If you’re looking for positive news on the pandemic front, there’s plenty lately. The U.S. has now surpassed 200 million doses administered, Georgia is no longer listed as worst in the nation for vaccination rates, and Clarke County case rates and hospitalizations remain low.
Clarke County case and hospitalization rates held steady last week. The seven-day moving average of new cases was 9.6 per day for Clarke County as of Apr. 24, and there were 74 new confirmed cases last week. At UGA, there were 36 new positive cases for the week of Apr. 12-18, but surveillance testing numbers continue to be well under the weekly semester goal of 1,500, with only 776 tests.
The percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Region E rose slightly last week to 6.7 percent, or 37 patients, from 5 percent, or 27 patients, the previous week. ICU bed space was at 87% capacity, with 61 beds in use, compared to 78% the previous week.
There’s still much to be desired with progress in vaccinations locally. Clarke County’s rate of vaccinations slowed last week, with 3,489 doses administered to Athens residents from Apr. 16-23, down from 4,477 doses administered the previous week. As of Apr. 23, 25,160 Athens residents, or 20%, had been fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health data. Another 29,512 residents, or 23%, had received at least one shot.
With the J&J vaccine available again after being briefly pulled to investigate concerns about blood clots, Clarke County should see weekly rates increase, but supply will likely outpace demand in the coming weeks. The CDC’s funding of $96 million will help with outreach, but the Athens community is already stepping up to the plate.
Protect Athens, a team of political organizers and activists put together by Commissioner Mariah Parker, is recruiting and training volunteers to phonebank, text and canvass local neighborhoods to assess residents’ concerns and barriers to vaccination. The group will also provide support in a variety of ways.
“For many folks, it’s not as simple as scheduling your appointment and showing up,” Parker said. “Maybe somebody hasn’t gotten their shot yet because they’re worried who’ll make dinner for the kids that night if they feel woozy afterward. That tells us perhaps we should find a way to get meals to folks to help allay those concerns. Or maybe we find a lot of people are worried about thinning their paycheck if they have to take the day off work to recuperate—what does support for them look like? As we discover patterns with hesitancy, we’d like to adapt and build out our wraparound services to make sure folks have all the support they need to get it done.”
The initial pop-up vaccination event, being held on May 1 at Triangle Plaza, has a goal of vaccinating 100 residents, but the ultimate goal is to reach other neighborhoods throughout Athens. These types of efforts will be needed more and more as we move forward, said public health expert Amber Schmidtke.
“We’ve finished the easy part of this vaccination effort,” said public health expert Amber Schmidtke. “Now [we’re in] the mid-range effort where there’s still a lot of people who may be interested in vaccinations, but have some challenges in getting to a vaccine or maybe they’re still in the wait-and-see camp. Then there will be more of a slog where we are vaccinating a dozen people or a hundred people in a day as compared to 1,000. The hardest part will be the people that are just really resistant to the vaccine and we may never convince those folks.”
Want to help with vaccination efforts in Clarke County? Check out protectathens.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up as a volunteer.
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