Coronavirus update 2.0 Athens

Analyzing the data

Last week, the rate of new COVID-19 cases remained roughly the same as the week before in Athens-Clarke County.

The county reported 175 new cases from Nov. 2-8, compared to 166 from Oct. 26-Nov. 1. Since declining from its peak in late August and early September, the rate of new cases in ACC has remained relatively constant.

However, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the seven day average moving positivity rate rose from 4.9% on Nov. 1 to 5.9% on Nov. 8. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate below 5%. This is the second straight week in which the positivity rate has increased. If the positivity rate is high, then it is likely that there are many cases going unreported.

The number of serious COVID-19 cases may be increasing in the region. On Nov. 8, there were 76 hospital patients with COVID-19 in Region E — which includes Athens and surrounding counties — up from 56 on Nov. 1. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations can fluctuate so it is not yet clear if this trend will continue.

There were no COVID-19 deaths reported in Athens from Nov. 2-8. There were three reported from Oct. 26-Nov. 1.

Statewide, cases also remained roughly constant. There were 11,096 cases reported from Nov. 2-8, about the same as the 11,059 reported from Oct. 26-Nov. 1. In addition, the seven day positivity rate fell from 7.3% on Nov. 1 to 7% on Nov. 8, according to the DPH.

However, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals increased statewide from 1,405 on Nov. 1 to 1,487 on Nov. 8. Like caseloads, the number of current hospitalizations has been slowly rising over the past few weeks. This could lead to a rise in the number of new deaths.

In addition, the death rate also rose slightly last week. The state reported 213 deaths from Nov. 2-8, an increase from the 172 reported from Oct. 26-Nov. 1. One possible reason is that elderly Georgians are slowly getting infected at higher rates. According to the DPH, the seven-day average for new cases among Georgians ages 60 years and older has been steadily rising since early October.

In the news

Although the fall semester is nearing its end, the University of Georgia is still increasing its COVID-19 testing capacity.

UGA’s wastewater surveillance program will expand following a new contract with the ACC government. The wastewater surveillance program, run by lead researcher Erin Lipp and her team of three environmental health science Ph.D. students, has tested wastewater samples since May.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a rise in viral load in wastewater predates a similar rise in COVID-19 cases by several days.

Currently, the program can only test at three sites. The new expansion opens up the possibility of building-level access. 

In addition, UGA is temporarily expanding its surveillance testing program before the Thanksgiving break.

In an Nov. 4 ArchNews email, the university announced that it could test up to 1,000 asymptomatic volunteers per day from Nov. 9-20, a significant improvement to the current total of 500 per day. UGA will also offer various incentives to get tested during that time period.

The decision to expand testing will help UGA detect cases in students, faculty and staff volunteers before they spread the virus to vulnerable family members during the holiday season. Garth Russo, UGA’s Medical Oversight Task Force chair and executive director of the University Health Center, encouraged students in the email to get tested by Nov. 20 so that the results would be available before leaving campus.

After the break, classes will be conducted online for the rest of the fall semester. However, UGA will still offer free surveillance testing.