After months of declining infection rates, COVID-19 cases have begun to creep up in Cobb County and elsewhere.
The uptick has public health leaders sounding the alarm that, as the “delta” variant of the virus becomes the dominant strain in the United States, Americans are not out of the woods just yet.
In Cobb, the 14-day average number of cases has trended upward from late June’s 29 per 100,000 residents, to 64 as of Monday. That is still well below rates earlier this year and is likely to be due in part to gatherings over the Fourth of July weekend and the easing of restrictions, according to Dr. Janet Memark, head of Cobb Douglas Public Health.
“It’s early in the uptick to know which way we’re going for sure,” Memark told the MDJ. “We did have the Fourth of July weekend, which is kind of around this time that we would see any fallout from that.”
That trend is also reflected statewide. Georgia’s seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled in the last month, from 306 to 724, according to the Department of Public Health.
Deaths and hospitalizations, meanwhile, have yet to catch up in Georgia, though during past surges, those upward trends were not reflected until weeks after cases began to rise.
At the national level, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said last week deaths and hospitalizations jumped by 26% and 36%, respectively. Ninety-seven percent of those, Walensky added, came from unvaccinated Americans.
Memark told the Cobb Board of Commissioners on July 13 that residents who are vaccinated have little to fear at this time.
“The only people that are at risk are the unvaccinated at this point,” she said, noting almost all current hospitalizations and deaths are coming from unvaccinated populations.
Still, the delta variant’s proliferation is raising concern as America “reopens.” The CDC believes the variant to be more transmissible than previous iterations of the virus, and more resistant to currently available vaccines.
A May report coming out of the United Kingdom found the Pfizer vaccine to be 88% effective against the delta variant, compared with 95% efficacy against previous strains of the virus.
“What this delta variant is doing is just taking advantage of the available hosts,” Memark said.
Memark added that the last time the department received numbers from the CDC, the delta variant accounted for about 12% of cases in the district.
“We know it doubles every couple of weeks — at least doubles — and so I’m anxiously awaiting what percentage we have,” she said.
Some locales have opted to reimpose restrictions in an effort to head off yet another spike in infections. An order in Los Angeles County requiring masks in indoor public spaces — regardless of vaccination status — went into effect over the weekend.
The Cobb County Manager’s office said Monday it hasn’t yet considered reimposing restrictions, such as mask mandates in public buildings, and Memark agreed it was too early to tell whether that would be necessary.
“Nobody wants to put masks back on, right? But if we get into a really bad situation … then it might be something that has to be considered again,” she said.
Her hope is that the current rise in cases “is just a Fourth of July blip, and everything goes back.” But until officials know for sure, she urged caution in the coming weeks — and as always, to go and get vaccinated.