In the fight against the indefatigable COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp has mobilized over 100 members of the Georgia National Guard, deploying them to medical facilities across the state.
Once there, they began assisting overworked medical professionals who are struggling to keep up with the new surge of COVID-19 patients.
This comes only a few months after Georgia’s average daily COVID-19 infection numbers had plummeted to just a few hundred. Now, that number is hovering at nearly 9,000 per day. This is a sad reminder that the pandemic remains as serious as ever, and recent developments and studies indicate what kind of future we can expect.
Since the early days of the pandemic, officials urged Americans to socially distance, wash their hands and—after some flip-flopping—wear masks. Several months later, in some respects, not much has changed.
Maintaining social distancing in many public settings remains one of the primary pieces of advice to Americans. Stickers adorn the floors of busy stores and government buildings instructing people where to stand to stay 6 feet apart from others. Thorough handwashing is still recommended—though pandemic or not, it is just common sense—and hand sanitizing stations are ubiquitous.
President Joe Biden announced that the vaccinated no longer need to wear masks, but he may have been a bit too hasty. Officials have since backpedaled as the Delta variant crashed onto the scene, and they’ve encouraged mask usage in many regions even for the vaccinated. While masks aren’t enough to contain outbreaks, they are better than nothing.
A recent study found that, when measuring effectiveness against indoor aerosol dispersion, “a standard surgical and three-ply cloth masks […] filter at apparent efficiencies of only 12.4 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.” Meanwhile, researchers discovered, “apparent efficiencies of 46.3 percent and 60.2 percent are found for KN95 and R95 masks, respectively.” Thus, mask usage will continue to be encouraged and for understandable reasons, but masks should be coupled with other preventative measures—like vaccines.
Unfortunately, months after inoculations became widely available, much of Georgia is still unvaccinated. Only 52 percent of those 18 and above are fully inoculated. Getting the remainder to voluntarily opt for vaccinations has been a struggle. The vaccine naysayers often cite the lack of Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval as a justification for their skepticism, but the FDA recently gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. It seems like only a matter of time before it does the same with the Moderna vaccine, too. While this official approval is unlikely to inspire the reticent to get their shots, it is paving the way for some new developments.
It seems that following the FDA’s stamp of approval, the government could soon ask Americans to get a third round of shots—beginning around 8 months after being fully vaccinated. The rationale for this is that we may need extra help in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant’s emergence, and some worry that our immune systems will need a boost against all variants after 8 months.
Pfizer’s CEO disclosed that their vaccine’s effectiveness drops from around 96 percent to 84 percent after 6 months, and Moderna said its vaccine’s efficacy reaches 93 percent after the same timeframe. What’s more, it’s not entirely clear how strongly they prepare our bodies for the Delta variant, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that vaccines may only be 66 percent effective at preventing infections from the Delta variant—though experts agree that the shots greatly blunt the severity of the breakthrough infections.
The FDA approval also seems as though it has given some license to mandate vaccinations. Certain college campuses now require that students be inoculated. All activity duty soldiers will be required to be vaccinated, but the mandates extend beyond government and educational institutions. Some private businesses have announced plans to require vaccinations for much of their staff. While I understand the intense discomfort with compulsory vaccinations, I’d wager that they become more commonplace.
Some have asserted that COVID-19 will become akin to the seasonal flu in intensity and considering its propensity for mutating. This could certainly be the truth, given that we have seen a few iterations of the virus thus far. If this is the case, then some form of it will be here to stay, but it seems inevitable to become much more benign. For the time being, however, expect more of the same guidance: social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing as vaccinations and boosters are rolled out.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.