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Athens COVID Cases Show Signs of Rising Again

Credit: University of Georgia

In the rush to get as many people vaccinated as possible before coronavirus variants spread further, new data from Erin Lipp’s wastewater lab at UGA suggests that Athens may be seeing an increase in cases and viral spread locally. 

Viral levels have increased for the second week in a row. “Although total viral load in wastewater across the area remains relatively low, the shift toward increasing levels over the last two weeks (after several weeks of stable to declining levels) is concerning,” the lab website notes. “As of April 2, reported cases remained low in Athens-Clarke County, at 8 new cases per day, but the number of tests administered has declined and the percentage of positive tests has increased slightly (from 3% positive on 3/24 to 4% positive on 4/2). This illustrates the need for continued preventative measures as vaccine distribution increases within the county.”

According to Georgia Department of Public Health data, the seven-day running average for Clarke County increased to 10.9 on Apr. 8 from 8.1 on Mar. 25. It declined to 8.4 on Monday, but that’s typical because few test results are reported over the weekend. Clarke County has now had 12,515 confirmed cases and another 2,181 positive antigen tests.

Stress on local hospitals continues to be low. The total number of COVID-19 patients in Region E decreased to 45, or 8.3% of all patients, and ICU beds in use as of Apr. 9 decreased to 57 from 65 on Mar. 25.

While deaths are a lagging indicator, Athens residents are still dying every week. There have now been 131 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Clarke County as of Apr. 9, including six deaths in the last two weeks.

UGA’s testing data for Mar. 29–Apr. 4 showed an increase in positive cases. There were 53 positive cases that week, compared to 34 the previous week. Additionally, surveillance testing participation has declined for another consecutive week. There were only 846 tests administered for the week, compared to more than 1,700 tests for the first week in March. UGA is now posting vaccination data. As of Apr. 2, UGA had administered 8,606 vaccine shots, and 2,227 people had been fully vaccinated.

On the other side of combating this pandemic iis a revamp to the Georgia DPH Vaccine Dashboard to include data on how many actual residents in a given county have been vaccinated. Previously, DPH only reported data on how many vaccines were administered in each county. According to the DPH dashboard, 18,813, or 15%, of Clarke County residents have been fully vaccinated. Another 27,893, or 22%, of Clarke County residents have received one dose of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. 

While more data is a good thing, it’s not without flaws, and there are big differences in the CDC and DPH data on vaccinations per county. Amber Schmidtke noted in her newsletter on the pandemic in Georgia last week that the “county-level data may not be a totally accurate depiction of vaccinations levels in the area.” If a person’s county of residence was not entered, they are not counted at all in the county-level data and are only included in the state data. The new dashboard also gives further specifics per county including age, sex, race and ethnicity, but Schmidtke cautioned about accuracy there too. There will likely be adjustments and clarifications in the coming weeks, she added.