Analyzing the data
It’s been more than two weeks since Athens’ first week of protests wrapped up with a 1,500 person rally on June 6 — just long enough to start seeing some effects from the protests, though perhaps not long enough to know their true effect.
From June 15-21, Athens reported 39 new cases. This was an increase of 85.7% compared to the week of June 8-14, when Athens reported only 21 new cases.
Looking at county level data over a span of only seven days can sometimes be misleading. The daily coronavirus reports often vary drastically from day-to-day, and such a small sample size and study area make the data prone to outliers. Therefore, it’s useful to compare longer stretches of time too.
During the first 21 days of June, Athens added 98 cases. Comparatively, during the first 21 days of April and May, Athens added only 65 and 58 cases, respectively. Some of this increase may be due to changes in the number of tests reported.
However, even though Athens might be seeing more average daily cases, the county is experiencing relatively mild effects from the coronavirus compared to other Georgia counties, especially those in southwest Georgia.
Though Athens saw an increase in daily cases, other pieces of data were very positive. No Athenians died over the past week from the coronavirus, and there was only one new hospitalization in Athens.
In the news
Following the reopening of bars and the start of the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, Georgia’s cases have been on the rise. The state set a daily record in newly-reported cases on June 20 with 1,800, and the seven day rolling average for new daily cases surpassed 1,000 for the first time. This suggests that the protests and Georgia’s continued reopening could be starting to cause a rise in cases.
As the rate of new daily cases rises in both Athens and Georgia, the University of Georgia began Phase One of its reopening plan on June 15. In Phase One, the university is allowing limited essential staff and supervisors on campus. The goal of Phase One is to prepare for allowing more workers return to campus during Phase Two. During Phase Three, staff, faculty and students will return to campus in August for the fall semester.
UGA is also taking steps to protect its students and staff. For example, the dining halls will eliminate self-service, expand online ordering and to-go pickup options, spread out tables, allow fewer students into the buildings and clean areas and utensils more frequently. In addition, dining staff will wear protective equipment.
Fully reopening for the fall semester presents difficult challenges for the university. In normal times, UGA Dining Services struggles to seat everyone during the busiest times of the day. These new restrictions could lead to longer waits to eat.
UGA also has an obligation to protect its staff. To protect students, UGA will force its custodial staff to clean more frequently, leading to a larger work burden. Constantly having to clean after students could put the custodial staff at increased risk. In addition, if members of the custodial staff catch the virus and cannot come in to work, the university may be unable to clean as much as it needs to.