Analyzing the data
Like much of the rest of the country, Athens-Clarke County and Georgia both reported increases in their rate of new COVID-19 cases.
ACC reported 221 cases from Nov. 9-15, 46 more than it did from Nov. 2-8. However, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the seven day moving average positivity rate fell from 5.9% on Nov. 8 to 4.7% on Nov. 15, suggesting the increase in cases may be at least partially due to improvements in testing. The World Health Organization recommends maintaining a positivity rate below 5%.
There were no deaths reported in ACC for the second straight week.
Current hospitalizations remained roughly constant in Region E — which includes ACC and several surrounding counties. On Nov. 15, there were 80 COVID-19 patients, four more than there were on Nov. 8. This is a key indicator because a rise in current hospitalizations can precede a rise in deaths later.
New cases also rose sharply statewide. Georgia reported 13,871 new cases from Nov 9-15, compared to 11,096 the week before. This is the sharpest percentage increase in weekly cases since July 10-16, and it continues a streak of seven straight weeks of increasing cases. According to the DPH, the seven day positivity rate also rose to 8.4% from 7% on Nov. 8.
The rate of deaths also increased. Georgia reported 268 deaths from Nov. 9-15, 55 more than the previous week.
The death rate may continue to rise in the coming weeks. According to the DPH, the number of cases among Georgians 60 years of age and older has risen steadily since early October. Further, the number of current hospitalizations has continued to slowly climb. As of Nov. 15, there are 1,634 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, up from 1,487 on Nov. 8.
In the news
Last week saw the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States yet. However, it also featured one of the biggest breakthroughs in the pandemic so far — the announcement of an effective vaccine.
On Nov. 9, Pfizer announced that it had developed a vaccine that was over 90% effective, a possible turning point in the timeline of the pandemic. This would make the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine more effective than typical flu vaccines.
Some questions about the vaccine still remain unanswered. For example, it is not clear if the vaccine will be safe for everyone or how long protections from the vaccine will last.
In addition, it could be challenging for public health officials to distribute the vaccine, which must be stored in temperatures around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be up to state officials to determine who gets access to the vaccine first.
Other companies such as Moderna are also in the late-stages of developing a vaccine. This could make distribution easier and provide an alternative for groups who may not be able to take Pfizer’s vaccine safely or easily access it.
There might also be issues with convincing Americans to take the vaccine. According to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS, only about half of Americans said they would take the vaccine. If too few Americans take the vaccine, the country may not be able to achieve herd immunity, and public health officials may have a harder time protecting vulnerable populations.