Editorial: Do your part to stop the surge, get vaccinated and mask up

As the calendar turned from spring into summer, we felt confident that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind us.

The economy was reopening, people started traveling again, events that were long canceled were suddenly back on, professional sports teams opened their gates to full fan capacity, some of us were able to leave our masks behind and, most importantly, the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths — thanks to the rapid rollout of vaccines — were on a steep decline.

That's all changed due to the delta variant. Normal now seems a long way off. COVID cases are surging across the country, state and our area.

In Dalton, our local healthcare system is being stretched thin as Hamilton Medical Center treats a large number of COVID patients, most of them unvaccinated. Hamilton Medical Center had 63 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, an increase of one patient from Friday, according to information posted on the hospital's website. Of those 63 COVID patients, 53 were unvaccinated. Twelve were in the intensive care unit; eight were on ventilators.

The city of Dalton on Monday declared a COVID state of emergency. The City Council agreed to provide Hamilton Medical Center with city employees to supplement the hospital's staffing. All city employees are eligible to assist at Hamilton Medical Center, not just the first responder agencies.

Despite the widespread availability of the vaccines (they are free, safe and effective), our vaccination rates at the state and local levels are barely creeping upward.

• 4.32 million Georgia residents (42%) are fully vaccinated; 5.06 million Georgia residents (49%) have received at least one dose.

• 36,076 Whitfield County residents (35%) are fully vaccinated; 41,358 Whitfield County residents (40%) have received at least one dose.

• 11,128 Murray County residents (28%) are fully vaccinated; 12,886 Murray County residents (32%) have received at least one dose.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• COVID-19 vaccines are effective at helping protect against severe disease and death from variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 currently circulating, including the delta variant.

• You may have side effects after vaccination. These are normal and should go away in a few days.

• If you are fully vaccinated you can resume many activities that you did before the pandemic, but you should wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission to maximize protection from the delta variant and avoid spreading it to others.

No appointment needed vaccinations are available at the health departments in Whitfield and Murray counties and at area drug stores. Remember, the COVID vaccinations are free.

As you can see, COVID is back again with a vengeance. We all must do our part to help tamp down this latest surge and ensure it's the last surge.

Get vaccinated. Mask up.

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