Gov. Brian Kemp warned unvaccinated Georgians on Thursday not to assume that COVID-19 is over, saying the state could risk a fifth surge of the pandemic this winter even though cases are steeply declining from the fourth surge that peaked a month ago.
“Today I want to emphasize the importance of not waiting until the next wave of COVID cases to get vaccinated,” Kemp said. “Given that our increase in cases and hospitalizations in 2021 was similar in timing to surges seen in 2020, we can only assume that a winter increase is also possible.”
The Republican again voiced opposition to federal plans to to require employers with 100 or more workers to mandate vaccination. Kemp said he’s exploring possible legal action with state Attorney General Chris Carr. It’s too soon to sue, though, because the federal government hasn’t issued a final rule.
“This is unnecessary federal government overreach that I, personally, don’t think anybody who is a businessperson wants,” Kemp said.
The governor, though, said he respects the right of private employers to mandate shots if they wish and opposes state legislation that would block private employers from imposing such a requirement.
Kemp spokesperson Cody Hall clarified that the governor believes an earlier executive order blocks state agencies and public schools from mandating vaccinations, but that city and county governments are not prohibited. The Decatur school system has moved to require all employees to be vaccinated or submit to daily testing. The cities of Decatur and Brookhaven have mandated that employees must get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
Georgia’s fourth COVID wave, which peaked in late summer, is easing. The seven-day average of new positive tests have fallen below 3,800 a day, down 60% since peaking a month ago. The total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide has fallen by almost half. The crush on intensive care units is easing more slowly, with 90% of ICU beds still occupied. Deaths continue to be recorded at a rate of more than 100 a day, with the state rising above 26,000 deaths as of Thursday.
Georgia’s vaccination rate has improved somewhat, with state data showing 47% of all residents are now fully vaccinated and 54% have received at least one dose. Georgia has moved up comparatively with other states, but is still in the bottom quarter of states in vaccinations per capita.
There are only 11 counties where more than 50% of residents are vaccinated, although that includes the state’s four most populous counties — Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb. There are three dozen counties where fewer than a third have been inoculated.
Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said that Georgia wasn’t seeing a shortage of monoclonal antibodies, a therapy for those sickened by COVID, even though the federal government is rationing the treatments and giving out fewer doses than were previously available.
Toomey said Georgia would follow federal guidelines on who can receive booster shots, although she emphasized they are only available currently to people who earlier received the Pfizer vaccine. She said among groups that will be eligible are those over 65, people living in long-term care facilities, people younger than 65 with underlying medical conditions and frontline workers who may be exposed to COVID-19. Toomey acknowledged those groups are so large that they may encompass most adults.
“You don’t need to run, but walk, to get your booster,” Toomey said, encouraging people to also get a flu vaccine at the same time.