The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that six Bulloch County residents probably died due to COVID-19, extending the deadliest local stretch of the virus since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Since Aug. 10, there have been 16 confirmed and 13 probable deaths –29 total – of Bulloch citizens reported by the Department of Health. The Department of Health defines a probable death as a patient who receives a positive Antigen/rapid test for COVID-19, developed symptoms and then died. For comparison, there were 29 total deaths between March 10, 2021 and Aug. 10, 2021 reported by the Department of Health in Bulloch.
“The number of COVID-caused deaths will fluctuate as health care providers report deaths to the Department of Health,” said Ted Wynn, director of the Bulloch Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency. “That number today of six probable deaths is stunning and saddening. Clearly, the delta variant is much more deadly than the initial COVID virus. Please, get a vaccine, wear your mask and social distance.”
At the same time deaths are increasing in Bulloch, local new cases of COVID continued a decline that began more than two weeks ago. According to the Department of Health, Bulloch had 29 new confirmed cases since Monday. On. Sept. 3, Bulloch was seeing 63 new cases per day.
East Georgia Regional Medical Center had 58 COVID patients hospitalized on Wednesday, with 23 on ventilators. The hospital had an all-time high of 24 on ventilators on Monday.
Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the highly contagious delta variant is responsible for the surge.
“The delta variant began spreading in Georgia around July 4,” Drenzek told a virtual meeting of the state’s Board of Public Health. “There has been an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last 60 days.”
According to data provided by Drenzek, there has been a 20-fold increase in cases, a 13-fold increase in hospitalizations and a 17-fold increase in COVID deaths since July 1.
Since the beginning of September, the seven-day average of new cases has fallen. But Drenzek warned the state is coming down from steep peaks, and its hospitals and schools are still facing great strain. The “risk of transmission" through communities remains high, she said.
“We’re very much at peak levels even though we’re starting to go down," she said.
The state recently set a record for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. And Drenzek said the recent surge has affected school-aged children much more than previous waves. Children up to the age of 17 now account for more than a quarter of all cases.
She urged continued adherence to precautions such as maintaining social distance, wearing masks and quarantining when sick or exposed. Increasing the state's vaccination rate also remains vital, she said.
Only 45 percent the state's population is fully vaccinated, well below the national average.
The U.S. is averaging more than 1,800 COVID-19 deaths and 170,000 new cases per day, the highest levels respectively since early March and late January. And both figures have been on the rise over the past two weeks.
The country is still well below the peaks reached in January, when it was averaging about 3,400 deaths and a quarter-million cases per day.
The U.S. is dispensing about 900,000 vaccinations per day, down from a high of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel will meet to discuss whether the U.S. should begin giving booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
The biggest surge over the summer occurred in states that had low vaccination rates, particularly in the South, where many people rely on air conditioning and breathe recirculated air, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. She said states farther north could see upticks as the onset of cold weather sends people indoors.
Vaccination rates are higher in some Northern states, but “there’s still a lot of unvaccinated people out there. Delta is going to find them,” Marr said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.