The COVID-19 pandemic in Georgia appears to be in a “steady state,” but also a “critical point” where precautions must remain to prevent it from growing, a prominent expert told the Brookhaven-based Latin American Association at its May 21 annual awards event.

Dr. Carlos del Rio is a professor of infectious diseases at Emory’s School of Medicine, chair of the Department of Global Health at its Rollins School of Public Health, and co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research. He has appeared frequently in local and national media commenting on COVID-19, recently expressing caution about Georgia’s reopening of previously shuttered businesses.

Dr. Carlos del Rio speaks during the May 21 Latin American Association’s Compañeros Awards event.

Del Rio spoke during the 31st annual Compañeros Awards presented by the LAA, which is based on Buford Highway. Usually held at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the event this year was held virtually due to the pandemic and can be viewed online here.

“In the state of Georgia, we are right now in a sort of steady state,” said del Rio. “The number of cases are stable or probably starting to come down,” but hospital intensive care unit capacity remains a concern, as locally they are about 70% full, he said.

Economic damage from business closures can have health impacts, too, he said. But as business returns, he said pandemic precautions need to remain: mask-wearing, hand-washing, avoidance of face-touching, and regular cleaning of surfaces.

Del Rio noted that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, with an increase in cases among Hispanic residents, primarily those working in the chicken industry. He said that involves poverty and other social factors that make it difficult for people to avoid the disease through sheltering in place and social distancing.

“So when I think about COVID, I think that we’re all clearly at risk, but some people are higher risk, and they’re higher-risk because of social conditions,” he said.

“So bottom line, we are at a critical point in this epidemic,” said del Rio. “I think as the country’s beginning to open, we don’t want to see an increase in the number of cases, so we want to continue practicing social distancing. We want to continue being careful, wearing masks, and above all, we want to be taking care of ourselves.

“Because this summer could be where we see an increased number of cases if we don’t take this seriously, if we think this is gone, and if we don’t do the right things,” he added. “And that could be quite devastating for our healthcare system and for our communities.”

Awards

The awards honored some local organizations and leaders.

Maritza Morelli, executive director of Sandy Springs-based Los Niños Primero, received the “Inspiration Award.” Los Niños Primero serves underprivileged, low-income Latino children, youths and families with educational and arts programs.

“Inspiration Award” recipient Maritza Morelli, executive director of Sandy Springs-based Los Niños Primero speaks during the event.

Mercy Care Chamblee received the Olga C. de Goizueta Pacesetter Award, and Sandy Springs-based Cox Enterprises was named the “Corporate Champion.”

LAA Executive Director Aníbal Torres said the organization’s locations, including the 2750 Buford Highway headquarters, remain closed. But the LAA remains active with such programs as food drives at the Plaza Fiesta shopping center at Buford Highway and Clairmont Road.

LAA Executive Director Aníbal Torres speaks during the award event.

To view the full ceremony and list of winners, see the LAA website here.

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