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COVID-19 hospitalizations tumble among US senior citizens

WASHINGTON — COVID-19 hospitalizations among older Americans have plunged more than 70% since the start of the year, and deaths among them appear to have tumbled as well, dramatic evidence the vaccination campaign is working.

Now the trick is to get more of the nation’s younger people to roll up their sleeves.

The drop-off in severe cases among Americans 65 and older is especially encouraging because senior citizens have accounted for about 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus since it hit the U.S., where the toll stands at about 570,000

COVID-19 deaths among people of all ages in the U.S. have plummeted to about 700 per day on average, compared with a peak of over 3,400 in mid-January.

“What you’re seeing there is exactly what we hoped and wanted to see: As really high rates of vaccinations happen, hospitalizations and death rates come down,” said Jodie Guest, a public health researcher at Emory University.

The best available data suggests COVID-19 deaths among Americans 65 and older have declined more than 50% since their peak in January. The picture is not entirely clear because the most recent data on deaths by age from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is incomplete and subject to revision.

Still, the figures suggest that the fall in deaths among senior citizens is driving the overall decline in lives lost to COVID-19, vindicating the U.S. strategy of putting elderly people at or near the front of the line for shots when the vaccine became available over the winter.

The U.S. trends mirror what is happening in other countries with high vaccination rates, such as Israel and Britain, and stand in stark contrast to the worsening disaster in places like India and Brazil, which lag far behind in dispensing shots.

According to U.S. government statistics, hospitalizations are down more than 50%, but most dramatically among senior citizens, who have been eligible for shots the longest and have enthusiastically received them.

Two-thirds of American senior citizens are fully vaccinated, versus just one-third of all U.S. adults. Over 80% of senior citizens have gotten at least one shot, compared with just over 50% of all adults.

At the same time, however, overall demand for vaccinations in the U.S. seems to be slipping, even as shots have been thrown open to all adults across the country. The average number of doses administered per day appeared to fall in mid-April from 3.2 million to 2.9 million, according to CDC figures.

“My concern is whether the vaccine uptake will be as strong in these younger age groups,” Guest said. “If it’s not, we will not see the positive impact for vaccines in these younger age groups that we’ve seen in our older population.”

Also, new virus cases in the U.S. have been stuck at worrisome levels since March, averaging more than 60,000 per day, matching numbers seen during last summer’s surge. The new cases are increasingly among people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who also make up a larger portion of hospitalizations.

In Michigan, which has been battered by a recent surge of infections, hospitalizations among people in their 50s have increased 700% since late February, outpacing all other age groups.

In Seattle’s King County, hospital physicians are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients overall, fewer needing critical care and fewer needing breathing machines. These younger patients are also more likely to survive.

“Thankfully they have done quite well,” said Dr. Mark Sullivan, a critical care doctor at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. “They tend to recover a little quicker because of their youth.”

With enough people vaccinated, COVID-19 cases should eventually begin to fall as the virus finds fewer and fewer people to infect. Guest and other experts say Israel appeared to reach that threshold last month after it fully vaccinated roughly 40% of its population of 9 million people.

But the U.S. faces challenges in conducting mass vaccinations because of its far greater size, diversity, geography and health disparities.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced new federal funding for small businesses so that employees can take time off with pay to get vaccinated or recover from the shot’s side effects.

The challenge will be quickly vaccinating younger Americans, who feel they are less vulnerable to the coronavirus but are mainly the ones spreading the disease.

“To really feel that we’re out of the woods we’ve got to see a lot less cases than we’re seeing now,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, a vaccine specialist at Georgetown University. “It’s going to take a wider, continuing effort.”

In Chicago’s Cook County, where 91% of adults 65 and older have had at least one shot, the patients in the hospital these days are younger and do better.

“That feeling of dread is definitely eased with older patients getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Tipu Puri, a kidney specialist and associate chief medical officer for clinical operations at University of Chicago Medical Center.

At some moments, there’s even joy, he said. He recently stopped to help an elderly couple find the hospital’s vaccination clinic. The woman was pushing her husband’s wheelchair.

“Those are people you hope you won’t see in the hospital,” Puri said. “We’re not going to see them in the emergency room or in the ICU.”

He added: “This is what coming out of the pandemic feels like.”

Ayden Patino, a student at Model Elementary School

Cave Spring Elementary seeks recipe submissions for cookbook to mark 99th year

Cave Spring Elementary School is putting together a community cookbook and is looking for alumni, former staff and community members to donate their recipes.

Principal Kyle Abernathy came up with the idea after brainstorming ways to celebrate the school’s soon-to-be 99th anniversary.

This is the first community cookbook the school has published since former principal Susan Childers put together a child-friendly cookbook.

This one, however, will be a three-ring-bound hardcover book, filled with recipes from alumni, current students, families, staff, community members and anyone who has a history with the elementary school.

“I’ve done a cookbook before with a previous school I worked for and it worked out really well,” Abernathy said. “It’s a great keepsake for the community and as you know, our school is facing closure ... Now families will have this book to remember our school by.”

There is no limit to the number of recipes someone can submit, as long as they get it to the committee before June 9.

Abernathy will be submitting a few of his own recipes, including a chocolate chip pound cake and red velvet cake. He’s encouraging all of the teachers to send some of the recipes they use for the Pinto Bean Luncheon.

Along with the recipes, a brief history of the school will be included in the book, as well as a list of principals and old pictures.

Abernathy plans to have the book ready by October and sell it at the Christmas in the Country arts and crafts festival at Rolater Park in December.

All of the proceeds from the book will go to benefit the students and teachers of Cave Spring Elementary and to the 99th anniversary celebration.

To submit recipes, go to the school’s Facebook page and click on the form link to fill it out. You can also mail your recipes to the school at 13 Rome Road, Cave Spring, GA 30124.

Georgia teacher tax credit, possible year-round daylight saving time signed into law

Gov. Brian Kemp has signed into law several bills on taxes, time change and teacher retention that the General Assembly passed in the 2021 legislative session.

Among the more high-profile measures Kemp signed at a ceremony in Savannah Wednesday is an income-tax credit to recruit and retain teachers for high-need subjects in underserved Georgia public schools.

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, the measure allows teachers in 100 rural or low-performing schools picked annually by the state to apply for a $3,000 credit on their income taxes for up to five years if they teach certain subjects that students struggle to learn.

The teacher credit figured as a priority for Kemp in this year’s session. He has also pushed for state budgets to include teacher pay raises and legislation to cut down the number of year-end standardized tests that students must take.

Kemp also signed a bill aimed at putting Georgia on daylight saving time permanently if Congress takes action permitting states to make that change. The measure was passed over separate legislation that proposed establishing standard time year-round.

Also signed into law were bills to levy a $5 per-night excise tax on short-term stays in vacation rentals and hotels booked by online vendors and allow district attorneys to access previously confidential records on offenders seeking parole after serving prison time for a violent felony or sexual abuse of a minor.

The 2021 session wrapped up a few minutes after midnight April 1 amid heated debate over Republican-led legislation on voting procedures and criminal justice issues.

Kemp signed a controversial bill changing Georgia mail-in and early voting laws shortly after state lawmakers passed it on a party-line vote late last month.

The election changes have since become a national lightning rod with Republicans calling them needed for voting integrity and Democrats condemning them as voter suppression.

The governor has not yet signed a bipartisan bill to overhaul Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law.

The law, which dates back to the 19th century, drew criticism last year after the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery outside of Brunswick.