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

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to soar, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed and probable infections in Georgia is nearing its winter peak.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

On Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 11,382 confirmed and probable infections, the fourth-worst day of the entire pandemic.

Georgia hospitals remained swamped Friday, with the 5,550 COVID-19 patients making up a third of all hospitalizations.

But some areas of Georgia are worse than others. In the North Georgia mountains, some hospitals reported that more than four out of 10 patients have COVID-19.

The same is true for some hospitals in the regions surrounding Athens, Albany and Valdosta, as well as the Georgia coast.

Near Waycross, nearly 60% of patients have COVID-19.

Statewide, more than 90% of ICU beds were in use as of Friday afternoon. Deaths are also on the rise. The seven-day rolling average of confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths reached 54, the highest since March.

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Surcharge on unvaccinated employees

Delta Air Lines plans to charge employees who haven’t been vaccinated an extra $200 a month for health care coverage, beginning in November.

Atlanta-based Delta, which cited high hospitalization costs, also will require unvaccinated employees to be tested weekly for the coronavirus, starting Sept. 12.

About 75% of the airline’s 75,000 employees are already vaccinated, and the company requires new hires to get shots.

Some big U.S. employers — Google, Disney, Microsoft, Walmart, as well as Georgia-based UPS, Invesco, Emory Healthcare, Piedmont Healthcare, Wellstar Health System and Cox Enterprises (owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) — have announced vaccine requirements for many employees, particularly those entering corporate office spaces or medical centers.

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

But many companies have shied away from vaccine mandates, which remain a polarizing issue among Americans. In Georgia, manufacturers and poultry processors have been encouraging vaccinations but say requiring shots could lead many front-line workers to quit.

At Delta, the $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated employees enrolled in Delta’s health care plan could serve as a strong financial incentive for more employees to get shots.

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“I know some of you may be taking a wait-and-see approach or waiting for full FDA approval,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in a memo. “With this week’s announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the time for you to get vaccinated is now.”

Delta, which funds its own health care plans, said the average COVID-19 hospital stay costs the company $50,000 per person.

The surcharge for unvaccinated employees “will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” Bastian wrote. He added that, in recent weeks, all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with COVID were not fully vaccinated.

The company, which reopened its headquarters and offices in June, also will require unvaccinated employees to wear masks indoors at work “until community case rates stabilize.”

More than 25,000 of the airline’s employees are based in Georgia.

AJC hosts a community conversation

Almost one year ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gathered metro Atlanta’s top school officials to talk about their plans to keep students, educators and staff safe as COVID-19 began to change people’s daily lives.

Now, the delta variant poses a greater health risk, and schools have become the epicenter of the political debate over how to handle the pandemic.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

On Monday at 5 p.m., the AJC will present “Community Conversation: School is in Session.” The newspaper has invited the superintendents from six of the largest school systems in the area to talk about solutions for the new problems generated by the pandemic.

The event will be hosted by AJC education reporters Alia Malik and Vanessa McCray. The journalists will ask questions about how the pandemic has impacted schools. They will also ask the superintendents questions from AJC readers.

The conversation can be viewed on AJC Facebook and YouTube. RSVP at ajc.com/conversations.

Staff writers Kelly Yamanouchi and Todd Duncan contributed to this report.