ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia continued to stagger under a heavy load of COVID-19 cases Monday amid one ray of hope — a broad test of an experimental vaccine for the illness that began with the first of 30,000 nationwide injections being given in Savannah.
Deaths continued to trend up statewide, while the number of confirmed patients in hospitals statewide rose enough to wipe out what had been five days of declining hospitalizations. The number of cases being reported each day remains elevated, but has shown signs of plateauing in recent days after spiraling upward since early June.
Georgia passed 3,500 deaths from the pandemic, with its seven-day average of deaths at the highest level on Monday since coronavirus infections began. Deaths are a trailing indicator of the severity of the outbreak, following the increase of infections and number of patients in hospitals.
The state reported 3,181 patients in hospitals on Monday, close to the highest number since the outbreak began. Hospitalizations had dropped by more than 100 over the course of the last week before jumping up again on Monday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Georgia has a larger number of patients with COVID-19. In a statement on Twitter, the Georgia Department of Public Health said federal data included some long-term acute care and rehabilitation facilities, while state data is only from acute care hospitals. The state also said that state and federal data may be from different times.
The state pushed past 170,000 total infections on Monday. Georgia's share of positive tests remains elevated, coming in over 14% on Monday. While metro Atlanta counties have the largest number of infections, the largest cumulative numbers of infections per capita continue to be in counties in other parts of the state, including Echols, Chattahoochee, Stewart, Randolph and Bacon counties.
In Macon, Mayor Robert Reichert vetoed an ordinance Monday that would have required face coverings in public throughout Macon-Bibb County. In a letter to commissioners, Reichert wrote that he didn't want to join the list of cities challenging Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp by enacting mask orders even though Kemp has banned them by executive order. The Republican governor late Monday dropped his request for an emergency hearing in a lawsuit against Atlanta's mayor and city council for exceeding the measures he allows. A Kemp spokesperson said the governor wants to continue talks with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The vaccine test will examine the safety and effectiveness of a remedy developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. It will be months before results trickle in, and there is no guarantee the vaccine will ultimately work against the scourge that has killed about 650,000 people around the world, including almost 150,000 in the U.S. The first injection was administered early Monday in Savannah.
“This is a significant milestone,” NIH Director Francis Collins said. “Yes, we’re going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise” on proving whether the vaccine is safe and effective.
Atlanta's Emory University was involved with an earlier clinical trial of the vaccine.
There are a number of other competitors worldwide also seeking to develop ways to give people immunity against the virus.