COVID numbers creeping up in Albany region, 64 percent of Georgia cases BA.4 and BA.5 variants

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Jul. 10—ALBANY — Last week Seminole County was high, this week it's low. This week southwest Georgia counties in the high range in the CDC's COVID-19 rating system included Colquitt, Grady, Mitchell, Terrell and Thomas.

Those shifting numbers are part of the current trend as COVID cases have been increasing throughout the region in recent weeks.

The system used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitor counties on three criteria: number of new cases, hospitalizations and a hospital census of the number of available hospital beds, Dr. Charles Ruis, director of the Southwest Public Health District, said.

On Friday, there were 36 patients hospitalized in the Phoebe Putney Health System, 29 of them in Albany, six in Americus and one in Sylvester.

"Those numbers vary a lot, depending on your county," Ruis said.

In Georgia, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of COVID make up 64 percent of cases. Those newer variants are of slight concern because they are more resistant to available vaccines but do not seem to make individuals sicker than the other variants.

"It's the nature of viruses to change over time," Ruis said. "We don't know how effective the vaccines are against these two, but we believe they are less effective."

Still, there is evidence the vaccines help reduce infections and keep those sickened from getting severely ill and out of hospitals.

Four or five nursing homes in the region have seen a number of residents test positive for COVID, but for the most part they are not ending up in the hospital.

"In 2020, when COVID made its way into nursing homes, you could almost predict within a few days there would be people in hospitals, some of them on ventilators, and then you would see deaths," Ruis said. "In a lot of cases those patients do not exhibit symptoms. We've had others with mild symptoms.

"That's more evidence that vaccinations will save lives. In some cases it will prevent infection."

While the number of new infections has been trending upward, it is not a sharp rise, and patients who are hospitalized often recover quickly. There were 10 patients hospitalized at Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie last week, but that number dropped to four this week.

Dougherty County was in the medium category for transmission this week, with a rate of transmission of 373 new cases per 100,000 in population. That number is 4.6% higher than the previous week, Ruis siad.

That does not include the number of people who are testing at home.

While the advice that health professionals have been prescribing since the appearance of the virus is old hat at this point, it remains the best way to help prevent the spread of the disease to others, including people who have underlying health conditions that could make them more susceptible to severe illness and death.

Best practices include social distancing, masking indoors in public places, and frequent and thorough hand washing or sanitizing.

Individuals who have been exposed to someone with COVID should quarantine, that is stay away from others for a period of five to 10 days, Ruis said. Isolation is recommended for those who have tested positive or have symptoms.

Those who have a positive home test can call (229) 638-6264 for advice on what steps to take next.

Vaccines are available at area health departments starting at toddlers of six months.