With the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 continuing to spread, Department of Public Health Northwest Health Director Dr. Gary Voccio said the best way to fight it is to get vaccinated.

Just two weeks ago, the Delta variant accounted for 0.6% of the cases in Georgia. It has since spread to just a little over 12%.

Georgia Public Health officials are unsure how strong the virus’s presence is in Northwest Georgia because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t break its figures down by district.

However, Voccio said it could very well be in Northwest Georgia at the statewide case rate level.

“It seems to be more transmissible than the initial COVID virus,” he said. But there is some good news, he added. “It doesn’t seem to be more deadly.”

The variant, which originated in India, has been spreading rapidly throughout the United States, and some states are implementing stronger COVID protections than what the CDC recommends.

The 10-county Northwest Health District has seen a drop in positivity rate over the last few months. As of Thursday, only 10 infected people were hospitalized at Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center in Floyd County.

But a recent uptick in the COVID-19 positivity rate is concerning, Voccio said, with some of the counties at 6%. Floyd County still had about a 2% positivity rate as of Thursday.

The positivity rate is a tool epidemiologists use to gauge whether enough testing has been performed to accurately gauge the spread of a virus. In general, public health officials say a 5% or lower positivity rate is a good indicator that adequate testing has been done.

Voccio cited the Delta variant as a possible reason for the recent slight increase, but ultimately attributes any issue to the lack of vaccinated people in the district.

According to the Georgia DPH’s vaccine dashboard, only 39% of Georgians are fully vaccinated. In Floyd County, 32% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated and 35% have received their first dose.

“A lot of people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated, which is good because those are the people we’re most worried about,” Voccio said.

If you’re not vaccinated, Voccio said you should still wear a face covering in public and continue taking precautions. However, if you are vaccinated, you have protection.

“Neutralizing antibodies have protected against all variants,” he said. “But if you’re not vaccinated, still be aware that it’s a contagious virus and you shouldn’t be in a closed environment with a crowd of people.”

However, even vaccinations aren’t complete protection. There’s still a 5% chance for vaccinated people to get the virus, Voccio said.

“If you get COVID and you’re vaccinated, your symptoms are far reduced,” he said. “Your chance of getting hospitalized is close to zero and chance of death is zero. Your symptoms are less and you’re not as contagious.”

The DPH is still providing free vaccinations at their facilities Monday through Friday. You can find your local department on NWGAPublicHealth.org and click on the county for the address and times.

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