Analyzing the data
Following weeks of higher coronavirus case counts, Athens saw an increase in deaths from the coronavirus. After not reporting any COVID-19 deaths since June 4, Athens recorded one death on July 29 and another on July 31, bringing the total death count to 17.
New cases remained high last week. During the week of July 27-Aug. 2, Athens recorded 268 new cases, an increase of 27.0% over the 211 cases Athens recorded from July 20-26.
The number of recorded cases can fluctuate some from week to week, but Athens seems to have reached a plateau in new reported cases. Athens first surpassed 200 cases in one week during the week of June 28-July 4, and the weekly average of new cases has stayed between 209 and 299 since then.
Although Athens is no longer seeing a growing rate of new COVID-19 cases, this sustained plateau has accounted for much of the county’s total number of cases. Of the 1,717 confirmed coronavirus cases in Athens, 1,134 of them were reported in July alone.
Athens hospitals faced shortages of available beds last week. On July 27, Region E — which includes Athens — had no critical care beds available, although the situation improved later in the week. Availability of critical care beds could be an issue once more University of Georgia students return to Athens. Besides possibly needing beds to recover from COVID-19, students may take up beds to recover from other medical issues.
Statewide, cases seem to have also plateaued as well. From July 27-Aug. 2, Georgia reported 25,224 cases, a slight increase from the 24,830 cases reported the week before. Although there were more cases reported, Georgia also reported more tests, leading to a drop in the seven-day moving average positivity rate from 14.3% on July 26 to 12.9% on August 2.
During the week of July 27-Aug. 2, the state reported 342 deaths, a 5.2% increase over the 325 deaths reported from July 20-26. According to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the number of current hospitalizations was mostly flat last week, remaining above 3,000. This suggests that Georgia still has many serious cases of COVID-19, meaning the death rate could remain at high.
In the news
Having seen elevated caseloads in Athens for the past several weeks, the ACC government passed an ordinance on July 30 that extended the local state of emergency and attempted to move the last call for bars from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m.
This idea makes some sense. Bars are extremely risky, and, as a city with many of them being frequented by young students and residents, Athens could be especially vulnerable to a larger coronavirus outbreak. By moving up last call to 10 p.m., Athens might be able to reduce the number of people who could contract COVID-19 from visiting the bars. South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Alabama have made similar orders to slow the spread of the virus.
However, the future of this ordinance is unclear. After already struggling to turn a profit, several Athens bars filed a lawsuit to stop the ordinance, leading a judge to temporarily suspend enforcement of the ordinance. The plaintiffs argue that because these ordinances are stricter than Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order, which prohibits municipalities from passing stricter rules, the city cannot enforce them.
In addition, even if the ordinance is not struck down, it is difficult to know how effective it will be. Patrons could simply choose to go to bars in a nearby county. Athenians going to bars in other counties may lead to spikes in those counties as well. Since Athens’ hospitals serve ACC and 16 other nearby counties, spikes in those counties could place additional stress on Athens hospitals.
If the Athens government’s attempts to control the coronavirus outbreak fail now, the situation could become much worse soon. With the University of Georgia planning to resume in-person classes on Aug. 20, many students will soon be moving into dorms with limited space and shared bathrooms. If handled poorly, that could lead to renewed spikes in coronavirus cases in Athens.