Douglas County’s top public health official said she is concerned about the highly contagious coronavirus delta variant as the number of new cases creeps up and vaccination rates continue to remain low in the county and across the state.
Dr. Janet Memark, director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health, said as of Tuesday the positive case rate in Douglas was at 132 cases per 100,000 residents. She said the county was at 50 cases per 100,000 residents a few weeks ago.
She said the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has increased from 2% at its lowest back up to 8.4% earlier this week.
Memark said just 39% of Douglas County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is lower than the state rate of 44% who have received at least one dose and well below the 70% full vaccination rate scientists say is needed for herd immunity.
Memark cited CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s recent comment that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“When you have 39% that have just gotten the first dose, that leaves 61% that are vulnerable,” Memark said.
She said close to 100% of people who are being hospitalized and dying are unvaccinated.
And Memark noted that while local hospitals are not close to being full, the CDC shows that new hospitalizations in Douglas County are up 144% in the past week.
Memark said she believes misinformation spreading on the internet continues to keep vaccination rates down.
She said some of the misinformation includes false claims that the vaccine isn’t safe and that it can affect a woman’s fertility, neither of which aren’t true, Memark said.
“I’ve never seen a campaign like this against something that’s shown to save lives,” Memark said. “It’s really tough. What we do is really tough right now.”
Memark said that the novel SARS coronavirus that first hit last year was able to “breed and mutate” because scientists didn’t know how to keep it controlled right away and vaccines hadn’t been developed.
“It’s survival of the fittest. So these weird mutations, that’s just part of nature, it just happened,” she said. “The ones that are strongest and most clever are the ones that are able to rise to the top.”
She said the alpha variant, also called the UK variant, was at least 30% more contagious than the original coronavirus. She said over time, the country has seen the number of alpha variant cases decreasing and the delta variant taking over.
Memark said the CDC is reporting that 85% of cases now are the delta variant. She said while the delta variant isn’t thought to be more deadly, it is able to “very very quickly affect the host.”
She said those that are vaccinated and pretty healthy should be OK. But she said those who were vaccinated but who may not have had a full response to the vaccine because they’re elderly or otherwise immunocompromised should be a little more cautious now.
Asked about what children should do with school starting in a few weeks, Memark said she is recommending that local school districts follow CDC guidelines which suggest children who are unvaccinated wear masks.
So far, only children 12-and-older have been approved for the vaccine, meaning most if not all students in elementary schools haven’t been vaccinated, Memark said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics came out earlier this week advocating universal mask-wearing in schools.
Portia Lake, spokesperson for the Douglas County School System, said Wednesday afternoon the district hasn’t finalized its policy on mask-wearing and other COVID precautions for the upcoming school year.