By Helena Oliviero, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Three years ago, Gov. Brian Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of the state’s public health department, hastily arranged a late-night press conference to announce the first two confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia: a Fulton County father, who had recently returned from a trip to Italy, and his son.
Within days of this March 2, 2020 announcement, the NBA suspended its season, and then Georgia, along with much of the world, started shutting down. Schools closed, streets emptied, and commuters stayed home.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but the virus was already rocketing around the world, and life as we knew it would change — and change for a long time.
There was no population immunity to this new mysterious virus, which, unlike other coronaviruses, could easily be spread by people without any symptoms. That meant “This was going to beast to control,” according to Dr. Jodie Guest, a Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology.
It sure was. And still is.
“We’ve lost the messaging,” Guest said, “that these vaccines are still incredibly effective at keeping people out of the hospital and keep people from dying – and that’s the win.”
By now, millions of Georgians have caught the virus, some multiple times.
People who are vaccinated can still die from COVID. But the rate of death among the vaccinated is still significantly lower than the unvaccinated. Only 59% of the population in Georgia completed the primary series of vaccination, among the lowest rates in the country, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Guest said it’s also a time for people to recalibrate the way they live with COVID. It’s not as simple as an off-on switch, she said.
“I do think we are settling back into a more normal style of living with the virus,” said Guest. “A lot of people have the privilege of not thinking much about it on a day-to-day basis.” She advocates understanding when high-risk individuals must take extra precautions and wearing a mask when those at higher risk are nearby.
“This can’t be a masks on, masks off, everyone gets vaccinated every four months or everyone does not. It’s a little more nuanced than that. And that’s the place we now are.”