COVID-19 report image

The Red & Black is providing weekly updates on COVID-19, focusing on Athens and Georgia. (Sophia Haynes/Design Editor)

As the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread across the nation, questions about booster shots, hospitalizations and vaccine hesitancy leave many frustrated. As part of The Red & Black’s health news coverage, we are publishing weekly reports on news relating to COVID-19 and its recent statistics.

Major updates

COVID-19 cases decreased by about half at the University of Georgia from last week, according to the university’s reporting system, sitting at the lowest case number since classes began this semester. UGA reported 47 new cases over the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3, a decrease from the 95 cases during the week of Sept. 20-26. The surveillance testing positivity rate was about 1.07% for this week. 

Nine of the positive tests — about 19.15% — were conducted at the University Health Center. There were nine positive tests through surveillance testing, six positive tests in Athens and 23 tests reported from other testing sites. 

Students that test positive for COVID-19 off-campus are required to report it to DawgCheck, UGA’s monitoring tool. Because students may have tested positive off-campus and not reported it, the actual number of COVID-19 cases may be higher than 47.

A press release from the Georgia Department of Public Health said that COVID-19 cases totals from Oct. 6 are artificially low due to technical issues — approximately 2,500 additional cases across Georgia should have been reported.

On Sept. 22, the Food and Drug Administration approved booster shots for people who received the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago and fall into certain categories. The FDA approved booster shots for people who are either at least 65 years old or adults who are “at high risk of severe COVID-19” or who work or live in high-risk settings.

The UHC has received booster shot doses to administer.  

The FDA’s outside panel of advisors will meet Oct. 14-15 to evaluate Johnson & Johnson and Moderna booster shot data, according to a news release. It’s the first stage in a review procedure that also requires approval from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s leadership. Americans might start receiving J&J and Moderna boosters later this month if both authorities give their approval.

Georgia’s hospitals have about 12% of their intensive care unit beds left for sick patients. From Sept. 26-Oct. 2, about 99.28% of COVID-19 cases in the southeastern U.S. were delta variant cases, according to the CDC.

The majority of people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

Georgia’s case data by age shows children aged 0-17 are the second-highest in contracting the virus out of all age groups. The highest rate is in those aged 30-59.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued new guidelines on Monday afternoon, ahead of the Nov. 22 deadline for certain workers to be completely vaccinated under President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, listing specific medical circumstances that would justify an exemption, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Workers must have their first vaccination within two weeks after an exemption request being refused or a medical issue being resolved, according to the rules. They also state that if federal authorities conclude that no alternative safety approach is acceptable, they may reject medical or religious exemptions.

Data breakdown: University of Georgia

The university conducted 843 surveillance tests during the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 1, a decrease compared to the 1,158 tests last week. With fewer tests occurring, fewer cases are able to be detected.

Of the total positive cases this week, 14 of them belonged to employees and 33 belonged to students.

For the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3, the UHC administered 530 vaccines, an increase from the 275 administered last week. Cumulatively, the UHC has fully vaccinated 14,583 people as of Oct. 6.

Students and faculty may book a vaccine appointment at the UHC Vaccine Portal or get vaccinated at any University System of Georgia school. Students may also get tested for COVID-19 at the UHC with walk-in appointments.

More than 50 life sciences faculty members at the University of Georgia are planning to require masks in their classroom, challenging state university system rules. The faculty members sent a letter to the University System of Georgia stating they will be requiring all students and staff in their classes and laboratories to wear masks, even though USG prohibits these requirements. With no mask or vaccine mandates on campus, these faculty members are taking matters into their own hands to protect themselves, each other and their students, they said.

Data breakdown: Athens-Clarke County

A press release from the DPH media advisory stated that COVID-19 cases totals from Oct. 6 are artificially low due to technical issues. Approximately 2,500 additional cases across Georgia should have been reported. Hospitalization and death totals were not affected.

Some of these uncounted cases may have been from Athens-Clarke County, so the case numbers below may be incomplete. 

According to the current, incomplete data, from Oct. 1-6, the county reported 123 new confirmed cases, compared to 192 from Sept. 25-30, according to the Georgia DPH. The county’s seven-day average positivity rate was 8.7%. The World Health Organization recommends communities maintain a positivity rate below 5%.

This week, ACC reported one confirmed COVID-19 death.

According to the Georgia Geospatial Information Office, the number of current hospitalizations in Region E — which includes ACC and several surrounding counties — decreased last week. On Oct. 6, there were 181 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, compared to 157 on Sept. 30.

According to the Georgia DPH, about 44% of the county is fully vaccinated. This percentage is below what is needed to achieve herd immunity, when enough people are vaccinated to stop or severely slow transmission of the virus. 

Data breakdown: Georgia

Statewide, the weekly rate of new confirmed COVID-19 cases has decreased.

According to the current, incomplete data, Georgia reported 15,968 confirmed COVID-19 cases between Oct. 1-6, putting the actual total around 18,468. This is a decrease of about 3,200 from the 21,744 cases between Sept. 25-30. The state’s seven-day average positivity rate decreased to 8.4% on Oct. 6, according to current data. 

The number of confirmed deaths in the state increased — Georgia recorded 595 confirmed COVID-19 deaths between Oct. 1-6 compared to the 530 between Sept. 25-30.

According to the DPH, about 5 million Georgians have been fully vaccinated, or about 48% of the state. In comparison, the U.S. has a current full vaccination rate of 55%. Approximately 5.7 million Georgians, or 55% of the state, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. According to 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia has a total population of about 10.6 million.

According to the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask indoors if in an area of substantial or high transmission. Currently, the CDC says Clarke County’s level of community transmission is high, along with most other counties in Georgia. The CDC has also released guidelines advising vaccinated individuals to still wear masks over their nose and mouth when in public, indoor settings.

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