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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Inmates in the Whitfield County Correctional Center will now have access to monoclonal antibody treatments to fight COVID-19.

Inmates who test positive for COVID-19 in Whitfield County, Georgia, can now receive free monoclonal antibody treatments, which target the virus and have been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalizations and death.

The Dalton City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an agreement with the county that allows the Whitfield County Correctional Center to use the city's monoclonal antibody treatments, commonly referred to by the brand name Regeneron, to address medical cases of COVID-19 within the inmate population.

Under the agreement, inmates who test positive for the virus will be given educational materials and have the option to receive the treatment.

Those who move forward will then receive four injections to the abdomen and sit for an hourlong observation period. During that hour, the monoclonal antibodies in the injections will begin to mimic the immune system's ability to fight off harmful pathogens and block the virus's attachment and entry into human cells.

When given within the first seven days of a positive COVID-19 test result, studies have shown the Regeneron treatment can reduce hospitalizations by as much as 70%.

Officials said the treatments will always be completely voluntary.

(READ MORE: Patients praise Regeneron as antibody treatments continue in Dalton, Georgia)

Supply is not guaranteed under the agreement, though the city of Dalton said it will provide the treatments for inmates for free through its supply for as long as it can. After that, the agreement said efforts would be taken in "good faith" to meet the anticipated need.

"No guaranty as to quantity or supply continuation is undertaken by the city in this regard, but the county through its medical director shall keep the city administrator informed of estimated acute needs and the parties shall cooperate in good faith to supply the anticipated need for these therapeutics," the agreement said.

Dalton has provided more than 400 people with Regeneron treatments since it first opened its drive-in treatment clinic at the convention center late last month.

City council member Annalee Harlan, a former paramedic and hospice company owner who played a big role in bringing Regeneron to Dalton, said she hopes to see other people following suit whether they are from Dalton, Whitfield County or another area.

"This is available for anyone with a positive COVID test result," she said. "We want to try to get this available to people hopefully the day or the day after they test positive. The purpose of this therapy is to mitigate the escalation of illness with COVID-19 and the entire goal from a population health standpoint and management standpoint is to lessen the burden on our hospital system."

Hospitals in North Georgia have struggled with the burden of COVID-19 for months. Some have reported having too few beds available to meet the growing number of hospitalized patients requiring them, while others, like Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, have formed partnerships with local municipalities that allow city or county employees to assist with staffing needs by working shifts at the hospital.

Just a few days ago, a joint letter signed by public health leaders from across the region encouraged Georgians to help reduce the strain placed on medical centers by getting vaccinated.

"We need your help like never before," it said. "The pandemic — its current surge driven by the highly transmissible delta variant — continues to spread throughout Northwest Georgia and is quickly becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Most new cases, hospitalizations and people in our critical care units on ventilators and advanced oxygen support are unvaccinated. COVID-19 vaccination is our best tool for reducing the overwhelming strain on our health care system, health care providers and EMS personnel."

(READ MORE: North Georgia health leaders sign joint letter urging vaccinations)

According to the Department of Public Health, 45% of Georgia residents were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, and 52% had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In Whitfield County, 37% of residents were fully vaccinated.

Vaccines are still free statewide for everyone, and identification is not required when getting vaccinated.

For more information on how to get vaccinated in North Georgia, visit nghd.org or nwgapublichealth.org. Contacts for other COVID-19 vaccine providers in the area are available at vaccines.gov.

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

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