A report released this week looks at how prepared states are to deal with public health emergencies and while Georgia gets high marks in some areas, there’s still room for improvement.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

The “Ready or Not 2021” report, released earlier this week by the organization Trust for America’s Health, takes a comprehensive look at public health, assessing everything from hospitals to the availability of paid time off.   

President and CEO John Auerbach said TFAH looks at 10 different indicators that have been shown to be important measures of the preparedness for each state to respond to all hazardous emergencies.

“So these kind of emergencies are not just infectious disease emergencies or pandemics like we currently have, but there are also emergencies related to weather, related to environmental concerns, even related to the threat of bioterrorism,” he said.

In terms of these 10 measures, Georgia is in the highest tier, whereas the state scored in the middle tier last year.

Georgia is accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board and the state is also signed on to what’s called a nurse licensure compact that allows it to use the services of nurses from neighboring states or states around the country if there is a need to do so.

But the state is below the national average for how many people get vaccinated against seasonal flu, which “matters both in terms of reducing serious illness, but it also was an indicator of whether or not the state is well prepared to undertake the kind of efforts that are occurring now,” Auerbach said.

The recommendations are that every state should really strive to be at least 70% vaccinated against influenza annually to achieve herd immunity. Georgia vaccinates just 46% of its population.

A well-established vaccination system is much more likely to respond effectively during infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, Auerbach said. 

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Also, Georgia deaths due to drug misuse, alcohol or suicide trail the country as a whole, but its rates of obesity and related conditions indicate an area of concern, with the percentage of adults with obesity higher than the U.S. median, as rates of diabetes and hypertension rank high.

One of the things the TFAH organization has seen reinforced in the COVID-19 pandemic is that when an emergency hits, everybody can be vulnerable, but there are certain populations that are at greater risk for a variety of reasons.

“What we’ve seen in COVID-19, for example, is that populations of color, low income populations and often older adults are at significantly higher risk,” Auerbach said. “And therefore, in terms of the response, as well as in terms of the preparations to prevent a major emergency, we need to make sure that we’re paying attention to those populations that are elevated risk, that the risk sometimes has to do with underlying social and economic factors that make it more difficult for people to be resilient or to protect themselves against a major emergency.”

See more details about how Georgia scored this year HERE.

This story available through a news partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Ellen Eldridge is a reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.