Officials prep for spring break: Watch for possible coronavirus spike

Bryce Ethridge, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 22—VALDOSTA — COVID-19 mitigation strategies have advanced into a vaccine, giving the Georgia Department of Public Health South District confidence in the community's protection against the virus.

Still, they say, this isn't the time to get cocky.

Spring break is looming around the corner for most, usually taking place on the first week of April in South Georgia. Already, Florida cities have been dealing with a large influx of spring breakers.

There's worry another COVID-19 spike may occur.

Dr. Kenneth Lowery, South Health District epidemiologist, said vaccinations may deter a spike.

As of March 15, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has allowed the following to receive the COVID-19 vaccine: — Judges and court staff. — People aged 16 or older with certain medical conditions and parents of children with complex medical conditions. — People with disabilities, adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their caregivers. — Educators and school staff. — Funeral home workers who come in contact with dead bodies. — Law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and healthcare workers. — Adults aged 55 or older. — Residents and staff of long-term health care facilities.

Lowery said if the criteria keeps opening for the vaccine's availability, herd immunity is assured.

Lowery said he hopes to see the downward trend of COVID-19 cases continue in the area, adding it's hard to predict what the GDPH will see come spring break.

Valdosta being a college town and one of the last stops before Florida are factors to consider but, Lowery said, there are other COVID-19 spike factors, too.

"That's certainly a consideration given the number of places that students in VSU come from, but we also think about those individuals that have children and may go on vacation for spring break," he said. "We're looking at this all over the board ... but our messaging remains the same."

It's focused on mitigation techniques for everybody, he said, which are the three Ws: Wash your hands, wear your mask and watch your distance.

These precautions still ring true even if larger amounts of people are getting vaccinated, he said. While the vaccine provides major protection against COVID-19, it's not a 100% end all, be all.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines provide a 95% efficacy in its two shots while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine provides a 65% or greater efficacy in its one shot, Lowery said.

The latter has proven itself to be effective against mild and severe illnesses as well, he said.

With so many people signing up and taking the vaccine, Lowery said his observation has shown a more wary community — one that doesn't want to experience the high virus cases that resulted from Christmas and New Year's Eve/Day.

"I think the shock of so many people getting ill kind of was a bit of a wake-up call for mitigation strategies in saying 'Hey, we really need to take this thing seriously,'" he said, referring to the dramatic increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the area during the weeks following the holidays. "I think it's a collective effort among the community doing their part in that downward trend."