Analyzing the data
Last week, the rate of new coronavirus cases declined a bit in Athens. From July 20-26, Athens reported 211 new COVID-19 cases, down 29.4% from the 299 new cases it reported from July 13-19. That is still a high number of cases compared to what Athens reported for most of the pandemic, but it is encouraging to see some improvement from last week.
Even though Athens has seen more cases during the past few weeks than before, the increase has not led to any coronavirus-related deaths. Athens has not recorded any coronavirus-related deaths in over seven weeks. Given that Athens is a college town and has a young population, the city could have a relatively low mortality rate even if cases rise.
Although new cases declined last week, the Athens health care system still faces some challenges. On July 24, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency reported that Region E, which includes Athens-Clarke County, did not have any critical care unit beds available. However, this figure can vary greatly from day to day, and by the next day, the number of available critical care beds had bounced back to 11. Although those with coronavirus cases can take critical care beds, they may also be occupied by people who need medical treatment for other issues as well.
Similarly to Athens, Georgia’s statewide coronavirus case numbers were mostly flat last week. From July 20-26, Georgia added 24,830 new coronavirus cases, a slight decline of 5.2% from the 26,197 new cases the state added the week prior. In addition, after recording 3,183 current hospitalizations on July 20 — the highest reported since the start of the pandemic — current hospitalizations fell slightly to 3,079 by July 26. Georgia’s seven-day moving average test positivity rate also fell to 14.3% on July 26. That rate is still very high, but an improvement from July 19, when the average test positivity rate was 15.2%.
Unfortunately, unlike Athens, the surge in Georgia’s caseload has led to more deaths. Georgia reported 325 new deaths during the past week, an increase of 89.0% from the previous week. A model made by Youyang Gu, a data scientist, predicts Georgia will continue to see an increasing average number of daily deaths reported until mid-August.
In the news
As the nation debates reopening schools, the Clarke County School District is working on its own plans for the upcoming school year. On July 16, CCSD voted to move the start of the school year from August 3 to September 8. Chief academic officer Brannon Gaskins said that delaying the start of school would give the district time to see what effect the University of Georgia’s school year would have on cases in the city. On July 22, CCSD announced that it will begin the 2020-2021 school year online.
Based on Gaskins’ comment, UGA’s ability to control the coronavirus could be pivotal in helping CCSD decide to hold in-person classes later in the school year.
This could be challenging because young people make up a disproportionate percentage of coronavirus patients. In Georgia, there are 41,044 confirmed COVID-19 cases among people aged 18-30, or about 24.4% of Georgia’s total number of confirmed cases, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Though Athens’ growth in new coronavirus cases has slowed for now, reopening UGA could lead to new spikes.
Still, UGA has announced some plans and measures that could make that task easier. Notably, the university plans to conduct 300 COVID-19 tests on asymptomatic student, faculty and staff volunteers every day. Volunteers who test positive are required to input their results into the new DawgCheck app. After doing so, the Student Care and Outreach team will help coordinate medical assistance, notify professors, deliver meals and arrange housing during isolation. Those who test positive will also be asked to list all possible contacts in DawgCheck to help the DPH contact trace.