Pandemic deaths in Georgia reach 25,000

In February, volunteers planted flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur, representing the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia — 15,000 at the time. On Thursday, Georgia reported a total number of 25,042 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, the first time that the state had topped 25,000. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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In February, volunteers planted flags on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur, representing the number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia — 15,000 at the time. On Thursday, Georgia reported a total number of 25,042 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, the first time that the state had topped 25,000. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

On Thursday, Georgia topped 25,000 confirmed deaths in the 20-month-long coronavirus pandemic. The state reported the record number of 25,042 deaths the same week that the U.S. toll reached 750,000 and the global toll 5 million.

Georgia now has more dead from the pandemic than if the entire city of Acworth were wiped out.

The number is likely a significant undercount, experts say. In addition to undiagnosed cases, the state listed an additional 4,351 deaths as “probable” pandemic deaths, ones attributed by health authorities to COVID-19 but not yet confirmed with the proper test.

The milestones come as the nation reaches the downward slope of the worst surge yet in infections and deaths brought on by the delta variant. Hospitals across Georgia have overflowed so badly that intensive care units had to turn away many patients and doctors searched across the state, often in vain, for any open bed for those who required hospitalization. And with the more highly contagious variant, the toll of death includes more young people than ever before.

At this time, the surge is ebbing. How long it will last is an open question.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

The answer lies in whether more people agree to get vaccinated, said Amber Schmidtke, a researcher who tracks data on the pandemic in Georgia.

Georgia this week also reached a milestone in vaccinations, with 50% of all residents now fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health. The pace of vaccination picked up during the delta surge but slowed again, and has hovered just barely under 50% for several days.

There is no consensus on how many people must be vaccinated to stop the pandemic, but experts agree 50% is nowhere close.

“I don’t know that we’re convincing enough people to prevent the next wave,” Schmidtke said. “I expect, and I think most people think, that there will be a winter wave.”

Georgia’s latest 5,000 deaths were added in just two months since the state’s toll hit 20,000 on September 3. The quick addition of 5,000 more dead speaks to pervasive reach of the virus throughout the state now, as well as the viciousness of the delta variant. The ability of the virus to continue to surge even while a vaccine is available, is a symptom of Georgia’s low vaccination rates, health officials say.

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Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

The vaccines, which arrived last December, are powerful protection against severe illness and death. In 2021, 92% of Georgians who died of COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The delta variant is more effective than earlier variants of the virus. Studies have shown that while vaccines don’t provide the same levels of protection against delta, the level of protection is still significant and the vaccines powerfully protect against hospitalization or death.

The deaths in the late-summer, early-fall delta surge have included adults still active in their careers, like Lisa Gross, 52, a Cobb County school bus driver, and children, like a 4-year-old from the Augusta area.

“It was a lot of rural people, and it was a lot of people who were younger than what we experienced last time,” Schmidtke said.

Carlos del Rio, a professor at Emory University, agreed the downward slope is a lull.

“We’ve been here before, right?” he said. “We’ve said it disappeared, only to see it come back.”

Del Rio pointed out that new cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to be recorded daily. Georgia on Thursday registered 918 new cases.

“More people have died in 2021 than in 2020. And we’re still not done in this year,” del Rio said. “One thing we know is that vaccines are good at preventing you from dying. The deaths from COVID are something I think we could be pretty much be done with if we truly vaccinated.”

ExploreAJC COVID-19 dashboard: The latest stats and data on the pandemic in Georgia

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