Today is the first day of early voting for the January 5th senate runoff elections in Georgia. I want to review the continuum of risk for voting in the context of a pandemic, and especially during a case surge.
The safest option is to use an absentee ballot and mail it back in or drop it off at a drop box. If you are older or have an underlying medical condition, this is the best option for you.
If you would prefer to vote in person, take advantage of early voting and be sure to wear your mask, take advantage of hand sanitizer when it’s available (or bring your own!), and try to maintain a 6 foot perimeter away from others. Try to go during off-peak times, being careful to avoid the rush over the lunch hour.
The crowds will likely be more intense on election day itself. The guidance above still applies, but be prepared to possibly stand in line for longer. If you are a person who struggles with standing for a long time, then consider bringing a chair that’s easy to fold and carry, etc. This is the riskiest of the options, because we expect the crowds to be bigger on election day. But it’s a runoff, so who knows what to expect.
Not so much public health related, but be sure to thank the election workers and be kind to those in line with you. Everyone is just trying to get through this pandemic. It’s easier for us to get through it if we are kind.
Man, today was historic for two completely opposite reasons. First, the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. The first dose was administered to an ICU nurse in New York. This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic. It’s a really, really important step in this pandemic. A reminder, the “end of the pandemic” is a months long process. So please keep wearing your mask, keeping socially distant, etc.
However, the opposite reason why today is historic is because today we surpassed 300,000 deaths in the US due to COVID-19. In Kansas, the flags are flying at half mast to mark this somber occasion. My alma mater, Creighton University, a Catholic school in Omaha held a mass specifically to remember those we’ve lost to COVID-19. I want to offer my most sincere condolences to all my readers who have lost someone precious to them in this pandemic. I am so profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish you have gone through and the way that the pandemic has prevented you from grieving with your family in the way that might help you most. I also want to offer my condolences to the healthcare workers who held the hands of the dying until their last painful breath, each of you standing in for hundreds of families and channeling that love and strength for so many. It has been a weighty responsibility, I am certain, and I know you must be so weary. For the rest of us, please honor the lives we have lost by making decisions that they no longer can. Let’s get to the end of this pandemic with as many of our loved ones and friends as possible. We are so much closer to the end of the pandemic now with the vaccine than we have been since the pandemic began.
Globally, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease has sickened > 71.5 million people (+4.4 million since last week) and killed at least 1,613,100 (+75,700 in the past week) as of this morning.
The US is ranked in the second highest color category for hot spots. We are ranked #8 in the world for average daily case rate per 100,000 people over the past 7 days (last week, 12th) with a rate of 63.3 compared to 59.3 last week. The top five countries for average daily case rate per 100,000 in the past week are Georgia, Serbia, Lithuania, Croatia, and Luxembourg. Things have intensified slightly for Mexico and Brazil. Things have improved for countries like Iran and Kazakhstan.
For deaths, our average daily death rate per 100,000 over the past week is 0.7 (unchanged from the previous week), and we are ranked #25 in the world for this (last week we were ranked #26). The top five countries for average daily death rate per 100,000 in the most recent week are Slovenia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Hungary.
The United States
As of this morning, there have been over 16.3 million cases (+1.5 million in the past week) and 299,328 deaths in the US (+17,015 in past week). We will likely cross 300,000 today, as a nation. Keep in mind that both of these numbers are probably an under-count of the situation in our country.
This week we see things have gotten slightly better for parts of the Midwest. The top five states in the nation for average daily case rate in the past 7 days are Rhode Island, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Arizona. Tennessee is the only Southern state in the top 10. The top five states in the nation for average daily death rate in the past 7 days are South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming, and New Mexico. There are no Southern states in the top 10 for the metric.
The table below tells you where we are this week and how that compares to the previous week (in parentheses). The data for everything but the percent of inpatients with COVID-19 comes from the New York Times coronavirus tracker and is current as of this morning. The hospital data comes from the HHS Protect Public Data Hub that was last updated on 09Dec2020.
Next, let’s look at how seasonal influenza is impacting different states across the US. You can consult FluView any time you’d like to see this map and other data visualizations. You can read the weekly report from Georgia Department of Public Health here. The maps below show the current year for the 49th week of the year (left side) and the same week a year ago (right side).
There were not any huge shifts this week compared to last week. Overall, influenza activity is low in the US right now. Compare that to where we were a year ago for week 49 in the map on the right. The things we’re doing to limit the transmission of COVID-19 are also interrupting the transmission of influenza. Good job! Remember, it’s not too late to get your flu shot. Please do so, if you haven’t already.
The map below is calculated and formatted the same way as the Harvard Global Health Institute tool, but includes Georgia’s antigen cases. The HGHI tool relies on the data Georgia DPH supplies to USAFacts.org and Georgia only provides PCR case data to this data repository. You can click on the image below to see the live map where you can click or hover over your county of interest to see its number.
There are 126 counties in the red category, 30 in the orange category and 3 counties are in the yellow zone.
For today, here are the net increases for each key metric for Georgia.
Testing: 25,996 new PCR tests (an average number, but high for a Monday), 14.2% were positive. The state does not provide data regarding the number of antigen tests performed.
Cases: 3720 cases were newly reported today (3296 by PCR, 424 by antigen test). The new statewide total is 546,558 (479,340 by PCR, 67,218 by antigen test). Of today’s cases, 34% came from nonrural counties outside of the Atlanta metro. Atlanta suburb counties were the second highest contributor, with 30% of cases.
Hospitalizations: 100 new COVID hospital admissions and 5 new ICU admissions. The new hospital admissions (100) is a high number for Georgia, given that it’s a Monday when numbers are typically low. There are currently 2962 COVID patients hospitalized and this number is 460 additional patients compared to last Monday. In fact, we haven’t seen a number this high since 7Aug. We are effectively reversing the gains we made after the summer surge, only 7% below our peak in the summer months. Adult ventilators are being used at 32% of our state’s capacity as of today.
There are five hospital regions using >90% of their ICU bed capacity - regions C (93%), E (96%), G (93%), K (95%) and region N (95%). It’s particularly worrisome to see region K in this position (southwest Georgia), knowing how hard hit they were in the spring.
Deaths: 13 newly reported confirmed deaths (net change), which is a low day for us. It should be noted that nursing homes typically do not report over the weekends, and Mondays tend to be low count days for this reason. The statewide total of confirmed deaths is 9218.
The Georgia Department of Public Health County Indicators report is released on Mondays. This report provides a lot of county level data, including testing, confirmed and probable cases (i.e. those identified through the rapid antigen test) and the counties of concern as far as DPH is concerned.
However, the report has not been released yet for this week. If there’s anything of interest in it, I’ll discuss it on Wednesday.
That’s it for today. See you on Wednesday!
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My Ph.D. is in Medical Microbiology and Immunology. I've worked at places like Creighton University, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Mercer University School of Medicine. All thoughts are my professional opinion and should not be considered medical advice.