Georgia changed its statewide vaccination plan on Feb. 25, removing the tier-wise system previously implemented to determine vaccine eligibility. The new system will instead identify individual groups as they become eligible moving forward.

On March 8, Pre-K and K-12 teachers and staff, “adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers” and “parents of children with complex medical conditions” will become eligible to receive a vaccine in addition to the groups already being vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health website.

Until the change, Georgia was in tier 1A of its vaccination process, with tiers 1B, 1C, 2 and 3 to follow. All groups under the 1A tier still remain eligible and include health care workers and patient-facing medical and nursing students, those 65 and older, those working or living in long-term care facilities, first responders and law enforcement.

University professors are not included in the group which becomes eligible March 8. It is unknown when more groups will be added, according to Associate Vice President and Executive Director for COVID-19 Response and Recovery at Emory Amir St. Clair.

Currently, Georgia is ranked last in the U.S. in the percent of its population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Emory’s COVID-19 Health Equity Interactive Dashboard. As of March 3, 12.27% of Georgia’s population had received one dose, and 7.14% had received both.

Cases decline after previous week’s peak

After student COVID-19 cases soared last week, numbers have steadily decreased to pre-surge levels. Emory’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 71 new cases since Feb. 23, with 8 faculty and staff cases and 63 student cases.

The highest daily case total was recorded on Feb. 17 with 52 cases, 51 of which were students and one staff member. Only one new case was reported March 1. The seven-day moving average for new student cases has also declined sharply, from a maximum on Feb. 24 of 22.88, down to 8.75 on March 1.

As of Sunday night, there were 43 students in isolation and quarantine at the Emory Conference Center Hotel, 72 students in isolation off-campus and 65 students off-campus in quarantine, according to Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz. Those in isolation have had a positive test result; those in quarantine have been identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive.

Last weekend, 135 students were quarantining in the hotel, the highest number of individuals since the pandemic’s start.

St. Clair credits the decrease to student compliance with mitigation efforts.

“Our students living on campus, they really answered the call this past week, and were really strong active partners, committing to the twice a week testing cadence that they’re now required to do,” St. Clair said. “We had 96% compliance for our students living on campus doing the twice weekly testing.”

The University moved to a twice-weekly testing regimen for on-campus residents on Feb. 19. Moving forward, St. Clair hopes the Emory community will be able to learn from the experience.

“This whole pandemic has taught us we need to look at what we’ve learned and apply it in the future … and that’s not just the University, right, that’s student behavior, it’s faculty behavior, it’s staff behavior,” St. Clair said. “If we’re not adjusting and learning … then everything that we’re investing in, students testing twice a week, all the work and strain, and it’s really for naught.”