ATLANTA, Ga. (WTOC) - Tuesday marks one year since the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported in the state of Georgia.
On March 2, 2020, two cases were reported in Fulton County after state health officials said the patients had just returned from Italy. Since then, the number of cases has skyrocketed to more than 819,000 cases and over 15,000 COVID-related deaths in Georgia alone.
The state reported more than 1,200 new cases on Monday.
A third COVID-19 vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, is now being shipped across the U.S. This after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved just over two months ago.
In Chatham County, public health and private partners have vaccinated more than 86,000 residents in Phase 1A-Plus. It’s a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. Paul Bradley and his efforts in the COVID-19 vaccine trial.
“This has been going on and it is happened as the government said at warp speed but we’ve produced I think a miracle, but it is a spectacular example of what American engineering is still capable of,” Meridian Clinical Research Chief Investigator, Dr. Bradley said.
While many wondered when we might see a COVID-19 vaccine a year ago, Dr. Bradley was getting to work. They began phase two trials of Moderna’s vaccine in April 2020. A time we started to see cases of COVID increase in our community.
“To be a part of making that stop. The whole world was literally melting down, it is rewarding, it is satisfying and it’s totally spectacular,” Dr. Bradley said.
He watched as results showed positive impacts and now a year from the first case of COVID in Georgia, that same vaccine is being widely used at clinics across the state to help protect our neighbors. Dr. Bradley believes the local trials have impacted the rollout and response to the vaccine, including WTOC’s Dawn Baker’s participation.
“The fact that we had the trials here, we had over 1,000 people in the trials gave our community a sense of awareness because at least in my own patients I am getting very little resistance. Most of them are telling me, ‘Yes I want a vaccine,’” Dr. Bradley said.
While we still have a long way to go to reach herd immunity, Dr. Bradley says the vaccine is providing hope that that day is sooner rather than later.
Dr. Lawton Davis is no stranger to public health. He’s been in it for a long time but says the COVID pandemic is something unlike anything he’s experienced and will change how we navigate in the future.
“We had swine flu and we’ve you know had a few other things that we were concerned about, but this has just been an amazing journey you know from what is it, is it here, can we even test for it, how can we test for it, do you have symptoms if you’re not a healthcare provider and don’t have symptoms I’m not going to test you you know to now where were trying to vaccinate everybody possible and all that in less than a year. I just think that’s pretty incredible,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Director of the Coastal Health District.
It’s been a year unlike any other. From limited information to equipment shortages and more to now 365 days later a better understanding of the battle we’ve endured. Dr. Davis says while it’s been a long fight, we know more now and are better prepared for the days ahead.
“Hopefully collectively both in the realm of medicine, science, virology and in the realm of government and politics we’ve learned a lot and we’ll be able to respond in a more cohesive manner if and when, well not if but when this happens next,” said Dr. Davis.
Dr. Davis says the fact that we have three vaccines on the market is nothing short of remarkable now a year after the state’s first case. More than 86,000 vaccines have been administered in Chatham County. Dr. Davis says this pandemic has taught us a lot not only about coronavirus, but our community and how we impact each other.
“None of us is an island unto ourselves and we’re all to an extent interdependent on each other. But it also I think has shown pretty well that when the chips are down we can pretty well cooperate,” said Dr. Davis.
“You really never know what you can do until you have to do it and getting thrown into this daily hurricane for a year really tested everyone in here,” said Paul Hinchey, President and CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler.
It was a year of challenges for healthcare workers as they faced changing guidance on the virus, PPE shortages, and mounting cases of the infectious disease. Leaders say they’ve learned so many lessons about not only how to be better prepared, effective mitigation strategies and how critical our hospitals are.
“Make sure we understand the why of what we’re doing because I think we have all experienced the story arch around gloves and masking and PPE access and how we should take care of patients, but I think we’ve done it well at staying at that edge of evidence based for what we do and all of us have been humbled by the amount of changing guidance we have gotten throughout this pandemic,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Memorial Health, Associate Chief Medical Officer.
While it hasn’t always been easy leaders say they watched as healthcare heroes stepped up to serve. As the vaccine rolls out and cases trend down they are hopeful about what the future looks like.
“Really I am hoping for more of a normalcy to what we had before the pandemic and what I really hope that we do is health systems, communities is not lose those key things that we’ve learned that help keep us well because there has been a tremendous loss of life in the US,” said Dr. Thacker.
Leaders say COVID may have forced new behaviors, but some of them will make us better moving forward. They say we can be confident in the healthcare systems we have in our region after they have tackled this pandemic together.
“I’m proud to be a Savannahian and I am proud to live here and I am proud to get my healthcare here because they performed second to none in the state,” said Hinchey.
For more COVID-19 information for the state of Georgia, visit the Georgia Department of Public Health website here.