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COVID-19 Numbers Continue to Rise in Athens

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As Thanksgiving approaches, data for UGA and the Athens-Clarke County area continues to show COVID-19 spreading through the community. Athens-Clarke County had an increase of 359 cases in the past week, more than doubling the previous week’s total of 167, bringing the cumulative numbers to 6,377 positive cases, 268 hospitalizations and 51 deaths.

In addition, rapid antigen testing data showed that there have been another 1,183 likely cases, an increase of 34 from last week. All combined, viral and antigen positive tests are now at 7,560, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

This week’s wastewater data, a project of the Erin Lipp’s Lab at Center for the Ecology of Infectious Disease at UGA, also shows a steady increase in levels of the virus at all three wastewater plants. The data, which is now collected twice a week from each plant, is another means to keep an eye on the level of coronavirus in the community.

“For the Monday sample this week (collected between 6:30 am Sunday 11/15 and 6:30 am Monday 11/16), we observed increased concentrations of SARS‑CoV‑2 at all plants based on the N1 gene,” according to the project’s website. “…On balance, the data suggest a slight but consistent increasing trend.”

At UGA, self-reported data from the DawgCheck app for the week of Nov. 9-13, showed 78 positive tests, down from 87 previous week, with 60 students, 17 staff and one faculty member testing positive.

With UGA students heading home for Thanksgiving and taking classes the rest of the semester online, UGA ramped up its surveillance testing capacity to a 1,000 tests each day at Legion Field and other pop-up sites on campus in the two weeks prior to the end of the semester. That effort, however, fell short in its first week, data released this week shows. 

Participation exceeded previous weeks at the surveillance site, with 2,544 tests done for the week of Nov. 9-13, but that’s much less than the goal of 1,000 tests a day. Of those tests done, 24 were positive, for an asymptomatic positivity rate of 0.94%, the lowest of the semester.

At the University Health Center, where symptomatic individuals are tested, there were 162 tests given, with 15 positive cases, for a positivity rate of 9.3%. That’s an increase from the previous week’s 5.3% positivity rate. There were 39 additional positive cases listed in the “other” and “community testing” data categories.

An update in last week’s UGA data showed an increase in the positive cases reported for the week of Nov. 2-8. The data now shows 101 positive cases for that week, instead of the initial reported positive case count of 87. This likely changes the positivity rate for that week, but without an update on the number of tests, there’s no way to calculate the change.

And countywide, the infection rate continues to rise. Clarke County had 277 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks as of Nov. 20, according to Georgia Department of Public Health statistics, although according to public health expert Amber Schmidtke, that figure is more likely around 450.

Anything above 200 per 100,000 is considered “highest risk” by the CDC for transmission within schools. However, the Clarke County School District meets other CDC criteria for lower or lowest risk, such as ability to implement mitigation measures like mask-wearing and contact tracing. CCSD reported 13 confirmed cases and 164 precautionary quarantines this week among students and staff. Hilsman Middle School went virtual and closed early for Thanksgiving break while nurses conducted contact tracing.

As the pandemic continues to spread nationwide, with regular record-breaking case counts, the CDC warned against travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, as it will likely contribute to further spread of the virus. According to UGA, today is the last day to get a test on campus and be guaranteed to receive the result before Wednesday.