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Coronavirus vaccines begin in Georgia; infections rise more

December 16, 2020 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — The first coronavirus vaccines were administered Tuesday in Georgia as new infections continued to soar and many schools closed in-person classes for the remainder of the last week before Christmas.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey visited Savannah as the first four shots were administered to representatives of the Chatham County Health Department and Savannah’s three hospitals, who will in turn give the shots to coworkers. The Republican governor warned the state is “not out of the woods” as cases continue to soar and many schools sent students home in the face of rising infection and quarantine numbers.

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“With cases and hospitalizations now on the rise as we find ourselves going into the holidays, life is anything but back to normal,” Kemp said at a locally televised news conference. “And we still have a long way to go to defeat this virus. But today, Dr. Toomey and I are are thrilled to be here as we take this next step.”

Georgia’s rolling 7-day average of confirmed and suspected virus cases surpassed its summer peak for the 13th straight day, with the state now averaging nearly 6,000 cases a day.

At least 14 Georgia school districts have sent all students home, according to the Georgia Department of Education, canceling in-person classes for the remaining week. Others have sent groups of students, like all those in high schools home, or have closed individual schools.

Nearly 3,000 people were hospitalized statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with more than 20 hospitals saying their intensive care units or entire hospitals were full. The state has recorded more than 10,000 confirmed and suspected deaths. Many people never show symptoms of the respiratory illness and most people recover, but some people sicken and die.

Kemp continues to encourage people to maintain social distance, wear masks, wash hands and avoid large gatherings. But Kemp indicated again Tuesday that he will rely on voluntary compliance instead of trying to order businesses to close.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, no government mandate is going to make this virus go away,” he said.

Toomey said Georgia is receiving 84,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“All those doses were already allocated to hospitals and public health facilities across the state,” Toomey said. The very first shipment saw 4,000 doses go to Savannah and 2,000 doses go to Brunswick, with hospitals beginning to vaccinate employees on Tuesday.

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Toomey said Georgia hopes to soon receive 174,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which was partially tested in Savannah, once it gets emergency federal approval. Toomey said that will allow vaccinations to begin in rural locations that don’t have super-cold freezers that the Pfizer vaccine needs, as well as places that need fewer doses.

She said residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should begin getting their first dose of the two-dose vaccines in late December or early January, with the state having signed an agreement with pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens to handle those doses. But she said it could be late spring or summer before non-essential workers who don’t have health conditions could be eligible.

“The limitation is the availability of vaccine, not our ability to roll it out,” Toomey said.

Kemp said he wants people to feel comfortable getting the vaccine. He said he’s not in a high risk group, but would do so as soon as he fit in the category advised by the CDC.

Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager Tammi Brown was one of the people who received the Pfizer vaccine at the news conference.

“It’s been a long year for us in public health and for other health care workers dealing with COVID,” Brown told WTOC-TV. “We’ve all worked long hours and so for this day to finally come it’s just thrilling we’re just so excited to be a part of it.”