Athens coronavirus update graphic

Analyzing the data

Yesterday, Georgia surpassed another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia recorded five deaths on July 12, surpassing 3,000 total deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. After steadily trending down since mid-June, deaths began rising again last week. From July 6-12, Georgia recorded 141 deaths, an increase of 72% in deaths compared to June 29-July 5, when Georgia recorded 82 deaths.

It is difficult to compare the two weeks because the Fourth of July holiday might have led to delays in reporting. However, a sustained rise in the daily death toll may be a sign that rising case numbers and current hospitalizations are starting to result in more deaths.

In Athens, the rate of newly reported cases stabilized after more than doubling for two straight weeks. From July 6-12, Athens added 225 new cases, nearly the same as the 229 new cases Athens added from June 29-July 5. In addition, there were no new deaths in Athens.

It is good that the rate of new cases stopped rising for the time being, but it’s important to remember that 225 is still a lot of cases compared to where Athens was even a month ago. A plateau of over 200 new cases per week is much more serious than a plateau at around 20-30 new cases per week. Indeed, over half of Athens’ coronavirus cases have come since June 27.

There are other reasons to be concerned too. First, it is probably too early to say whether the daily rate of cases has stopped rising. The data can fluctuate a lot from week to week, so we should wait for a couple of weeks before drawing any conclusions.

Second, if the increased caseload continues, it could strain Athens’ health care system. According to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, available critical care beds in the region surrounding Athens dropped from 19 on July 2 to 14 on July 12. However, the region did free up 36 general inpatient beds, and there remain plenty of emergency room beds.

In the news

Athens mask proponents scored two big victories last week.

The University System of Georgia, facing pressure from students and faculty, reversed course and mandated masks on all 26 of its campuses on July 6. The mandate will go into effect on July 15.

Second, Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission followed the lead of Savannah and other Georgia cities and passed a mask mandate on July 7. Mayor Kelly Girtz signed the mandate on July 8, and it went into effect the next day. And unlike Athens’ stay-at-home order that was passed in March — which was not enforced against individuals with citations or arrests — the mask mandate has teeth. Those who are not wearing masks will be fined $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for each subsequent offense.

The mask mandates should help to slow the spread of the virus, though it will not address two of the biggest drivers of the current surge — bars and large private gatherings.

Still, widespread mask usage could have a notable effect on slowing the virus in Athens. Yet because it takes around two weeks for a new case to show up in the data, this mandate will probably have little immediate effect. In addition, the effects of mask-wearing will likely be magnified over the course of several rounds of infections. Thus, it may take several weeks to know how successful the mask mandate was in flattening the curve.

A decrease in cases from mask-wearing could be reversed to some extent by Fourth of July celebrations. Though the coronavirus somewhat muted the celebrations, there were still some large crowds across the country where the virus could spread. The Fourth of July holiday was a little over a week ago, so Georgia’s data could start to reflect its effects at the end of this week and the start of next week.

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