As the COVID-19 pandemic persists and Gwinnett County leads the state in overall cases, a local youth is working with heath officials to make sure everyone in the county who doesn’t have a face mask, because they can’t afford it, can get one.

Malon James, 10, is an ambassador for Don’t Count Me Out Inc.’s Everyone Deserves A Mask Campaign. In that capacity, he is working with the Gwinnett County Board of Health, as well as Gwinnett Cares, to distribute thousands of reusable face masks to people in need for free.

“COVID-19 has made me stop being selfish and concentrate on helping wherever I can. So I called on my mentors like Atlanta Judge Terrinee Gundy for ideas on how to best help others,” James said. “The state of Georgia is big and I’ll work hard until the coronavirus is over once and for all.”

Gwinnett County, as well as the state of Georgia as a whole, has seen new COVID-19 case numbers spike in recent weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday. This comes as vaccines have begun to be distributed, with health care workers and paramedics among the people in the first groups to get it, with the elderly and other vulnerable groups getting it next.

Gwinnett overtook Fulton County on Wednesday to have the most cumulative COVID-19 cases of any county in the state. As of Thursday afternoon, Gwinnett had seen 47,911 cases reported since March, as well as 549 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, 37 probable cases and 3,633 hospitalizations since the pandemic reached the county.

Also as of Thursday, Gwinnett County had a two-week incidence rate of 711 new cases for every 100,000 residents, for a total of 6,907 new cases over the last two weeks.

The county’s two-week incidence rate for Christmas Eve is nearly twice what it was three weeks earlier, on Dec. 3, when the rate was 364 cases for every 100,000 people. By comparison, there was a period between Oct. 7 and Oct. 17 where the two-week incidence rate for Gwinnett continually fluctuated between 128 and 130 cases for every 100,000 residents before it slowly began to rise again.

The numbers are significantly higher to Gwinnett’s northeast, with the incidence rate in Hall County being 1,188 cases for every 100,000 residents the two-week rate in Jackson County being 1,261 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Barrow also has a higher two-week rate, 888 cases for every 100,000 residents, as does Walton County, whose two-week rate is 792 cases for every 100,000 residents.

“Now is not the time to ease on the precautions we have taken for COVID-19 protection, especially as we wait for vaccines to become more available,” Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments spokesman Chad Wasdin said.

“The Health Department is more than happy to work with Malon, the 10 year old ambassador for the Everyone Deserves A Mask Campaign and the agency as a whole, to make sure these masks get to the people who need them.”

Anyone who cannot afford to buy a face mask, but would like to get a free one from the Everyone Deserves A Mask Campaign can pick one up at Gwinnett library branches, the Salvation Army and the Good Samaritan Health Centers of Gwinnett. They can also request one by visiting dontcountmeoutusa.org/everyone-deserves-a-mask.

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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