Gwinnett experiences resurgence of COVID-19 cases amid Delta variant

12/16/2020 —  Lawrenceville, Georgia — Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department District Health Director Dr. Audrey Arona (left) administers the COVID-19 Pfizer BioNTech vaccination to a Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department pharmacist at the Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department’s district office in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. The Gwinnett district received 2,000 Pfizer vaccines for distribution. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

Combined ShapeCaption
12/16/2020 — Lawrenceville, Georgia — Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department District Health Director Dr. Audrey Arona (left) administers the COVID-19 Pfizer BioNTech vaccination to a Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department pharmacist at the Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton County Health Department’s district office in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. The Gwinnett district received 2,000 Pfizer vaccines for distribution. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

Public health officials, researchers and scientists in Gwinnett County are begging the public to take the vaccine and mask up as COVID-19 cases climb.

Local experts gave an update on the current status of the pandemic, the effectiveness of vaccines and how to approach misinformation during a virtual health summit Wednesday hosted by Gwinnett Cares, an organization focused on providing COVID-19 resources.

Audrey Arona, CEO and district health director of the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Departments, pleaded for people to get the shot because it will be the only way out of the pandemic.

“It’s not just an encouragement (to get vaccinated), it’s my plea,” Arona said. “With the stress on our health care system and everything out there, we just really need you to get vaccinated. I beg you to do so.”

Cases have surged locally and statewide over the last few weeks as the highly contagious Delta variant creeps into communities.

There were 530 cases per 100,000 people in Gwinnett County for the two-week period ending Aug. 31, compared to only 44 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks ending July 4.

Since school resumed after summer vacation, infections have also risen among children in Gwinnett County. There were 415 cases per 100,000 children aged 5-17 in the latest two-week period, compared to only 10 in the two-week July period.

The risks of relying on natural immunity outweigh the risks of potential side effects from the vaccine, said Valerie Cadet, a microbiology and immunology professor at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Suwanee campus.

State Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, a Snellville Democrat with a background in epidemiology, recommended that people focus on sharing accurate information from trusted sources rather than trying to debunk misinformation.

The three-county health department currently administers 150 to 250 doses of vaccine during weekdays and 200 to 300 doses on weekends, far under its capacity, said Michele Kehler, communications specialist for the health departments. It started giving out third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to immunocompromised individuals in August.

The local health department could start administering booster shots later this year after the FDA and CDC give their approval, Arona said.

Arona said she currently expects that authorization for booster shots will be given in September, though that could change. The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments is focused on increasing staff to meet the expected demand, she said.

Vaccine appointments can be scheduled at gta-vras.powerappsportals.us/en-US/. Walk-ins are accepted at various locations. A full list of vaccine locations is available on the department’s website.

The full livestream of the virtual health summit can be viewed on Gwinnett Cares’ Facebook page.