School mask mandates spread with COVID across Georgia

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 3:43 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - More than half of all public school students in the Peach State are now required to wear masks in class to protect against the coronavirus.

Add Columbia County to that list starting Thursday.

With more than 1,000 students quarantined as the super-contagious delta variant of coronavirus sweeps the nation, Superintendent Dr. Steven Flynt says district officials made the decision because they want to keep students in school five days a week.

A review by The Associated Press shows at least 55 of Georgia’s 180 traditional school districts are now requiring masks. That’s up from only a handful of districts before class started earlier this month. The rules cover about 55 percent of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students.

It’s not an option across the Savannah River in South Carolina, where the governor and Legislature have banned school districts from mandating masks. Those restrictions have left districts with few options to fight the COVID surge.

For example, the Aiken County school district also has more than 1,000 students quarantined like Columbia County, but can only strongly urge students to wear masks.

That’s what Superintendent King Laurence has done, pleading with students, parents and school employees to “do what you can” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, some school districts are planning for a return to the classroom after going virtual soon after the school year started. Students in Taliaferro and Burke counties will return to campuses on Monday.

How hospitals are coping

Georgia hospitals continue to battle through a high number of COVID inpatients — and it’s not just the big hospitals.

The hospitals in Jenkins and Screven counties say their staffs are overburdened with mostly unvaccinated COVID patients, with their COVID wards full and the numbers raising alarm.

Jenkins County Medical’s CEO says 80 percent of its patients are COVID-related.

Staffing is their greatest need. There’s no administrative staff at Optim Medical Center Screven. The CEO says everyone is on the floor because it’s all hands on deck.

You can see how serious the problem is with the spike on the right side if this chart showing the jump in hospitalizations for the Georgia portion of the CSRA:

Our local hospitals on Wednesday saw 29 more COVID inpatients than Tuesday. The only hospital seeing a decrease in hospitalized patients was Augusta University Health.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Augusta University Medical Center: 102, down five from Tuesday. Of the 102 COVID inpatients, 97 are unvaccinated. All of the 49 on ventilators and 37 in intensive care are unvaccinated.
  • University Hospital: 119 inpatients, up 13 from Tuesday. Of the 119 inpatients, 105 are unvaccinated. Of the 12 on ventilators, 10 are unvaccinated and of the 16 in intensive care, 13 are unvaccinated.
  • Doctors Hospital, 65 inpatients, up nine from Tuesday.
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: 17 inpatients, up one from Tuesday. Eleven inpatients are in intensive care.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 41 inpatients, up four from Tuesday. Eight are in intensive care.

Some hospitals in the state will be getting help soon from more than 100 National Guard members being sent by Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp.

Although he’s offering that help and although health experts say more vaccinations are needed to turn back the pandemic, don’t expect a vaccination mandate from Kemp.

”I don’t think anybody really likes the idea of government mandates,” he said. “There are so many mixed messages coming out of Washington, D.C. A lot of people don’t trust that anyway. That’s why I’ve been telling people talk to your doctor or people you trust about the vaccine to make a good decision.”

Also in the news ...

VACCINE ASAP: Military troops must immediately begin to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo, ordering service leaders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.” More than 800,000 service members have yet to get their shots, according to Pentagon data.

AUGUSTA INCENTIVE: Augusta’s $100 incentive for people to get vaccinated is in the pipeline. City leaders say it’s going to be about three weeks before the incentives are ready. Anybody who gets their second shot starting last week is eligible to get the gift card. City leaders are considering whether people who receive a booster shot will be eligible.

PFIZER BOOSTER: Drugmaker Pfizer has started the application process for a third dose of its vaccine for everyone ages 16 and older. The company said it will complete the application with the Food and Drug Administration by the end of this week.

J&J BOOSTER: Johnson a& Johnson says people in Phase 2 studies who received its boosters six months after the initial dose showed a ninefold increase in antibodies compared with a month after the first shot.

DELTA’S DECISION: Delta Air Lines will charge employees on $200 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a policy the airline’s top executive says is necessary because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000.

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