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Dalton (Georgia) City Council member Annalee Harlan speaks about new monoclonal antibody treatments to be offered by the city starting as soon as Thursday. Staff photo by Kelcey Caulder

DALTON, GA. — The city of Dalton, Georgia, will offer free monoclonal antibody treatments to COVID-19 patients on a drive-in basis beginning as soon as Thursday. The treatment, commonly referred to by its manufacturer's name "Regeneron," can be given to early diagnosed COVID-19 patients and has been shown to reduce hospitalizations or deaths when administered within seven days of the first onset of illness.

In the past, the treatment was administered intravenously on an outpatient basis only. Now, it can be offered via syringe injection.

Dalton City Council member Annalee Harlan, who helped lead the push to make the monoclonal antibody treatment available locally, said it is not intended to replace vaccination. It is intended to act as a "Band-Aid" while the push for vaccination continues.

"Please hear me clearly when I say I'm excited we have access to this drug therapy, because we need that right now, here and across our country, to mitigate the burden on our hospital systems, but it is only a Band-Aid to get us through," Harlan said. "We are grateful to have this tool in our belt, but vaccination is the key tool to make sure we come out of this pandemic."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatments for patients 12 or older through an Emergency Use Authorization on Nov. 21. Former President Donald Trump received the antibody treatment after contracting the coronavirus in October.

(READ MORE: Dalton declares state of emergency as Hamilton Medical Center sees jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations)

"The city of Dalton has been offering COVID-19 vaccinations on a drive-through basis since January, with paramedics and EMTs from the Dalton Fire Department working alongside staff from Community Hospice and other health care providers to deliver the vaccines to residents," Communications Director Bruce Frazier said. "The same system will be used to deliver injections of the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment."

According to Frazier, those hoping to get an antibody treatment can do so on a drive-in basis in the upper right-hand gravel parking lot of the Dalton Convention Center, located at 2211 Tony Ingle Parkway. He said there will be no admittance to the building for anyone who is receiving treatment or who is COVID-19 positive or believed to be positive.

Portable restrooms and other facilities have been set up in the parking lot for patients to use at their discretion. After the treatment, patients will be expected to wait in their vehicles for about an hour for observation, so Frazier advised patients to "make sure that they have enough fuel to idle for that period."

(READ MORE: District-by-district: Are masks required or optional at your child's North Georgia school?)

Treatment dates and times will be announced on the city's website, daltonga.gov, as soon as the city has finalized the dates. Treatments will be given only by appointment, and patients must be signed up to receive treatment before arriving at the Dalton Convention Center. Appointments can be made only via the city's website, but a phone number is being set up, Frazier said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon, so those without internet access can make appointments.

Anyone, even those who are not residents of Dalton, will be allowed to register for an appointment. Patients will not have to be referred by a doctor, officials said.

The city will continue to offer COVID-19 vaccinations on a regular basis at the Convention Center site in addition to the monoclonal antibody treatments. All Whitfield County residents can also get the vaccine at no cost, regardless of health care coverage, through the North Georgia Health District. No appointment or identification is required to be vaccinated at public health departments in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties.

(READ MORE: Gordon County officials encourage vaccines as hospital reaches 109% capacity)

As of Wednesday afternoon, 78 patients were hospitalized at Dalton's Hamilton Medical Center. Of those hospitalized patients, 71, or 91%, were unvaccinated. In Whitfield County at large, there were 909 new confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 reported in the past two weeks. The increase in hospitalizations and cases recently led the city of Dalton to partner with Hamilton Medical Center, which serves as the leading local hospital providing care to city residents. Under the partnership, city employees can volunteer to work shifts at the hospital to help ease the burden COVID-19 has placed on its staff.

City Administrator Andrew Parker said Wednesday that about 20 city personnel per day have volunteered for shifts at the hospital since the partnership was finalized.

"Our moving seven-day average is quickly approaching the height of the pandemic in December 2020 and January 2021," Parker said. "That's why this announcement is so important. We're offering people more tools they can use to be safe and to help ease the burden for everyone else, including our health professionals."

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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