Coronavirus update 2.0 UGA

UPDATE: UGA slightly adjusted its surveillance testing numbers two hours after posting its weekly update, so The Red & Black has adjusted the number of tests by position as well as positivity rates by position.

On Wednesday, the University of Georgia reported 175 new COVID-19 cases for the week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4, more than doubling the 77 cases reported for the week of Nov. 23-29. Since the start of the pandemic, UGA has reported 4,762 positive tests, including 4,305 since it launched its surveillance testing program on Aug. 10. 

Of the 175 new cases reported this week, 89 were from UGA’s surveillance testing program for asymptomatic volunteers, 18 were from the University Health Center’s testing program for students exhibiting symptoms, 12 were from Athens-Clarke County and local community testing sites and the remaining 56 were from the “Other” category, which includes testing sites inside and outside ACC. There were 109 students who tested positive, and a record 66 employees tested positive in a one-week span since UGA started breaking down positive tests based on role.

The increase in cases appears to be strongest among employees. The 66 reported employee cases for the week of Nov. 30 are more than triple the 18 cases among employees originally reported for the week of Nov. 23. Yet the noticeable spike in cases among employees is evident because fewer UGA students are getting tested, most likely because they’ve left campus following the end of in-person classes.

The high increase in the surveillance testing positivity rate indicates that the virus has begun to spread more rapidly among the UGA community. After spending three straight weeks below 1%, the surveillance testing positivity rate jumped to 4.18% for the week of Nov. 30.

This is the highest the surveillance testing positivity rate has been since the week of Sept. 7. The surveillance positivity rate last week was 3.78% among students, 4.50% among staff and 6.13% among faculty. This was the first time students had a lower surveillance testing positivity rate than the total surveillance positivity rate since the first week of class, further underscoring the spike among employees.

"While the increase in positive cases last week is concerning, it is not unexpected," UHC Executive Director Garth Russo said in an email to The Red & Black. "Both the total number and the positivity rate were driven by an increase in cases the first two days after the Thanksgiving holiday. Positivity rates then declined to levels consistent with rates prior to the holiday."

The university conducted 2,130 surveillance tests on asymptomatic volunteers on Nov. 30-Dec. 4. After receiving a surveillance test, 35 employees and 54 students tested positive for COVID-19. This week’s data showed more faculty and staff getting tested for the virus and fewer students, with 212 faculty and 489 staff members participating in the program and only 1,429 students.

UGA has successfully surpassed its goal of conducting 24,000 COVID-19 surveillance tests by Thanksgiving. The final number before the Thanksgiving holiday was 32,065, according to the university’s weekly COVID-19 data update.

The UHC testing program conducted 159 COVID-19 tests for the week of Nov. 30. Of those, 18 were positive and 141 were negative, with the positivity rate being 11.3%. The positivity rate from UHC testing is expected to be higher than the positivity rate from surveillance testing because UHC testing focuses on symptomatic students, who are more likely to be infected than asymptomatic volunteers.

"Surveillance continues to be one of our strongest protections against the virus. We need to remain vigilant," Russo said. The surveillance testing program will be available for those not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms at Legion Field on weekdays through December 23 and will resume on January 4.