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COVID Cases Continue to Fall as Some Mask Policies Are Loosened

Credit: University of Georgia

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remained low in Clarke County last week, and vaccination rates were slightly better than the previous week. 

The seven-day running average of new cases was 5.4 as of May 14, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. That marked the sixth consecutive week that the seven-day running average has decreased. There have now been a total of 12,834 confirmed cases among Clarke County residents and an additional 2,237 positive antigen tests. Clarke County added just 41 confirmed cases and 10 positive antigen cases last week.

Last week also marked another week without any deaths in Clarke County. To date, COVID-19 has killed 137 Clarke County residents. Hospitalizations also remained low last week, with only four people hospitalized for COVID-19, bringing the total to 498. 

On the vaccination front, another 2,803 vaccine doses were administered to Clarke County residents last week, a slight improvement over last week’s 2,626 doses. To date, 42,863 Clarke County residents, or 34%, have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 36,637 residents, or 29%, have been fully vaccinated. 

With the unexpected announcement from the CDC last week that anyone who has been fully vaccinated no longer needs to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, unless required by a business or by state or local law, how the announcement will play out in reality in Athens remains to be seen. While Athens-Clarke County technically still has a mask mandate on the books, the mandate only applies when the case rate is higher than 100 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. That metric currently stands at 65.

According to Mayor Kelly Girtz, the commission will look into repealing the mask mandate in due time. Further, the commission is likely to return last call at bars to 2 a.m.  

The CDC’s announcement was based on an assessment of rigorous scientific research that showed limited transmission after full vaccination. “The evidence continues to grow that the risk of infection [even asymptomatic transmission] among people who are fully vaccinated is vanishingly small,” wrote public health expert Amber Schmidtke in her newsletter this week. “These vaccines are really, really good at what they were designed to do. And if a person is unlikely to be asymptomatically infected, they are unlikely to unknowingly transmit to others.”

While the new recommendations make sense for fully vaccinated people, it will make it harder to distinguish who is fully vaccinated and who isn’t, especially since the latter group is less likely to wear a mask in general. Some chain stores—including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Target—have already changed their mask policies.

In addition, UGA has also repealed its mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals. The university said it expects workers back in their offices by June 30 and for student activities to resume fully this fall.

While the news from the CDC left some feeling uneasy, despite the recommendations being based on scientific research findings, the news may also encourage more people to get vaccinated. Many public health experts have suggested that it could help motivate those that are on the fence about getting a vaccine.