In Chatham and neighboring counties, COVID-19 statistics are looking good. The numbers of hospitalizations and daily new cases have fallen to levels last seen about a year ago. Each is currently below 20.
But it’s too soon to claim the pandemic is over, said Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the eight-county Georgia Coastal Health District.
“As I’ve said many times before, statistics are like a lamppost, good for support but not necessarily for illumination,” Davis wrote in an email. “If you look at our local Community Transmission Index, 7-day rolling average, percentage of positive tests, and hospitalizations, the signs are good and we are on a COVID-19 decline. If you focus on the number of residents vaccinated, there is some cause for concern.”
In Chatham County, for example, 32% of residents have been fully vaccinated. In Bryan, it’s 30% and in Effingham, only 23%. Georgia as a whole reports 34% fully vaccinated. A person is considered to be fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine.
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Those age 12 and older are eligible for vaccinations, which are widely available and always free to the recipient.
“We need to get that number a lot higher if we truly want to reach community (or herd) immunity,” Davis said. “Are we on the right track? Absolutely. Can we declare complete victory? No.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that researchers are “still learning how many people have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the population can be considered protected.” That number varies by the contagiousness of a disease, with measles at 95% and polio 80%, according to the American Academy of Medical Colleges. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously put the estimate for COVID-19 at 70% to 85% of the population vaccinated or immune to reach herd immunity.
“Until enough people are protected either through vaccination or acquiring antibodies, COVID-19 will continue to be a concern,” Davis said.
COVID-19 variants continue to emerge, such as the more infectious delta variant that was first identified in India and has spread to 62 countries.
“As we want to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we have to stay vigilant,” Davis said. “One only needs to look at some other countries facing devastating outbreaks to see that new surges can and likely will emerge. I can’t say it enough: Please get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Getting vaccinated is our best chance to end this thing.”
With COVID statistics trending down, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson did not renew the city’s mask mandate after it expired May 31. Instead he strongly urged residents and visitors to continue wearing masks. And to get vaccinated.
More: Encouraged but not required: City of Savannah revises mask mandate
“We are hoping to move to a place where more people will be vaccinated, which is why you’ll continue to hear me talk about it,” he said in his weekly address Tuesday.
Vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or maintain 6 feet of separation in most cases and can get back to doing all the things they did pre-pandemic, Davis said. But vaccines are not a “bullet-proof force shield,” he said.
“Please continue to use common sense and take precautions if you will be engaged in potentially high risk activities or settings (e.g. crowded indoor setting with others of unknown vaccination status).”
That goes double for the majority of local residents who are unvaccinated.
“The flip side to that is that people who are unvaccinated – either by choice or because the vaccine has not yet been approved for certain age groups – still need to take precautions, including wearing masks and social distancing,” he said. “That’s particularly important when unvaccinated folks are around others with unknown vaccination status.”
Mary Landers is the environment and health reporter at the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at 912-655-8295. Twitter: @MaryLandersSMN