Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday, March 23, that all Georgians ages 16 and older will now be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday, March 25.

Speaking at the state Capitol building in Atlanta, Kemp said the state received over 450,000 vaccine doses from the federal government last week and was told by officials to expect another increase next week. He said appointments could become more difficult to find with the expansion and added that the state will continue to ship doses it receives from the federal government to the areas of highest demand around Georgia.

“Confirm your spot in line as quickly as possible,” Kemp said, adding that he would receive a vaccination dose Friday, March 26.

Kemp’s announcement comes as vaccinations are continuing to ramp up around the state and locally. As of Monday afternoon, March 22, the state had administered a little more than 3.2 million doses, with 1.14 million Georgians fully vaccinated.

There had been 12,885 doses administered in Barrow County — roughly 2,300 over the past week — as of Monday. Another 400 Barrow Countians have become fully vaccinated since March 15, bringing the total to 4,171 as of Monday afternoon, and some 1,900 county residents received their first dose over the past week.

The latest vaccine news comes as coronavirus cases remain low in the area. Nine new cases were confirmed Tuesday in Barrow County, raising the cumulative total to 8,303 confirmed cases, along with 1,062 antigen positive tests. An average of 9.6 new cases have been confirmed in the county over the past seven days — far below the mid-winter peak in January — and only 7.3% of those tested in the county over the last two weeks tested positive.

There have been 120 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 among county residents and one additional “probable” death.

Area hospitalizations from COVID-19 also remained much lower than their peak earlier this year, when hospital capacities were strained. Northeast Georgia Health System reported Tuesday morning that it was treating 42 confirmed-positive patients across its four hospitals and other facilities, while 32 were awaiting test results. The latest numbers included three confirmed-positive patients at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow in Winder and 19 at NGMC Braselton.

But Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, cautioned that Georgians should continue to wear masks and practice social-distancing in public as the state sees increases in COVID-19 variant cases.

Toomey and Kemp also urged Georgians who have now become eligible and those who may be hesitant to get vaccinated.

“This is a medical miracle. It’s safe, it’s effective,” Kemp said of the vaccines. “This is our ticket back to normal, and we’re getting closer to that every single day.”

The Barrow County Health Department is now providing vaccinations by appointment every Wednesday at the Barrow County Leisure Services Center at Victor Lord Park, 175 2nd St., Winder.

For vaccine registration, vaccination sites and other COVID-19 information, go to dph.georgia.gov.

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