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CDC reflects on 2-year anniversary of first COVID-19 cases in Georgia

Remembering lives lost in Georgia
Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 4:58 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - It’s been 731 days since Georgia was rocked by positive COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control reported the total COVID-19 deaths across the country at 947,882. While the virus continues to take lives, a lot has changed in the fight to stop it.

CBS46 sat down with the CDC’s acting principle deputy to talk about the lessons learned and the mishaps made since the pandemic began two years ago.

“We started hearing reports and I saw a lot of my staff and colleagues being pulled into this,” said Dr. Deb Houry, CDC Acting Principle Deputy.

Inside the Atlanta headquarters, there is now a COVID-19 task force, as well as an emergency operations center. It quickly became an all-hands-on-deck situation as they quickly hired more staff.

“We have disease detectives here. Literally disease detectives,” Houry explained.

Changes in Messaging

The CDC was accused by some of flip-flopping during the crisis, changing their tune on mask-wearing, asymptomatic spread, and the quarantine period, which went from 14 to 10 to 5 days. CBS46 News asked if the CDC felt that caused skepticism amongst the public.

“Certainly. There is always hindsight but I think we did the best with the data at hand,” Houry said.

CBS46 News went behind-the-scenes to the CDC's emergency operations center
CBS46 News went behind-the-scenes to the CDC's emergency operations center(Dimitri Lotovski | wgcl)

At first, it seemed the coronavirus would be relentless with anyone who caught the virus. But looking at the data, the CDC director said over 75-percent of COVID-19 deaths were among people with at least four other medical conditions who were “unwell to begin with.”

“I think early on, we didn’t have things like vaccinations. So, it certainly impacted all age groups, and certainly people that have different medical conditions might be at risk for severe disease,” said Houry. “When we have lost nearly 900,000 who have died from it, it certainly is not overblown. This has been a tragedy.”

CBS46 asked the clinical director of the COVID-19 task force at Piedmont Healthcare if she believes the CDC provoked more fear than necessary.

“I never thought it was overblown, in fact, I think at many times I think it was undersold,” Dr. Jayne Morgan said.

She says the government continuously changing messaging may have prevented some from buying into the stay-at-home order and other safety measures.

“The messaging was correct for that surge, but society didn’t follow it. So, that messaging is going to be different for the next surge because the variant is going to be different,” Dr. Morgan said.

A Changing Virus

COVID-19 was first found in Georgia in March 2020. In January 2021, the variant Alpha was identified, followed by Beta a month later, as well as Gamma, Delta and Omicron in the same year, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The CDC says they’ve made progress in the last two years with learning and adapting to the changing virus.

“We’ve had huge improvements in our data reporting and our lab structure. And I think the pandemic has shown a light on what can be done to improve background health,” said Houry. “Two years ago, there was so much discovery that we were still undertaking.”

The CDC says the best they can be is cautiously optimistic. They’re still monitoring variants, looking at the data, and adjusting the guidance accordingly.

“We report the data, we give guidance, and we really want people to make decisions that are right for them and right for those around them,” Houry said.

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