Georgia’s COVID spread case numbers jumped by 4,800 in the state figures reported Thursday, continuing a recent upswing that’s apparently fueled by the Delta variant.
“It is believed that the Delta variant is highly prevalent throughout Georgia,” said Dr. Charles Ruis, health director in the Southwest Health District, which is based in Albany. “The best way to prevent a COVID-related death is to get vaccinated, and vaccines are widely available in our region.”
Urgent care centers in the metro Atlanta area were slammed Wednesday with patients, many asking for COVID tests.
A similar patient crunch occurred in Bulloch County in east Georgia, where most arrivals at one urgent care center Wednesday were tested for COVID, reported news outlet Grice Connect. It added that urgent care facilities and other providers were dealing with a shortage of testing supplies.
Bulloch's risk level increased to VERY HIGH on Thursday, according to COVIDACTNOW.org.
On Thursday, dozens of hospitals around the state reported having severely overcrowded emergency rooms. Several were in the Piedmont Healthcare network.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic and as indicated by publicly available government data, our COVID-19 hospitalization trend has followed the state’s, with caseloads varying across our hospitals based on the level of community spread in those local communities and their surrounding areas,’’ said John Manasso, a Piedmont spokesman.
“We continue to believe that our best way out of the pandemic – including addressing the state’s growing inpatient COVID population – is for those who are eligible to get vaccinated while also following CDC guidance: wear a mask when indoors in public areas, watch your distance and wash your hands.’’
The ER crowding extended to hospitals in the Emory, Wellstar and Northside systems. Bibb/Macon and Augusta ERs were hard hit as well.
Several Georgia hospitals said they were diverting ambulances because ICU and other beds were filled.
The increasing COVID numbers did not deter Gov. Brian Kemp from tweeting Wednesday that Georgia “will not lock down or impose statewide mask mandates.
“As the first state in the country to reopen over a year ago, we’ve proven that Georgians know how to come together and protect themselves and their loved ones,” Kemp said.
“The data is clear,’’ Kemp said. “Thanks to efforts initiated under the Trump administration, we have a medical miracle in multiple vaccines that protect from the virus and save lives. Nearly all new COVID hospitalizations in Georgia are among the unvaccinated.”
“Georgians know the risks and they know these safe, effective vaccines are our greatest tool to defeat COVID-19.”
New numbers from Georgia’s Department of Public Health show that more than 98% of the over 335,000 COVID-19 cases recorded since mid-January were among the unvaccinated, GPB reported.
Georgia reports 40 percent of residents as fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the U.S.
Kemp added that the “biggest obstacle to getting more people vaccinated” came from “mixed messages” in Washington D.C., and “those with partisan agendas.”
Still, more school systems announced mask requirements for staff and students. The AJC reported Thursday that Drew Charter School in Atlanta will quarantine more than 100 students after two students and two employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week of classes.
The City of Atlanta joined Savannah in issuing a mask requirement for inside public buildings. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued the order “requiring all persons in a public place, including private businesses and establishments, to wear a mask or a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when indoors.”
The CDC, noting the rising danger from the Delta variant, announced this week that it is recommending masks again for vaccinated people in some cases.
“Public health experts overwhelmingly agree, and the data has proved, that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of the deadly virus,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Dr. Harry Heiman, a public health expert at Georgia State University, said that Thursday’s high COVID case numbers and hospitalizations “are exactly what many public health experts have been warning about. Georgia and our surrounding Southern states are the perfect setting for a surge from the Delta variant, due to our low vaccination rates and lack of community-level mitigation.”
“We are seeing the same inaction from our state’s political and public health leaders that we saw last summer and last winter — leading to many preventable hospitalizations and deaths,” Heiman added. “It is imperative that state leadership take stronger actions now — targeted to vaccine outreach and community-level mitigation, including ensuring that all K-12 schools have mask mandates and state universities have both vaccination mandates and mask mandates to ensure safe environments for students, faculty, and staff.”
Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News