By Beau Evans
State public health officials highlighted promising downward trends in the COVID-19 pandemic following Labor Day weekend in Georgia as researchers race to evaluate potential vaccines.
Since early last week, Georgia’s overall virus transmission rate has fallen by more than double digits through Tuesday, according to data from the state Department of Public Health.
The seven-day average positivity rate – a key marker for assessing the virus’ spread – has dropped from 10.1% to 8.9% over the past roughly two weeks, according to the state agency.
Hospitalizations from coronavirus have also decreased since the start of September, though health experts have warned data on mortality and intensive-care visits typically lag by days or even weeks after outbreaks.
State officials and health experts pressed Georgians not to throw caution to the wind for the Labor Day holiday weekend, particularly in light of evidence that past holiday get-togethers in May and July likely sparked COVID-19 flare ups.
“We’ve come too far in our fight with COVID-19 to turn back now,” Gov. Brian Kemp said this week. “I’m asking Georgians to wear a mask, wash their hands, practice social distancing and follow public health guidance to stop the spread.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 285,000 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 6,070 Georgians.
Dr. Carlos Del Rio, a leading Emory University epidemiologist who has focused on the virus since its onset in March, noted Georgia’s virus positivity rate has mimicked a decline across the country over the past few days.
He urged Georgians to continue wearing masks, washing hands and keeping distance from each other.
“We need to not drop our guard because we are in a good trajectory and we need to keep moving forward,” Del Rio said in a news conference Wednesday morning.
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Clinical trials entered a new phase last month for a potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19, marking one of a few trials from researchers and lab companies pushing to have a vaccine ready for release in the coming months.
Atlanta-based Emory is one of several institutions participating in clinical trials for a vaccine candidate manufactured by the company Moderna. Researchers in mid-August began recruiting more subjects for expanded testing of the potential vaccine.
Del Rio said Wednesday that while trials are going well, researchers still need more participants from local Black and Latino communities who represent populations that have been hardest hit by the virus and health-care disparities.
“You want to be sure that the most affected populations are represented,” Del Rio said.
Vaccine trials have shown promising results so far at Emory and across the country for a so-called mRNA vaccine using genetic sequencing to create proteins that mimic coronavirus, triggering a response from a patient’s immune system to erect safeguards.
Anyone interested in participating in the trials at Emory can sign up by filling out forms or emailing the following: