Despite cases of COVID-19 continuing to rise significantly around Georgia, Bulloch County and much of South Georgia have yet to see any local signs of a coming spike in cases.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 7,708 new cases of the virus over the weekend. The state’s seven-day average of positive tests rose to nearly 2,800 a day on Monday. That number has nearly doubled in a week and is more than triple the recent low of early November. The case levels still remain far below the peaks of more than 9,000 a day seen in January and August.
After reporting 14 new COVID cases for the week of Dec. 6-13, Bulloch County saw 22 new cases last week, according to the Department of Health. No deaths were reported.
Ted Wynn, director of the Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency, reported six COVID patients were hospitalized at East Georgia, but no one was on a ventilator. No patient has reported needing a ventilator since Nov. 10. The six patients, however, are the most at EGRMC since Oct. 18.
“We are fortunate that our cases are relatively low right now in south Georgia, but based on what is happening all across the country, we do not expect that to last long, Scott Steiner, CEO of Albany-based Phoebe Putney Health System, told the Associated Press. “We strongly encourage all eligible individuals to receive a COVID vaccine and booster shot, and please be cautious as you travel and gather over the holidays.”
Most of the new hospitalizations are occurring in North Georgia. More than 1,200 patients were hospitalized statewide Monday with the respiratory illness. That's well below the record of roughly 6,000 that was reached in early September at the peak of Georgia's fourth surge of virus cases. But it's well above the recent low of 824 patients recorded on Nov. 22.
COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized remain overwhelmingly unvaccinated. At the four-hospital Northeast Georgia Health System based in Gainesville, 83% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated on Sunday, as was every single COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit.
Georgia ranks sixth lowest among the states, with 50.4% of its population vaccinated, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data. Everyone 5 and older is eligible to be vaccinated in Georgia.
As of Friday, only six cases of the omicron variant had been detected in Georgia. Officials think the variant is more widespread because health labs have the capacity to genetically sequence only a small fraction of test results.
Surge in national, international cases
Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron's share of infections in only one week.
In much of the country, omicron's prevalence is even higher. It's responsible for an estimated 90% of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.
Since the end of June, the delta variant has been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.
President Joe Biden planned to address the nation on the latest variant on Tuesday, less than a year after he suggested that the country would essentially be back to normal by Christmas.
His top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has promised that the president will issue “a stark warning of what the winter will look like” for unvaccinated Americans.
Cases are surging in parts of the U.S., particularly the Northeast and Midwest, though it’s not always clear which variant is driving the upswing.
Cases of omicron are doubling in Britain about every two days, and the latest surge has decimated the economy in the busy pre-Christmas period. The government has so far pinned its hopes on vaccine boosters. It has set up temporary clinics in soccer stadiums, shopping centers and cathedrals to meet a goal of offering everyone 18 and up an extra shot by the end of the month.
U.S. vaccine maker Moderna announced Monday that lab tests suggested that a booster dose of its vaccine should offer protection against omicron. Similar testing by Pfizer on its vaccine also found that a booster triggered a big jump in omicron-fighting antibodies.
And based on the behavior of other variants, “if you’re older, if you have underlying conditions, if you’re obese, you’re more likely to have severe disease. I don’t think it’s going to be any different” than other variants, said Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University.
But even if you don’t get very sick, an omicron infection could certainly ruin the holidays. Experts agree that in addition to getting vaccinated and boosted, it's wise to get back to the basics of protection: Wear masks indoors, avoid crowds and keep your distance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.