Analyzing the data
Last week, Athens-Clarke County set records for COVID-19 cases and deaths.
From Aug. 31-Sept. 6, Athens recorded 908 new coronavirus cases, more than the 351 recorded during the previous week — which was a record for cases in a week at the time.
It should be noted that the Georgia Department of Public Health frequently changes previous days’ case and death totals, so there may be slight differences in case and death counts reported by The Red & Black and DPH. For example, DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said in a March email that the testing facility sometimes mistakenly lists the county of the test facility and not the county of residence. Nydam said the DPH is supposed to show the county of residence on its tracker.
Still, this is the third straight week of increasing case totals. For perspective, Athens reported only 531 COVID-19 cases in March, April, May and June combined. The current rise in cases coincides with the start of classes at the University of Georgia on Aug. 20.
The positivity rate also rose significantly. According to DPH, the seven-day moving average positivity rate increased to 19.2% on Sept. 6 from 10.5% a week prior. This is far above the 5% or lower positivity rate recommended by the World Health Organization. The positivity rate measures the percentage of tests that come back positive.
In addition to the rise in cases, ACC recorded eight deaths last week — the most in a week since the pandemic started. The previous record of six was set in April. Comparatively, there were a combined four deaths reported in May, June and July.
Although Athens is dealing with a rise in coronavirus cases and deaths, the state of Georgia showed improvements in both cases and deaths.
From Aug. 31-Sept. 6, Georgia reported 14,226 new coronavirus cases, down 5.3% from the week before. The rate of decline appears to have slowed somewhat. From Aug. 24-30, the rate of new cases were down 11.2%, and from Aug. 17-23, the rate of new cases declined by 17.2%.
Still, last week continued a trend of declining statewide cases that began in July. In addition, the seven-day average positivity rate fell slightly to 8.8% on Sept. 6 from 9.4% on Aug. 30.
The rate of new deaths also fell last week. From Aug. 31-Sept. 6, Georgia recorded 433 new deaths. While this is a higher weekly death toll than the state has had for much of the pandemic, it represents an improvement from the previous week when the state reported 472 new deaths.
In the news
Although Georgia has made substantial progress in lowering the rate of new infections since the rate of new cases hit its peak in July, a surge of coronavirus cases in some colleges threatens to reverse that trend.
Some colleges such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia College and State University seem to have regained control over the virus after early surges. Others, however, such as UGA, are seeing spikes in their case counts. UGA reported 821 cases for the week of Aug. 24-30.
Students travelling for Labor Day weekend could spread the coronavirus throughout the state, leading to renewed surges in a few weeks. It generally takes roughly two weeks for new infections to be reflected in the data, due to the virus’s incubation period and the time it takes to receive results from testing. The effect of a rise in cases can grow over time as carriers infect others.
According to a report from Amber Schmidtke, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert in microbiology and immunology, Memorial Day celebrations contributed to a summer surge in coronavirus cases felt throughout the state of Georgia. Labor Day vacations could put the state at risk of a similar surge if proper precautions are not taken. Alternatively, students going on trips in large groups could catch the virus and bring it back to Athens, worsening the current outbreak.