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'A whole, new pandemic' | Top Georgia health official says COVID Delta variant could peak in September

Georgia’s Commissioner of Public Health projects that the latest spikes in COVID cases may peak in September.

ATLANTA — The Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health said Thursday that the numbers of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are likely to continue to rise in Georgia, and then maybe reach their peak sometime in September.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey said that crushing the “Delta variant” is urgent and difficult, but doable.

She said in an interview with 11Alive that the first COVID pandemic is pretty much behind us.

But now, “This is very different. This Delta variant is like a whole, different virus. Just imagine that we have a whole, brand new pandemic. And that’s what we have on our hands…. It’s much more contagious, from person to person, more people will become infected from a single individual, you get sick faster, and it seems to make a beeline for people who are unvaccinated.”

Dr. Toomey said that in this new “war,” mostly unvaccinated younger people are the COVID patients who are filling the hospitals now-- in their 20s, 30s, 40s.

And relatively small numbers of COVID hospital patients in Georgia are younger than that.

Preliminary data show that hospitalizations of COVID patients in the infant to 4-year-old age group nearly quadrupled in the past two weeks: from 8 children to, now, 31 children, a record high number in Georgia.

And hospitalizations of COVID patients in the 5-17 age group nearly doubled in the past two weeks: from 28 children, to, now, 50 children, also a record high number in Georgia.

Contact tracing is underway, with the likelihood that they were all in contact with people who were unvaccinated.

“I’m saddened and just very disappointed,” Dr. Toomey said. “These are preventable hospitalizations.”

Dr. Toomey is urging everyone to go back to wearing masks indoors, for now, including in schools.

She is urging everyone to be diligent about getting tested, but is asking people to stop going to hospital emergency rooms for testing because hospitals are already overwhelmed treating COVID patients. Free testing is available throughout Georgia-- the locations are on the DPH website.

She hopes that once the FDA gives full approval to the vaccines, maybe next month-- and she emphasized that the vaccines are still effective against the Delta variant-- that approval will encourage more people to get them.

As it is, she said, “It’s going to continue to go up, go up, go up, unless we do something very intensive to mitigate that. Try to stop the virus in its tracks…. At this point they’re projecting that it’s going to be early September when we see the peak, and that’s a long way from now, and many, many illnesses between now and then.”