The light at the end of the tunnel is shining a little brighter this week as an increase of vaccinations in Clarke County, alongside a stable rate of new cases and a decrease in hospitalizations, provides some hope of progress in combating this pandemic.
Further, Gov. Brian Kemp announced last week that adults 55 and older and adults with specific health conditions—such as diabetes, congenital heart disease or being overweight—will be added to the list of those who can be vaccinated. Kemp also announced that all adults would be eligible to get the vaccine in Georgia starting at the beginning of April.
Last week, more than 1,400 Clarke County School District teachers and staff were administered the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at mass vaccination events at Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals high schools. The mood at the event among those getting vaccinated was positive, and the event was run with great efficiency, as the Department of Public Health and medical students from the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership worked together to administer vaccinations in an assembly-line fashion.
Aimee Morgan, an early intervention program teacher at Timothy Road Elementary, was able to get vaccinated within 15 minutes. She said she was excited to get the vaccine, and the event also provided an opportunity for her to see coworkers that she hadn’t seen all year.
Andrew Broadmann, a medical student administering vaccines at the event, said the students underwent training in advance of the event through CDC and DPH mobile clinic modules. “This is the second vaccination event in Athens I’ve worked,” he said. “It’s cool to support the community and see the comradery here. It does give me hope that we’re moving in the right direction, and to see such broad support for the vaccine.”
In Clarke County last week, 6,723 doses were administered, for a total of 42,284 vaccinations so far. Compared to the previous week, doses administered were up about 2,000. With additional eligibility added to Georgia’s vaccination requirements, so long as supply continues to increase, public health experts are hopeful that vaccination rates will continue to rise.
In looking at local case numbers, the news continues to be positive. The seven-day running average of new cases was back down to 14.6 as of Mar. 11. There were 113 new confirmed cases added to the total last week, for a cumulative total of 12,233 confirmed cases. An additional 2,132 cases have been reported via rapid antigen tests.
Wastewater data from Erin Lipp’s lab at the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases at UGA shows that the viral load has remained stable and low since Feb. 14. At UGA, for the week of Mar. 1-7, there were 43 positive cases. Participation in surveillance testing at UGA decreased slightly again this week to 1,791 surveillance tests given for the week.
At the end of last week, 53 people in Region E, which includes Athens, were hospitalized for COVID-19 out of a total of 473 patients. At just 10% of all patients, that’s the lowest figure in months. The number of ICU beds in use for Region E dropped to 58, or 82% of capacity.
Deaths, a lagging indicator, have slowed, but the virus killed five Clarke County residents last week. That brought Clarke County’s death count to 121, with an additional seven deaths likely attributable to COVID-19 listed by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
However, public health officials have warned that we’re in a race to get everyone vaccinated before variants spread. Thus, continued public health measures are still recommended. The passage of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 package last week provides further hope that more resources will continue to come.
In addition to the DPH website myvaccinegeorgia.com, public health expert Amber Schmidtke recommended a new website last week. Vaccinefinder.org shows where doses are available, and it’s updated in real time. Piedmont Athens Regional and pharmacies like CVS, Kroger, Walgreens, Ingles, Publix, Walmart, Hawthorne Drugs, Hodgson Pharmacy and Horton’s Drug Store are also offering appointments.
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