Is Georgia headed for a new COVID-19 surge?

Georgia’s color-coded county map has begun to show shades that reflect an uptick of COVID cases.

And the state’s graph that tracks daily infections has turned upward after a June bottom.

The state, along with 46 others, has seen an increase of COVID infections over the past two weeks, according to New York Times data. Georgia’s 143 percent rise over the last two weeks exceeds the U.S. average of 94 percent.

Public health experts are worried that because of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus, the national trend is more than a temporary blip.

“I think this is a regional, if not national, surge related to the delta variant,” Amber Schmidtke, a microbiologist who analyzes COVID in Georgia, said Tuesday. “We’re seeing cases rise in [counties] with low vaccination rates.”

She said conditions are ripe in Georgia for a surge similar to that in Missouri. A COVID outbreak in southwest Missouri (and neighboring northern Arkansas) has become the nation’s biggest, driven by the delta variant, NPR reported.

Springfield, Mo., emergency physician Dr. Howard Jarvis said the COVID-19 patients he’s seeing recently are younger than ever, CNN reported. And all the COVID patients admitted to his hospital during this surge are people who have not been vaccinated.

“If they’re sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, they are unvaccinated. That is the absolute common denominator amongst those patients,” he said.

In hot spots such as Florida and Missouri, where patients are quickly filling COVID hospital units, experts warn that a rise in deaths could soon follow, CNN reported.

More than 99% of all COVID-19 deaths in June were among unvaccinated people, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director.

It’s difficult to determine how widespread the variant is in Georgia, where so little testing for it is being done. But the CDC says delta accounts for more than 50 percent of cases nationwide.

Over the past week, states that have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents have reported an average COVID case rate that is about a third of that in states that have fully vaccinated less than half of their residents, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas are the only states to have fully vaccinated fewer than 35% of their residents. Average daily case rates in each state were among the 10 worst in the country last week.

Georgia’s rate is slightly higher, at 37 percent.

The national increases are “clearly a trend that reflects what happens when you have large numbers of unvaccinated people in the face of a new highly contagious variant and have largely stopped all community-level mitigation efforts,” said Dr. Harry Heiman, a public health expert at Georgia State University.

“National case and hospitalization numbers are clearly going up, as are the numbers of both in Georgia,” he said.

“But you really need to look at the local level to understand what is going on and there you can see that both across the country and in Georgia, cases and outbreaks are occurring among people who are unvaccinated in areas with lower vaccination rates.”

The increases, Heiman said, “should be a powerful wake-up call to our state leaders that we need to both intensify our outreach and engagement to increase vaccination rates, ensure that adequate testing and contact tracing are in place, and re-institute community level mitigation, targeted to communities with low vaccination rates and high risk for COVID.”

Georgia reported Tuesday 1,200 people testing positive for COVID (including those from antigen tests), along with 19 deaths and 109 hospitalizations due to the disease. Those numbers are far lower than those recorded in other surges.

”I do think we will probably see a continued increase of this variant,” Schmidtke said, adding that she hopes any resulting surge will not reach the levels seen this past winter.

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