Georgia public health workers tout declining COVID cases, caution on winter

08/18/2021 — Lawrenceville, Georgia — A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination event held by the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Department at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, August 18, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Caption
08/18/2021 — Lawrenceville, Georgia — A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination event held by the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Department at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, August 18, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia’s latest coronavirus surge is in a solid state of retreat, Department of Public Health officers said in a briefing Tuesday. They balanced their cheer at the good news with a warning, however, that the plateau in cases is higher than it was before, and winter gatherings likely will bring more cases.

“It’s good news with caution,” said State Epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek.

The early autumn surge driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus brought the pandemic death toll in Georgia past 25,000, and hospitalizations to a pandemic total of 87,000. Cases in late August averaged 9,000 newly infected Georgians per day. But as of last week, the total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell below 1,000 for the first time since before the surge.

All the same, the level of new cases has plateaued at a rate that indicates the virus is still circulating, Drenzek said. She made the comments in a regular meeting of the state Board of Public Health.

According to state data compiled by the AJC, the current seven-day average of new COVID cases as of Tuesday was 649 confirmed, in addition to 337 probable cases that have not yet been given the final confirming test. In contrast, at a low point before the surge, in late June, the rolling seven-day average of new cases was at 242 confirmed plus 122 probable.

“Europe, which has consistently served as kind of an early signal for us in the US, is again experiencing some surges,” Drenzek said. In “Germany, case numbers are higher than they have ever been throughout the entire pandemic.”

The key, especially as people plan whether to gather for the holidays, is to vaccinate larger numbers of people, so that the unvaccinated are not as vulnerable to getting sick and to making themselves the pathway to somebody else getting sick.

The vast majority of infections and deaths from COVID-19 this year have occurred among the unvaccinated: Of 12,903 deaths in 2021, 973 were vaccinated. Where DPH has data, those breakthrough cases ending in death tend to be among patients who also had dangerous underlying conditions, Drenzek said.

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Georgia Department of Public Health's new COVID-19 vaccination marketing campaign emphasizes the joyful activities people can safely undertake after enough people get vaccinated. (Photo screenshot of Ga. DPH presentation November 9, 2021)

Credit: handout

Georgia Department of Public Health's new COVID-19 vaccination marketing campaign emphasizes the joyful activities people can safely undertake after enough people get vaccinated. (Photo screenshot of Ga. DPH presentation November 9, 2021)
Caption
Georgia Department of Public Health's new COVID-19 vaccination marketing campaign emphasizes the joyful activities people can safely undertake after enough people get vaccinated. (Photo screenshot of Ga. DPH presentation November 9, 2021)

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

The delta surge brought a wave of new vaccinations, said the department’s chief medical officer, Dr. Alex Millman. While the numbers have again sunk, new people do continue to get vaccinated, he said.

The state is grappling with ways to amp those numbers, and has devised a new vaccine publicity campaign that focuses on activities people can safely resume once they are vaccinated.

The department’s spokeswoman, Nancy Nydam, reflected on the recent images of families and friends reuniting at airports now that pandemic restrictions on international travel are lifting.

“I saw a picture, a young woman with someone returning from France, and the look of sheer joy on her face really struck me,” Nydam said. “It is about getting back to the basics of enjoying the very simple things we did every day without thought, pre-COVID.”

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