There was a sense of urgency in Dr. Gary Voccio’s voice.
The director of the Northwest Georgia Public Health office said that as he’s watching the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the region, “this is a very worrisome time.”
The hospitals in Rome reported 29 people hospitalized with the coronavirus Thursday, a number that has been increasing daily. That number grew to 34 on Friday, just a day later.
Voccio said there is no doubt that the increase in hospitalizations and positive test results has occurred due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant.
He said the spread has occurred almost exclusively among people who have not been vaccinated.
“It’s 99-plus percent,” Voccio said.
Counties in the northwest region — Floyd, Bartow, Gordon, Catoosa, Chattooga, Walker, Dade, Haralson, Paulding and Polk counties — are experiencing a positivity rate of 11.2%
“A month ago we were at 2%,” Voccio said.
In general, a low positivity rate is considered a good sign. The lower the number, the better the indicator that enough people are getting tested to determine the actual spread of the virus.
While testing is down, the latest numbers are based on between 500 and 600 tests a day district-wide.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 90 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported among Polk County residents in the month of July through July 30 after only 25 were reported in June, 60 of those were reported in the two weeks leading up to July 30.
In Floyd County more than 320 new cases have been reported in the past two weeks.
“It’s more contagious, it replicates faster and there is more of a viral load — more virus in the body once you get it,” Voccio said. “I strongly recommend masks and I just encourage people to get vaccinated.”
He likened the significance of getting vaccinated to someone who is in need of an emergency operation. The surgeon puts on sterile gloves, a mask, a surgical gown and surgical hat, all combined to help keep the patient from getting infected.
“You do it all, “ Voccio said. That includes vaccinations, masks, and social distancing.
The doctor said the new variant is highly contagious and that people don’t need to take a chance on getting or spreading it.
“If you survive it, you don’t want the long term consequences of this virus,” Voccio said. “Some of the experts are now estimating that as many as 20% to 50% of the people who contract the virus are having this Long COVID Syndrome, or post-acute sequelae of COVID.”
“It’s just so easy to get a vaccine, I don’t understand it,” he said.
As of July 30, at least 32% of the population (13,250) of Polk County has received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 28% (11,911) is fully vaccinated.
In terms of a growing concern about the need for a booster shot, Voccio said that hasn’t been determined yet. Evidence shows the vaccines are still showing a neutralizing antibody response for at least six months.
“We may need a booster. That date is forthcoming soon, I think,” Voccio said.