State Democrats fear Texas-style abortion bill in Georgia

ATLANTA – Just over a week before a U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on Georgia’s controversial abortion law, state Democrats said Wednesday they will continue fighting any Republican efforts to curtail reproductive rights in the future.

In a virtual press conference also attended by a Planned Parenthood official, Democrats specifically pointed to Texas’ newly passed abortion bill, which the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month refused to block from taking effect.

“What happens in Texas won’t stay in Texas,” said state Rep. Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners. “Not every pregnancy is an immaculate conception or a Hollywood-produced drama. There is a limit to what government can impose, and the Republican Party wants to replace God with government.”

The Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. The Texas law leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Watch the press conference here.

On Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. Justice Department filed an emergency motion in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, to stop the law’s enforcement.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hold a hearing on Georgia’s HB 481 Sept. 24.  Known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality (LIFE) Act, it also sought to prevent abortions beyond six weeks except in special situations. Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights eventually led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to rule the law unconstitutional.

If the 11th Circuit agrees with the district judge, Georgia could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law’s constitutionality and the precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Gov. Brian Kemp also is expected to call a special legislative session, likely in November, to redistrict the state under newly released U.S. Census figures. Moore said “it has been suggested that while we’re in session, we could consider other measures” such as a Texas-modeled abortion law.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, said special legislative sessions are called for a specific purpose – such as redistricting – but a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly could expand its originally called purpose.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Upcoming flu season could be worse than 2020, doctors say

ATLANTA – The president of the Medical Association of Georgia said Wednesday this flu season could be worse than last year’s, and again stressed the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, so co-infection can bring a much higher risk of mortality,” said Dr. Lisa Perry-Gilkes. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from the COVID-19 and flu viruses, period.” 

Perry-Gilkes said patients should “not to get lulled into a false sense of security because last year’s flu season was so mild. This could be a worse flu season, which is why I am encouraging every Georgian to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and no later than the end of October.” 

She added patients can now get the COVID-19, flu and other vaccines administered at the same time.  

On Tuesday, the state Board of Public Health was told almost 60% of new COVID-19 outbreaks are now in Georgia’s K-12 schools.

Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the highly contagious delta variant is responsible for the surge.

“The delta variant began spreading in Georgia around July 4,” Drenzek told a virtual meeting of the state’s Board of Public Health. “There has been an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last 60 days.”

According to Tuesday’s COVID totals provided by the state Department of Public Health, more than 1.1 million Georgians have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began in March 2020. A total of 20,806 Georgians have died, and there have been more than 76,000 hospitalizations.

According to data provided by Drenzek to the board, there has been a 20-fold increase in cases; a 13-fold increase in hospitalizations; and a 17-fold increase in COVID deaths since July 1.

However, both Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and Drenzek said state data has begun to show decreases over the last seven days.

Dr. R. Chris Rustin, director of the department’s Division of Health Protection, said as of Tuesday, more than 10 million vaccine doses have been administered in Georgia, with 4.7 million Georgians, or 45% of the state’s population, being fully vaccinated. About 5.4 million of the state’s residents, or 53%, have received at least one vaccine dose.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia’s 2021 graduating class beats national SAT average

ATLANTA – For the fourth year in a row, Georgia public-school students outperformed their counterparts in the nation’s public schools on the SAT.

The mean score of 1077 Georgia students recorded was 39 points higher than the national average for public-school students. 

According to a report issued Wednesday by the state Department of Education, Georgia’s public-school class of 2021 also recorded significant increases in scores compared to the class of 2020. The mean score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) rose from 532 in 2020 to 546 in 2021, and the mean for math rose from 511 in 2020 to 531 in 2021, for a total increase of 34 points in the average composite score. 

“Despite the fact that part of their high-school education took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia’s class of 2021 did an outstanding job on the SAT — both increasing scores and outperforming their counterparts in the nation’s public schools,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. 

Thirty-eight percent of Georgia’s class of 2021 took the SAT at some point during high school. This percentage is lower than normal, given the impacts of the pandemic – including the cancellation of some test registrations and closure of some test centers in 2020 – and the temporary waiver of SAT/ACT score requirements for University System of Georgia admissions. 

While the College Board does not release participation percentages at the national level, the raw numbers show a decline in participation nationally as well: 1.5 million students in the high school class of 2021 took the SAT at least once, down from 2.2 million in the class of 2020.

Wednesday’s news included only state-level test scores. The department said school and district-level scores will be released Friday. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

UPDATE: Almost 60% of new Georgia COVID outbreaks are in K-12

Image: Georgia Department of Public Health

Almost 60% of all new COVID-19 outbreaks are now in Georgia’s K-12 schools, the state’s top epidemiologist said Tuesday.

Cherie Drenzek, state epidemiologist for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said the highly contagious delta variant is responsible for the surge.

“The delta variant began spreading in Georgia around July 4,” Drenzek told a virtual meeting of the state’s Board of Public Health. “There has been an exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last 60 days.”

Image: Georgia Department of Public Health

According to Monday’s COVID totals provided by the state Department of Public Health, more than 1.1 million Georgians have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began in March 2020. A total of 20,705 Georgians have died, and there have been more than 76,000 hospitalizations.

According to data provided by Drenzek to the board, there has been a 20-fold increase in cases; a 13-fold increase in hospitalizations; and a 17-fold increase in COVID deaths since July 1.

However, both Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and Drenzek said state data has begun to show slight decreases over the last seven days.

Dr. R. Chris Rustin, director of the department’s Division of Health Protection, said as of Tuesday, more than 10 million vaccine doses have been administered in Georgia, with 4.7 million Georgians, or 45% of the state’s population, being fully vaccinated. About 5.4 million of the state’s residents, or 53%, have received at least one vaccine dose.

Rustin also said Georgia is offering 136 sites for monoclonal antibody treatments, commonly known as Regeneron infusion.

Rustin said preliminary data shows monoclonal antibody therapy is effective mostly early in treatment.

“You have to get it early on,” Rustin said, who added the state Department of Public Health is collaborating with the Department of Community Health to support the existing sites across the state.

“It’s important to stress this is not a substitute for vaccines,” Rustin said.

The treatment, according to the Southeast Georgia Health System, helps the immune system stop COVID-19 from spreading in people with mild to moderate symptoms. The antibodies are synthetic proteins that are manufactured in a lab.

The therapy, according to the health system, isn’t new; doctors have long used this treatment to deliver drugs or radioactive substances directly to cancer cells.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given monoclonal antibody therapy emergency use authorization for the treatment of COVID-19.

According to the FDA, clinical trials showed that COVID-19 patients who received antibody infusions had a significant reduction in hospitalizations and deaths compared to patients who received a placebo.

Florida is one state that has launched a statewide initiative that offers the treatment at 21 sites. While Georgia offers the treatment at far more sites than its Sunshine State neighbor, it seemingly has no plans to sponsor a statewide program.

When asked by Capitol Beat if Gov. Brian Kemp has any plans for such an initiative, the governor’s office referred to Kemp’s Aug. 24, 2021, authorization of 105 Georgia National Guard personnel to 10 hospitals around the state.

“This Georgia National Guard mission is in addition to the 2,800 state-supported staff and 450 new beds brought online, at a total state investment of $625 million through December of this year,” Kemp said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia needs to update lead standards, health official says

ATLANTA – A top state public health official told a House of Representatives study committee on Monday that Georgia should require a full clearance inspection after a lead abatement inspection.

Currently, according to Christy Kuriatnyk, director of the Georgia Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, all that’s required is a visual inspection.

“You can’t see lead dust,” Kuriatnyk told the House study committee on childhood lead exposure.

Kuriatnyk also recommended the state should increase the length of time a landlord must submit a lead abatement plan from 14 to 30 days; and require landlords to submit a letter the property will no longer be used as a dwelling, if that is the intent.

Another recommendation: if a landlord does not disclose a home has the potential for lead hazards and such hazards are found, then tenants can void their lease.

“We are making recommendations that keep pace with science,” Kuriatnyk said.

Lead abatement, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is designed to eliminate lead-based paint hazards. Abatement is sometimes ordered by a state or local government, and can involve specialized techniques not typical of most residential contractors.

The committee was formed via a special Georgia General Assembly resolution. Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) chairs the committee, which was designed to study early intervention and prevention of childhood lead exposure. According to the legislature, lead paint is present in one-third of the nation’s homes, particularly older residences.

Monday’s meeting was the second held by the committee, the first being Sept. 2. At that meeting, Dempsey said the committee was created to study the impact of lead in children’s bloodstreams.

    “In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its lead recommendations, and Georgia has not updated” its standards, Dempsey said earlier this month.

    This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.