Analyzing the data
Last week was a record-breaking week in Athens and Georgia — and not in a good way.
From June 22-28, Athens added 104 coronavirus cases, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That was an increase of 166.7% over the week of June 15-21, when Athens added 39 new cases. In addition, Athens set a record for the most cases reported in a single day at 22 on June 25 — a figure it matched the next day.
of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Athens from the week before.
This increase mirrors the broader trend happening statewide. From June 22-28, Georgia added 12,509 confirmed cases. That is 78.2% higher than the 7,020 cases in the state from June 15-21.
The surge in cases, also evident in states like Florida and Texas, is being driven in large part by an increase of cases among younger people. People under 30 now account for 26.6% of the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia. Younger people are less likely than older adults to become seriously ill from the coronavirus, but a high number of infected young people could make it more likely that the virus will spread to older and more vulnerable populations.
Despite rise in cases, Athens saw no new deaths or hospitalizations this week. However, Athens and the surrounding region could be facing a shortage of critical care beds, as only 18 out of 70 were available on June 28, according to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. The region still has plenty of available emergency room beds.
In the news
The surge in coronavirus cases in Georgia comes after Gov. Brian Kemp allowed bars and nightclubs to reopen on June 1 and after Black Lives Matter protesters held large demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd. However, there is now evidence from other parts of the country that it is not the protests causing the spike in coronavirus cases, but rather parties and large social gatherings. Thus, bars and nightclubs could be what are driving the surge in cases in Georgia too.
As coronavirus cases rise across the state and region, the University of Georgia laid out more of its plans for the fall semester in an ArchNews email on June 23. UGA will provide two cloth face masks and a digital thermometer to each student, faculty and staff member. However, the University System of Georgia will not require students to wear masks, leading to criticism from students and faculty.
The recent surge of cases in young people should be especially troubling for colleges. The high number of younger people contracting the virus could be a sign of what will happen when classes start in the fall.
An outbreak at UGA or another campus could be particularly costly. College students come from all over the state and region. If there is a spike in cases at colleges, then that could lead to spikes across Georgia, including in places that have so far escaped the worst effects of the pandemic. That could be especially harmful to rural communities that often have less access to health care.
The surge in cases could have an effect on the economy. According to Unacast, a company using data from phones and other sources to measure social distancing efforts, average mobility has risen to approximately pre-pandemic levels in Athens-Clarke County and Georgia.
But this rise in mobility might not last. One study found that an increase in coronavirus deaths was associated with substantial changes in consumer behavior and traffic. Though Georgia has thankfully reported fewer deaths in recent weeks, current hospitalizations have been rising, suggesting that deaths could start to increase as well.
The rise in cases has also led some businesses to shut down, and in some of the worst-hit states, such as Texas and Florida, governors are once again closing bars. If Gov. Brian Kemp makes the same decision in Georgia, the bar-laden Athens economy could be devastated.