Coronavirus runs rampant, vaccine sparks hope


Yei Bin Andrews

Drive up Covid testing is available in front of the Tara Theatre, located on Cheshire Bridge Road.

For many Atlantans, March 13, 2020 holds a significant place in their thoughts. It was the end of a life they once knew and the beginning of a new chapter in society.

As the coronavirus pandemic reaches it’s 10 month mark, Covid-19 cases are running rampant. In early December, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned that the winter months would be, “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

Dr. Tom McGahan, practicing gastroenterologist as well as the Chief Medical Officer at Emory’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, works with Covid-positive patients everyday. His job helps him understand how important it is to partake in simple Covid precautions.

“At the hospital, we work with patients who are Covid positive every single day. And patients come in who are Covid negative, but are part of the general population, just like the students [at school] would be, that have an incidence of having Covid, but just don’t know it yet,” Dr. McGahan said.”But despite that, with just standard precautions, our staff don’t get Covid. Simple, appropriate mask wearing all the time, hand washing and appropriate distancing are really important and almost reduce and eliminate the risk of getting Covid.”

Dr. Mcgahan has translated some of the procedures used at the hospital to help a local private school open for in-person learning this past August. Some of these reopening strategies can be applied on a larger scale for a school like Grady, he said.

“I would mimic a daily process that the hospitals around the city have in place,” Dr. McGahan said. “When you walk in the door at any Emory healthcare facility, you’ll get a symptom screen and a temperature screen. You have to have a face mask and you have to have a purpose for being in the hospital. Then, the second process is when you’re at work, you just have to wear a mask all the time.”

While APS classrooms remain closed, some Grady students are playing sports and working, which creates opportunities for exposure to the virus.

“I would be more comfortable with students who are at work, especially if they follow the standard precautions that we follow at the hospital that I just mentioned, face masks, hand washing, social distancing,” Dr. McGahan said. “However, athletics is a more difficult challenge to follow the same rules. I would have to think that athletics would be a higher risk process right and would be more difficult to prevent the spread.

Last month, Georgia was fourth in the U.S. for Covid-19 admissions per 100 hospital beds, and 47 percent of ICU beds are currently used by Covid-19 patients, according to Amber Schmidtke, PhD, microbiologist and public health educator. Cases are on the rise in Georgia, causing some to return to precautions used last spring. However, junior Nola Pickering and her family have been following safety guidelines ever since the initial lockdown in Mar. of 2020, because a family member has an auto-immune condition.

“We have just been in a continuous lockdown since March 13th,” Nola Pickering said. “We don’t have anyone into the house, we don’t interact with anyone within six feet and we wear masks pretty much anytime we go outside.”

Even though cases in Georgia are climbing significantly in recent weeks, the vaccine offers hope for the eventual end of this pandemic. As a healthcare provider, Dr. McGahan was in one of the first eligible waves of people receiving both doses of the vaccine.

“I got my first dose of vaccine on Dec. 19, and I got my second dose of vaccine today [Jan. 9],” Dr. McGahan said. “It’s exciting. It’s highly effective. It seems that the technology to produce this produces a lower risk than other vaccinations that we’ve had in decades past. It’s a really exciting time.”

A date for vaccination for those who aren’t healthcare workers or are in the over-65 age category isn’t set in stone. Many people are planning on getting vaccinated as soon as it becomes accessible.

“As far as I’m concerned, the people I know and hang out with are all getting it [the vaccine],” Kimberly Pickering, Nola’s mother, said. “ I know that it’ll be a thing where I have to ask somebody, ‘have you been vaccinated?’ and I have no shame in that, I absolutely will.”

While the timing of the vaccine is unknown, experts know what measures everyone should be taking to reduce transmission and keep themselves, their friends and their families safe.

“I want to reinforce that preventing the spread of this virus prior to being vaccinated is not rocket science,” Dr. McGahan said. “It’s very simple to prevent people from spreading this disease, like just wearing a mask, appropriate social distancing and avoiding crowds. It’s amazing how effective that is.”