Analyzing the data
Last week, Athens saw a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases. From Aug. 24-30, the city reported 351 new coronavirus cases, the most the county has ever reported in one week and up 45.6% from Aug. 17-23.
It is not clear if this is the start of a new surge in cases, as data can often fluctuate from week to week. The seven-day moving average positivity rate in Athens-Clarke County stayed nearly the same, increasing from 8.7% on Aug. 23 to 8.8% on Aug. 30. This suggests that increased testing may have accounted for some of the increase in confirmed cases.
The coming week should give more insight into how the reopening of UGA will affect the Athens community. UGA began in-person classes nearly two weeks ago, about as long as it takes for new cases to begin appearing in the data.
Athens also recorded one death last week, down from four the previous week. In the month of August, Athens has reported nine deaths from COVID-19, more than any other month since the start of the pandemic.
Although Athens may be seeing a renewed surge in cases, the rate of new cases continued to decline statewide from their peak in late July. Georgia recorded 15,024 new cases from Aug. 24-30, down 11.2% from the previous week. However, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate edged up last week to 9.4% from 9.1% the week before.
Also, although new cases have been declining statewide for weeks, the number of new coronavirus deaths increased last week to 472, compared to 430 from Aug. 17-23. August has been the deadliest month of the pandemic so far in Georgia. From Aug. 1-30, the state recorded 1,852 COVID-19 deaths. The month with the second-most deaths is April with 1,007.
Although the rate of new deaths have been high throughout August, data suggest that it may fall in the coming weeks. The number of current hospitalizations in Georgia fell to 2,081 on Aug. 30 from 2,360 on Aug. 23. Current hospitalizations have been steadily declining since the start of August, suggesting that the number of serious cases may be decreasing as well.
In the news
The start of the fall semester has presented some challenges for UGA in its efforts to slow the spread of the virus on its Athens campus.
UGA’s testing program has received criticism from epidemiology experts and some professors and students, who say that UGA should have conducted entry testing. Dr. Mark Ebell, a UGA epidemiology professor, said entry testing would have provided more information on whether it was safe to reopen campus for the fall semester.
Critics have also argued that UGA’s surveillance testing program is not robust enough to let the university make informed decisions. In the email, Ebell wrote that the university should conduct random tests to catch cases among students who might otherwise not volunteer.
UGA has taken some steps to improve its testing. In a Twitter thread, the university announced it would begin sending out invites to be tested using random sampling, although getting tested remains voluntary.
UGA is also trying to stop students from gathering in large crowds. UGA Vice President of Student Affairs Victor Wilson condemned “the current off-campus” activity in a letter sent to Greek life members and leaders and urged them to stop hosting large groups of people.
After Wilson’s letter, the UGA Interfraternity Council passed a bill that strengthened their coronavirus guidelines on Aug. 17. The bill prohibits visitors other than “a pledge or active roster member, or the parent/guardian thereof” from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and requires houses adhere to their respective capacity limits. Wilson warned that if Greek Life is unable to keep the coronavirus in check, UGA may need to once again transition to online learning.