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COVID-19 Cases Continue to Fall, and CCSD Has Stopped Requiring Masks

Credit: University of Georgia

COVID-19 data for Clarke County continues to show positive improvements over the last two weeks, with the lowest seven-day running average Athens has seen in months and a continued steady pace of vaccinations.

The seven-day running average of daily new cases was down from 4.6 on May 21 to 1.9 on June 3 for Clarke County. The rate coincides with the departure of many UGA students after the spring semester. There have been 12,901 confirmed cases and another 2,250 positive antigen cases to date.

Further, there were only three hospitalizations for COVID-19 and no new deaths added to the data for the previous two weeks. To date, there have been 503 hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Clarke County and 139 deaths.

While students leaving may have impacted positive cases in the area, vaccination rates have remained steady as well. In the past two weeks, there were 4,411 doses administered to Athens residents. According to DPH data, 45,454 Clarke County residents, or 36%, have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 40,434 residents, or 32%, have been fully vaccinated as of June 4. 

UGA still holds a large quantity of all three vaccines and only administered 334 doses last week, just 2% of what they currently have in stock. According to the weekly update, the university had 20,678 doses on hand as of May 24.  To date, it has administered 22,765 vaccine doses, with 13,513 individuals receiving a vaccine. UGA has fully vaccinated 12,249 individuals.

Two weeks ago, Flagpole obtained data for Clarke County on the latest age category approved for the vaccine, 12-15 years olds. Last week, however, DPH Communications Director Nancy Nydam said that data was not available by county unless Flagpole submitted an open records request through a formal data request portal. The cost associated with the request for data would be a base fee of $200 and an additional $25 for every variable included. Since this data is not available via the DPH vaccine dashboard, the change in policy puts a significant barrier in place for journalists or community members who’d like to keep up with youth vaccination rates. 

In other news, a recent social media post by CCSD suggested a mask mandate would not be in place for next school year, but after many parents were outraged by the original post, it was edited to remove the reference to not having a mask mandate. 

Donald Porter, CCSD director of public relations and communications, gave the following explanation of CCSD’s perspective on the upcoming school year in response to further inquiry from Flagpole about the recent post:

“Even though many of our parents have indicated they want in-person, face-to-face instruction for some time, the Clarke County School District (CCSD) leadership has shown throughout the pandemic that changes to district COVID-19 protocols and instructional options are made very deliberately and only after the latest guidance and recommendations from our health partners and governmental agencies have been considered.

“This is evident in our communication with Summer School principals and administrators announcing that CCSD no longer requires mask-wearing as a COVID-19 protocol for any student or district employee; however, we continue to strongly encourage unvaccinated individuals to wear masks.

“Accordingly, the CCSD is moving toward the start of the 2021-22 school year based on these protocols. Therefore, we do not anticipate that mask-wearing will be required when schools open on August 4th. Naturally, these rules are subject to change at any time should conditions warrant.  

“Please note that this decision in no way prohibits anyone from wearing masks should they choose.

“As it relates to the district’s social media accounts, the intent of posts on any of our platforms is to share information to our community. Depending on the message, we aim to inform, encourage, entertain, spotlight, and celebrate our students, staff, programs, leaders, or initiatives.

“We believe it’s helpful to begin setting the stage for our community about what they can expect for the upcoming school year, which was the intent of the ‘Closer to Normal’ video. Everything in the video and the social media post was accurate based on current protocols and what we currently anticipate the next school year will bring.

“While many are excited about moving closer to our pre-pandemic routines, we also respect that some in our community will not agree with these decisions. The one thing that will not change is the school district’s primary focus of educating our students in the safest learning environments possible based on the recommendations and direction from our health and governmental agencies.”