Coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S. and state of Georgia, with the most recent spike blamed on holiday travel and social gatherings. There is light at the end of the tunnel, experts say, with the recent distribution of vaccines to protect against COVID-19. Here in McDuffie, as elsewhere across the Central Savannah River Area, doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians are first in line for the lifesaving shot. Still, health professionals warn now is not the time to forgo mask wearing, social distancing or other effective public health measures as most Americans may not see large scale vaccinations until the spring of 2021. As of press time Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health website reported that 43,469 vaccines had so far been administered to people across the state. The state of Georgia has been allocated 268,125 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and 234,600 doses of the Modern vaccine. Georgia was shipped 125,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and Modern shipped 169,600 doses to the state, according to dph.georgia.gov. “University Health Care System staff have begun to be vaccinated,” confirmed Bob Kepshire, Senior Administrator and Chief Nursing Officer at University Hospital McDuffie and University Extended Care. “There were around 100 employees in Augusta who received the Pfizer vaccine but the majority of the staff will be getting the Modern vaccine as that was the biggest shipment of doses we received. I suspect that we will begin to vaccinate University Hospital McDuffie staff early next week.” Thomson-McDuffie Emergency Services Director Chief Stephen Sewell said Monday that four local EMS employees had been vaccinated so far. “Currently the vaccine is available for our staff at the local health department,” Sewell said. “Today [Monday, Dec. 28] is the first day they have been available to us locally and two employees have received the vaccine at the local health department. Last week we had two employees receive vaccinations in Augusta through the health department.” Sewell said other EMS employees can still get vaccinated. However, even with a start to vaccinations the pandemic is far from over. “There has been a surge of cases in the area after the Thanksgiving holiday and I suspect we are going to see the exact same thing after Christmas; if not more cases,” Kepshire said. “The surge in cases has resulted in inpatient bed capacity issues throughout the CSRA and this is an issue being experienced throughout the country in general. We make every effort to transfer our positive COVID patients who require admission to one of the University Health Care System campuses in Augusta; at this point [Tuesday, Dec. 29] we have inpatient bed capacity at University Hospital McDuffie.” As of Tuesday, DPH reports there has been a cumulative 546,859 cases of COVID-19 in Georgia and 9,719 deaths from the virus. There has been 40,952 hospitalizations and 7,247 ICU admissions so far. In McDuffie County, DPH reported 961 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (cumulative), 22 confirmed deaths and 107 hospitalizations. Warren County has had 217 confirmed coronavirus cases thus far, with 6 confirmed deaths and 31 hospitalizations. For more information, visit dph.georgia.gov or cdc.gov.

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