The surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the world is starting to reach Georgia, experts say, driven by the infection’s spread among the unvaccinated.
Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nevada are in full-fledged outbreaks, and neighboring states are following behind, Emory University Professor Carlos del Rio said in a briefing Monday.
In the past week, Georgia’s hospitalizations from the disease have increased 30%, he said.
The highly contagious delta variant now accounts for about 70% of all new cases, most of which are among those who haven’t been vaccinated, including children too young for the shots. Of the 480 Georgia patients hospitalized with COVID-19 so far this month, 416 were not fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week.
Credit: Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com
Credit: Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com
In Gordon County, news broke over the weekend that a 5-year-old Calhoun boy died of the disease.
The boy, Wyatt Gibson, was active and full of joy, his father, Wes Gibson, a sheriff’s deputy, said in a Facebook post that showed Wyatt helping around the yard, going on trips and smiling ear to ear. The cause of death was listed in a gofundme post for help with funeral and medical costs.
According to family members cited by WSB Radio, the child’s whole family got sick, but only Wyatt ended up having complications, which included a stroke. He was admitted to the hospital and died within the week.
The two-week average of new infections in Gordon County has gone from 16 two weeks ago, to 38 a week ago, to 88 as of Monday, according to DPH.
The spread of the delta variant throughout the U.S. has the business world on edge. Monday, major Wall Street indexes had their worst day in months, with experts citing fears of the delta variant’s coming impact.
The vaccines work against the variant. The three vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are very effective, as long as the person gets the full regimen of shots. And for those fully vaccinated who do get infected, the vaccines are spectacularly effective at preventing severe symptoms.
However, no vaccines are authorized for children under age 12, and a critical problem in Georgia and other Southern states is that those who are eligible are simply not getting vaccinated. As of Monday, just 44.8% of Georgians over 12 were fully vaccinated.
The most dangerous thing about low vaccination rates is not just that more people are vulnerable to disease, but that more people are available to be carriers of the disease. If more people in the community were vaccinated, it is less likely the disease would have traveled to the Calhoun boy, experts say.
Del Rio said that younger people too often are bearing the brunt of the new cases. In Georgia, “what we’re seeing in the hospitals is what they’re seeing in Missouri, which is increasingly the hospitalizations are for younger people,” del Rio said.
“We did a very good job vaccinating those over 65. And therefore, they’re not getting infected—or they’re getting infected, but they’re not getting sick,” del Rio said.
The young, however, “are now getting admitted to the hospital, getting admitted to the ICU, and they’re dying,” he said.
“I’ve heard things like, ‘Well, now that the pandemic is over,’ or, ‘now we need to talk about post-COVID,’” del Rio said. “Well...more (COVID-19 patients) have died in the first six months of 2021, than in the entire year of 2020. The pandemic is not over.”
Wyatt Gibson is the 12th Georgia child to die after contracting COVID-19. In June, a 14-year-old boy from Clayton County died. His name was not released.
AJC Data Reporter John Perry contributed to this article.
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