By Michael Burnett and Dr. Robert Sinyard
Athens-Clarke County, like much of the country, is experiencing a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases. Likely caused by the highly infectious delta variant, we are seeing a rapid increase in the number of COVID patients in our hospital. Today, the patients being hospitalized tend to be younger, between the ages of 30 to 59, are incredibly sick, and are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
It is unknown when the peak of this fourth wave of cases will occur, nor is it known how long the surge will last. However, one thing we do know is that if we continue on this same path we will reach numbers of positive cases higher than the previous surges-resulting in more sickness and death in our community. According to publicly available data, as of today less than 40% of Clarke County residents are fully vaccinated.
This virus has already mutated multiple times and there is an increased chance for more contagious strains of COVID-19 to emerge the longer our community remains under-vaccinated and the pandemic continues. And although we hear of rare cases of vaccinated individuals getting COVID-19, they are usually asymptomatic and do not require hospitalization, unlike those who are unvaccinated.
Across the Piedmont system, over 95% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated. If you have been vaccinated, now is the time to talk to your family, friends and neighbors who might be on the fence about getting their shot. You can find all the information you need on the COVID-19 vaccines, including answers to frequently asked questions, at https://www.piedmont.org/covid-19/vaccine-faq.
If you do get vaccinated, understand that your protection is not immediate. For all the vaccines, full protection takes time- typically two weeks after the second shot for Moderna and Pfizer. Getting vaccinated now means you will be fully protected sooner.
It is important for our community to know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their guidance on masking saying everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask when inside public places. We are encouraging everyone to continue to practice the 3 W’s; wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance. With the delta variant being two to three times more contagious than previous strains of COVID, taking these steps can help protect yourself and those around you.
At Piedmont Athens Regional, our care teams have felt the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. Our dedicated teams have worked tirelessly to care for patients during this time, and to them, we are grateful. Athens-Clarke County has continuously demonstrated support for our staff during the pandemic. Your prayers and acts of kindness are appreciated more than you’ll ever know. What we need more than anything right now is for everyone to get vaccinated and help us end this surge and the pandemic.
Michael Burnett is CEO of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, and Dr. Robert Sinyard, is the hospital's chief medical officer