Updated at 6:26 p.m. Tuesday
After a slow start to its coronavirus vaccine rollout, Georgia is reporting progress in getting people injected though it is still behind the best-performing states in the country.
The state, meanwhile, may be past the current peak of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The number of newly reported cases, the total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and the share of viral tests coming back positive are all declining.
Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that for the second straight week, Georgia more than doubled its number of reported COVID-19 vaccinations.
More than 423,000 people had received the vaccine as of Monday, according to state health officials. That’s roughly just under 4% of the state’s population and 46% of the two vaccines that it has received. Some states have administered a first dose to more than 5% of their populations, according to federal data. West Virginia says more than 7% of its population has received a first injection, and it’s used more than 97% of the vaccine doses it’s received.
Kemp said in a statement Georgia had “a long way to go,” but the latest figures show “encouraging progress” amid a limited supply of vaccine.
Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey told state lawmakers Tuesday in budget hearings that the state is hoping more doses will become available after Joe Biden takes office as president on Wednesday, saying supply right now is unpredictable.
“We need additional vaccine – there’s no question about it,” she said. “With a change in administration this week, we’re anticipating additional vaccine in the coming days and weeks.”
Toomey said that the state would like to launch mass vaccination sites. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta will be one, and she said the state would like to do the same at baseball stadium Truist Park in Cobb County and is looking for sites outside metro Atlanta. But she said getting more doses is crucial.
“At the rate we’re going, it’s going to take many, many, many months,” Toomey said. “You really need to do some of these big vaccination sites, and we hope that that will happen soon, with the availability of new vaccine.”
Toomey said the state continues work on a centralized reservation system for vaccines after complaints about busy phone lines and crashed websites when the state started allowing anyone over 65 to get a shot.
“There’s been, I know, a tremendous frustration that it’s difficult to make an appointment,” she said.
The state’s coronavirus figures, meanwhile, are improving. The seven-day average of newly reported cases from viral and rapid antigen tests is now running about 8,000 a day, down from a peak of 9,800 on Jan. 13. The number of hospitalized patients has not fallen as dramatically, but is down from a Jan. 13 peak of 5,714. And the share of positive viral tests, which peaked above 19% earlier this month, has now fallen below 17%..
Numbers could rise again, but the figures suggest that Georgia’s post-Christmas surge may be easing. Some neighboring states are posting similar declines.
Still, the figures in Georgia remain near their all-time peaks. Georgia had the fourth-highest diagnosis rate in the week ended Monday, with one in every 186 people testing positive during that time, according to figures kept by The Associated Press
And about 30 hospitals were diverting patients on Tuesday, including six hospitals of the Marietta-based WellStar system and both branches of University Hospital in Augusta.
Because some patients become progressively more ill, the number of patients requiring intensive care continues to rise, with nearly 2,800 ICU beds full on Tuesday. The number of patients on ventilators also continues to rise.
That level of severe illness is also reflected in the number of deaths, which typically trail new infections and hospitalizations. Georgia has recorded 12,582 confirmed and probable deaths, and has been averaging more than 130 deaths a day over the past week, a level that has more than doubled in the last two weeks and is now far above the previous August peak.