Analyzing the data
After briefly plateauing, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Athens rose again last week. From July 13-19, Athens added 299 cases, an increase of 32.9% from the 225 cases Athens reported from July 6-12.
of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Athens from the week before.
The current surge in Athens COVID-19 cases has not yet produced a corresponding rise in the death rate. Athens has not recorded a single coronavirus-related death in over a month.
Still, there are reasons to be concerned. According to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, hospitals in the region that includes Athens had only five critical care beds available as of July 19. The proportions of critical care beds and general inpatient beds available in the region are lower than the statewide proportions. However, the region still has over half of its emergency room beds available.
Statewide, Georgia added 26,197 new cases from July 13-19, 22.4% higher than the 21,410 cases the state added the previous week. Although this was an increase, Georgia’s positivity rate could be plateauing or even decreasing. On July 12, the seven day average positivity rate in Georgia was 16.0%. By July 19, it had dropped a bit to 15.2%.
Georgia’s positivity rate remains among the highest in the country, but a plateau in the positivity rate could mean that the growth in new daily cases is slowing.
Georgia’s coronavirus deaths also rose for the second straight week. From July 13-19, Georgia reported 172 COVID-19 deaths, an increase of 22.0% from the previous week. It is a sign that the rise in coronavirus cases that started several weeks ago could be contributing to more deaths.
In addition, on July 19, Georgia reported 3,036 current coronavirus hospitalizations — the highest the state has reported since the start of the pandemic, suggesting Georgia’s health care system is dealing with a high number of severe cases.
In the news
A week after Athens’ mask mandate went into effect on July 9, its future became uncertain after Gov. Brian Kemp sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta city council over the city’s mandatory mask rule. Kemp has called local mask mandates “confusing and unenforceable” and believes local leaders should encourage but not require mask-wearing.
For now, however, Athens’ mask mandate still stands. Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz criticized Kemp’s lawsuit and said Athens will continue to enforce mask-wearing.
The mask mandates could be important in getting the rise in cases across Georgia under control.
Kemp’s belief that mask mandates are unenforceable has some merit. Many police departments across the country are not enforcing mask mandates because they are too resource intensive and have too many exemptions, such as for individuals with medical conditions.
On the other hand, even if enforcement is light, mask mandates could slow the spread of the coronavirus if they encourage people to wear masks. Scientific evidence shows that masks can help to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said the country could get the virus under control within four to eight weeks if everyone started wearing a mask.
That could be especially important for Athens and Georgia. A private document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity said the “disease trends are moving in the wrong direction in Georgia with record numbers of new cases occurring in urban, suburban and rural areas.” The report, which was published on July 14, put Athens-Clarke County in the red zone because the county recorded 100 new cases per 100,000 people and the county’s test positivity rate was above 10% during the previous week.
The document recommends that counties in the red zone close bars and gyms, create outdoor dining opportunities with pedestrian areas and ensure that all business retailers require masks.