The Peach State ranks among the highest in the nation in Covid-19 hospitalizations and lowest in vaccination rates, as its Republican governor resists a mask mandate and other restrictions.
(CN) — Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic, the spread of Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down in Georgia, with cases and deaths reaching record highs over the past week.
According to a White House task force, Georgia is now ranked fourth in the nation in Covid-19 hospitalizations. Coronavirus patients make up more than one-third of hospitalizations statewide, and 152 of 159 counties are in the “red zone” for high transmission rates.
As of Wednesday, the Peach State reported 5,721 Covid-19 hospitalizations, with nine out of 10 intensive care beds full.
“If admissions continue to climb, I worry we will face what hospitals in other states grapple with – tough choice on providing care,” John Haupert, the CEO of Grady Health System, wrote in a memo.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force said the state is in “full pandemic resurgence and will experience continued increases in new Covid [hospital] admissions and fatalities.”
“This acceleration and the epidemiologic data suggest the possibility that some strains of the US Covid-19 virus may have evolved into a more transmissible virus,” according to the report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.
The task force added that Georgia needs to step up its preventative measures to stop the spread with “strict physical distancing.”
There were 136 new coronavirus deaths reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health on Wednesday, the second-worst number during the pandemic only after Tuesday’s count of 145 new deaths. Almost half of patients in intensive care have the virus, according to reports from state and federal officials.
The Georgia Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that the seven-day average of new and confirmed and suspected cases is more than triple what it was on Dec. 1.
“Georgia is still experiencing effects from holiday travel in addition to widespread community transmission,” said Nancy Nydam, communications director for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “There is not a way to predict when it will end. All Georgians need to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash their hands frequently, avoid large gatherings and get vaccinated when [the] vaccine becomes available to them – that’s how we can end widespread community transmission.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University data, there has been a total of 782,288 cases in Georgia, with 11,803 total deaths. More than 5 million Georgians have been tested, with an 11.35% positivity rate. The report said 32% of cases in the state are Black people, who have accounted for 37% of deaths.
There is a lack of restrictions statewide, with no mandate for wearing a mask in public or in businesses. Republican Governor Brian Kemp has taken a hands-off approach, suggesting citizens take responsibility for preventing the spread of Covid-19 when they are in public.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia ranks near the bottom in the rate of immunizations. So far, 283,177 Georgians have received their first dose of the vaccine, including 47,636 vaccinations reported on Wednesday.
“Do not delay the rapid immunization of those over 65 and vulnerable to severe diseases,” the White House report states. “No vaccines should be in freezers but should instead be put in arms now. Active and aggressive immunization in the face of this surge would save lives.”
The CDC reported Atlanta is one of the hardest-hit areas in the state, followed by Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Gainesville, LaGrange, Rome and Warner Robins.
The first detection of the United Kingdom variant of the virus was reported in Georgia last week. An 18-year-old with no travel history tested positive for B.1.1.7, which is reportedly more contagious but not more lethal.
“This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible,” the task force said. “Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus.”