The number of new COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations is rising quickly in Chatham County, and area residents are advised to spend New Year’s Eve at home this year to avoid spreading the coronavirus, according to Chatham County’s top public-health official. Dr. Lawton Davis, the Coastal Health District health director, held a press conference on Dec. 31 to announce the expansion of vaccination administration ordered the previous day by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. Davis said that he expects the next phase of COVID-19 administration to begin locally on Jan. 11, although the details of the plan are still under consideration. “This is and will continue to be a monumental effort,” Davis said of the logistics behind organizing coronavirus vaccinations. “There are a lot of moving parts, and we’re asking for the public’s patience.” Currently the vaccine-administration plan is in phase 1a, when it is being distributed only to front-line healthcare workers, vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities, and employees at those facilities. According to a press release issued by the DPH on Dec. 30, the expansion of phase 1a will include vaccinations for adults aged 65 or older, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders. However, Davis warned that all of these plans are subject to limited availability of vaccine supplies, and reiterated that everyone who is vaccinated should be given two doses a few weeks apart from each other, which further strains vaccine supplies. “This is very exciting, and I know people are anxious to be vaccinated,” Davis said, while noting that in Chatham County alone, there are approximately 60,000 residents who will be eligible to receive the vaccine under the phase 1a expansion, and there will most likely not be enough doses to inoculate all of them immediately. “We must have enough vaccine on hand to administer the second dose.” Furthermore, Davis acknowledged that it will still be a long time before the COVID-19 vaccine will be available to the general public, and in the meantime it would be important for everyone to continue following coronavirus precautions like wearing a face mask, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. “The reality is that we’re in the middle of a big surge, and people have to be careful,” Davis said, noting that on the morning of Dec. 31, 287 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Chatham County. “That’s the highest number, by a longshot, we’ve had since early August.” Davis added that because of this situation, he and most other public-health officials recommend staying home on this New Year’s Eve to help prevent the ongoing spread of COVID-19, saying that even those who plan to be careful may become more reckless after indulging in a few drinks at any celebratory gathering. “You’re just greatly increasing your risk of bumping into someone that has the virus,” Davis said of anyone attending New Year’s Eve gatherings. He added that cases of COVID-19 transmission have increased in the wake of Thanksgiving and Christmastime gatherings, which is a harbinger of dire consequences. “Now the hospitalization surge has definitely begun,” Davis said. Davis said that plans for rolling out the expansion of COVID-19 vaccine administration should be announced during the first week of January.