By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Georgia are rising but remain well below levels seen during the coronavirus pandemic, State Epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek said Tuesday.
About 17.000 Georgians were hospitalized with the virus during the past week, an increase of 16% over the previous week, Drenzek told members of the Georgia Board of Public Health at their monthly meeting.
COVID-19 deaths in Georgia also rose by 11% to about 700, Drenzek said. But in both cases, the numbers are significantly lower than during the peak of the pandemic, she said.
In fact, there were twice as many deaths from COVID-19 last January and 10 times more deaths in January 2022, when the omicron variant was at its peak, Drenzek said.
Drenzek said the EG.5 variant of the virus is the dominant strain now circulating in Georgia, followed closely by several other strains that derive from the omicron variant. However, the BA.2.86 variant – which has been the subjects of a lot of news coverage – has yet to appear in Georgia, she said.
Help is on the way in the form of a new COVID vaccine the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved on Monday. The new booster, which should be available by next week, is expected to protect against the strains of the virus now in circulation.
“We cannot be complacent,” Drenzek said. “COVID is still with us and will remain with us for years, particularly among immunocompromised people.”
Drenzek said she expects a more typical RSV season this fall and winter than last year, when cases rose due to a widespread lack of immunity. She said the circulation of RSV fell during the pandemic because of social distancing, only to rebound last year when infants born during the pandemic got exposed to the virus for the first time.
New tools to combat RSV will be on the market this fall, including a new monoclonal antibody product for children up to 19 months of age and two new vaccines for adults 60 and older.
Drenzek said flu season seems to have started early this year, similar to the experience in Georgia last year. She said a new flu vaccine is recommended for everyone more than 6 months old.
“These three respiratory viruses will circulate and can have tremendous impact,” she said. “The good news is they are preventable. … It’s absolutely critical to utilize the tools we have available to us.”