Athens coronavirus update graphic

Analyzing the data

Athens — which has up until now mostly been spared the worst effects of the coronavirus — has seen new coronavirus cases more than double for the second straight week.

From June 29-July 5, Athens-Clarke County added 229 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an increase of 120.2% over the week of June 22-28, when Athens added 104. Athens now has 714 total confirmed COVID-19 cases.

120.2% increase

of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Athens from the week before.

Despite the rise in cases, hospitals serving Athens and the surrounding region still have room for more patients. According to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, the region Athens is in had 19 out of 70 critical care beds available as of July 2. That’s low, but it’s actually a slight improvement from June 28, when there were 18 available. The region also still has plenty of emergency room beds.

While cases are still spiking across the state, deaths have continued to trend downward in Georgia. From June 29-July 5, Georgia recorded 82 deaths, a decrease of 39.3% from the previous week, when Georgia reported 135 deaths.

Some of this may be because it takes time for an increase in cases to lead to deaths. However, improved testing, better treatment and a younger infected population could be contributing to this decline as well.

On the other hand, a rising number of current hospitalizations suggests that there is a growing number of severe cases in Georgia. From June 29-July 2, current hospitalizations rose to 1,649. This could be foreshadowing another increase in deaths. Respected data scientist Youyang Gu has created a coronavirus model that predicts Georgia will soon start to see a rise in deaths that will continue until the end of August, when they will level off and eventually decline in September. The next few weeks could thus be crucial in determining what will happen in Georgia.

In the news

The recent surge in coronavirus cases in Athens, Georgia and the country continues to be driven by young people. From June 29-July 5, people aged 18-29 accounted for 33.0% of new coronavirus cases in Georgia. This suggests that young people gathering at parties, bars or nightclubs could be causing spikes in cases.

Amid the increases, Gov. Brian Kemp has embarked on a statewide mask-wearing campaign, although he has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate. The city of Savannah decided to institute its own mask order. Though he could block the mandate, Kemp has so far declined to do so, saying that now is not the time for “pandemic politics.”

If he decides to let Savannah’s rule stay, that could be an opening for other cities like Athens to pass their own mask mandates. Masks and face coverings can slow the virus’s spread, so a similar mask mandate in Athens could help officials suppress the current surge.

However, for a city like Athens, that may not be enough. Athens’ large population of college students and high number of reopened bars could make it particularly susceptible to this current spike in cases.

It’s very difficult to drink while wearing a mask, and a mask mandate would be hard to enforce at a large private party. Thus, a mask mandate would not completely solve the issue of bars and parties.

On the other hand, data from the hardest-hit states like Florida, Texas and Arizona suggests that consumers have adjusted their behaviors to the spike in cases. Something similar could happen in Athens and Georgia.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article stated that 19 out of 70 critical care beds were available but did not specify that this figure was as of July 2. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been corrected.

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