For The Record

State superintendent says vaccine saved him during severe COVID bout

By: - August 24, 2021 2:26 pm

Superintendent Richard Woods tours a classroom before his bout with COVID-19. Source: Georgia Department of Education

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods has recovered from a severe breakthrough case of COVID-19 that left him hospitalized, Woods announced in a statement Tuesday.

Woods, a Republican who took office in 2015, contracted the illness during the summer after being vaccinated in March.

“I personally experienced what thousands of our fellow Georgians have been through or are now going through,” Woods said. “I had a loved one, my wife, who was experiencing COVID during the same time I had it. Like others, she wasn’t able to visit me in the hospital and we could only interact through phone calls and FaceTimes. I would not want anyone, or any loved one, to experience what I went through.”

Woods said his doctors told him his decision to become vaccinated before he contracted the disease may have saved his life.

“Though my symptoms were severe, and I did experience a breakthrough case, my doctors fully believe that the vaccine assisted in mitigating the effects of the virus and kept me alive during the ordeal,” he said.

“I am not just speaking to you as State School Superintendent, but as a fellow Georgian, when I say: I encourage all who are eligible to consult with their doctor and prayerfully and thoughtfully consider getting vaccinated,” he added.

Doctors say vaccinated people who do contract COVID-19 typically experience less severe symptoms than those who have not received the shot.

Georgia school districts began their semesters with a range of approaches — some have required masks and offered virtual options from the beginning, some have adopted masking requirements or closed down in-person classes after experiencing high case numbers, and others are proceeding with masks optional.

Berrien County Schools became one of the latest to announce plans Sunday to temporarily go virtual because of the pandemic.

In Berrien County, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests for 5- to 17-year-olds was 3,226 per 100,000, more than three times the state average for that age group. Experts say high test positivity usually indicates not enough tests are being given.

As of Friday, there have been more than 144,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Georgians between the ages of 5 and 17, though the true number of cases is likely higher because of low testing. More children between 10 and 17 tested positive last week than those in any other age group, and their rate of infection is increasing more rapidly than other groups as well.

Children and young adults typically suffer only minor symptoms and recover quickly from COVID-19, but they can develop severe illness in rare cases, and experts worry that young children can easily pass on the disease to more vulnerable people.

The rising case numbers and variety of stances have led to protests and passionate disagreements in school board and PTA meetings between groups of parents who want stronger protections against spreading the disease and those who believe mask mandates infringe on their rights.

Woods, a longtime classroom educator, said he regularly checked in with the Georgia Department of Education and heard parent and teacher feedback from the hospital.

“Gov. (Brian) Kemp gathered feedback as well in a recent call with district superintendents from across the state,” he said. “The purpose was to get an on-the-ground assessment of school reopening, part of the strong commitment the governor has had, since coming into office, to listen to school leaders. Superintendents on the call stated they appreciated and needed the continued flexibility from the state to respond to the events happening on-the-ground.”

Woods stressed the importance of face-to-face education and called on school board members to remain responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.

“As school leaders do everything possible to keep their doors open and in-person learning going, we have a responsibility to do our part, too. This virus cannot be strangled by mandates or planned into non-existence, but we can work together to overcome this common threat,” he said.

“Even though we as Georgians are fiercely independent minded, we have always rallied together as one in times of need,” he added. “In facing natural and national disasters, we have always pulled together to face and overcome the challenge at hand.

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.