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Athens COVID Rates Continue to Drop as Teens Begin to Be Vaccinated

Credit: University of Georgia

Clarke County saw another decline in COVID-19 cases last week and a steady vaccination rate for Clarke residents despite many UGA students going home.

The seven-day running average declined for another consecutive week to 4.6 as of May 21. That’s down from 5.4 on May 14 and marks the seventh week of consistent decline in new weekly cases. Further, cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks, the metric that’s used to determine whether the Athens-Clarke County mask mandate remains active, declined again to 53. The mask mandate is only in effect if cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents.

Clarke County added 36 new positive cases to the tally last week, with 12,869 confirmed cases and an additional 2,238 positive antigen cases to date. Only 4.4% of all hospitalizations were COVID-19-related for Region E, with 500 total hospitalizations and just two added last week. 

While Clarke County had no deaths in the two weeks prior, last week two residents died of COVID-19, and one additional death was listed as probable, for a total of 139 deaths and eight probable deaths among Clarke County residents to date. 

Significant progress was made in vaccinating Clarke County residents last week, with 1,977 doses doled out. There were 826 fewer doses administered to Athens residents this week, but now that many UGA students have left town after the spring semester, the vaccination rate appears to be relatively stable. To date, 43,781 Clarke County residents, or 35%, have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 37,696 residents, or 30%, are fully vaccinated. 

For the week of May 10-16, UGA administered 1,008 doses out of 22,475 on hand at the beginning of the week. With only 4% administered, UGA’s stockpile of vaccine doses is greatly outpacing demand. To date, UGA has fully vaccinated 11,798 people, but no data has been available on just how many of those individuals may be included as Clarke County residents. 

In early May, Georgia opened up vaccinations for children 12 and older following the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. In those 10 days, 488 doses were administered to children ages 12-15 in Clarke County, according to data Flagpole obtained via an open records request. While that rate is high compared to other nearby counties, the data only show how many doses were administered here and not whether those doses were to children residing in Clarke County. 

For many parents, the decision to have their children vaccinated isn’t easy, especially since the COVID-19 spread is the lowest it’s been in a year. Children generally only have mild symptoms if they are infected, but in rare cases, children have had severe complications or died. Given that children can still get sick and spread the disease with or without symptoms, public health experts are quick to stress the importance of getting younger adults and children vaccinated to fully bring this pandemic to an end. 

“The way we get those people vaccinated is because we require it for entry to a workplace or to school or whatever it may be,” public health expert Amber Schmidtke told Flagpole. “Short of that, I think it’s still possible to get to something like herd immunity, but it’s going to require that we also vaccinate children.

“We’ve beaten back diseases before though,” she added. “Even if we don’t reach herd immunity on a national level, we can reach it on a community level and then work from there.”