Analyzing the data
After a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths from Aug. 31-Sept. 6, Athens-Clarke County showed marginal improvement with a decline in the number of new cases. Case numbers and deaths remained elevated.
From Sept. 7-13, ACC reported 753 new cases, down significantly from the 908 reported from Aug. 31-Sept. 6. In addition, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports that the seven-day moving average positivity rate fell from 19.2% to 9.1% over that time period. Although the rate of new cases declined last week, it is still well above any week before Sept. 7.
The data showed a large spike in testing reported from ACC on Sept. 8. In an email to The Red & Black, DPH spokesperson Nancy Nydam attributed this spike to the University of Georgia reporting a large number of tests.
The rate of new deaths also fell in ACC last week. ACC recorded two from Sept. 7-13. As with the number of COVID-19 cases, however, last week’s number of deaths is still high compared to most weeks during the pandemic.
COVID-19 could pose some risk to Athens’ hospitals. According to state data, Region E — which includes Athens — is using 95.7% of its intensive care unit beds, which is more than the statewide rate of 81.0%. However, the ventilator usage rate in Region E is 30.7%, which is largely in line with the statewide rate. Georgia does not go into detail about the reason ICU beds are being used, so it is unclear how much of an impact COVID-19 has on their capacity.
Statewide, the numbers continued to improve. Georgia reported 11,115 new cases from Sept. 6-13, 21.9% fewer than the week before. Although some of that is due to decreases in testing, DPH reports that the positivity rate fell to 7.5% from 8.8% the week before, which could be a sign that the state may be getting the virus under control.
Deaths fell for a second straight week as well. From Sept. 7-13, Georgia reported 296 new deaths, the first time the state has recorded fewer than 300 deaths in one week since July.
In the news
As cases in the UGA and Athens community rise, the University System of Georgia released a statement on Sept. 9 that it believes off-campus activities were responsible for the surge in cases. The statement pointed to the fact that 99% of new infections from Aug. 31-Sept. 4 were among students. USG praised UGA’s preparation efforts and noted that other USG institutions controlled outbreaks after stricter adherence to safe behaviors such as avoiding large gatherings.
UGA President Jere Morehead echoed those comments, saying that UGA’s mitigation has been largely successful thus far. Morehead attributed the surge in UGA cases to students going downtown and to “off-campus parties,” which he said was under the control of the ACC government.
However, the number of cases in ACC has largely been in a plateau since early July, with weekly caseloads fluctuating between approximately 200 and 300. After UGA classes began on Aug. 20, the rate of new cases began to rise.
Still, the county is taking some measures to limit the spread. According to ACC Manager Blaine Williams, the ACC Police Department distributed 1,597 masks to those who did not have them during the weekends of Aug. 29 and Sept. 5 and issued 14 citations to those violating the county’s mask ordinance. The county will also distribute $3 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to community organizations such as the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Casa de Amistad, Habitat for Humanity and Advantage Behavioral Health Systems.