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Epidemiologist: Delta variant remains predominant COVID strain in Georgia

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ATLANTA (AP) — COVID-19 cases in Georgia have plateaued but remain higher than before the recent surge and could climb again as winter approaches, a top health official said.

State epidemiologist Cherie Drenzek updated the Georgia Board of Public Health about the state of the pandemic Tuesday and warned against getting complacent about the virus. Vaccinations fell in November, which she said was an unwelcome development.

The state's summer spike in cases was fueled by the delta variant of the virus among people who were unvaccinated.

“The delta variant itself is still the predominant variant that is circulating, and we hope that we are not going to give it another opportunity, particularly in colder weather, to gain a foothold and increase again,” Drenzek said.

The number of new cases each day has plateaued over the past two weeks or so, and only 8% of counties in the state are still considered to have high transmission rates, Drenzek said. The recent surge was particularly hard on school-aged children and created a strain on the state's hospitals, which in September experienced their highest COVID-19 patient count during the pandemic.

Hospitalizations have now declined significantly, and outbreaks at schools and child care facilities are also down.

But Drenzek said that, with winter approaching, people should not “let up in what we know works on preventing transmission,” including masks and vaccinations.

Fifty percent of the state is fully vaccinated — a milestone Georgia hit in October. But that number still trails the national average and is significantly below the best-performing states.

The number of vaccine doses administered in the state dropped by 30% in the first week of November compared with the first week of October, according to Drenzek. The state has to keep up its vaccination efforts, she said.

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