metro Atlanta accounted for the lion’s share of the job growth. The second-largest job gain was in metro Savannah, which added 1,900 positions.

Atlanta also has accounted for most of the state’s job losses during the pandemic — 93% of the total, according to Atlanta economist Mike Wald.

Staff writers Michael E. Kanell and Tyler Wilkins and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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