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COVID Numbers Fall, but Spread Is Still Significant

Credit: University of Georgia

While a decrease in weekly COVID-19 case numbers continued again this week, with the seven-day moving average down to 30 as of Oct. 1, Clarke County still had four deaths last week, and data still shows a significant amount of active community transmission.

There were 219 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for Clarke County last week, for a total of 16,987 since the pandemic began. In addition, there were 17 new positive antigen tests, for a total of 2,615 positive antigen tests to date.

While a reduction in cases may seem to signal good news for this Delta wave, UGA infectious diseases professor Erin Lipp’s wastewater data, which shows local virus levels that are good predictors of future data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, suggests that there is still a significant amount of community spread happening in Clarke County. Levels remained steady the previous week, but “declined this week to ~40th percentile of all samples collected to date,” this week’s update noted. “It is important to note, these levels still suggest a relatively high amount of transmission within the community, however they are clearly trending downward.”

While cases may be going down, there is still evidence that the Delta wave continues to put further stress on our hospitals. Twenty-two people were hospitalized for COVID-19 last week in Clarke County, for a total of 700 Clarke County residents hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic.

ICU beds are still hard to come by, with 73 beds, or 98.6%, of ICU beds in use in Region E. That’s up slightly from last week when only 68 beds, or 92%, of ICU beds were in use. Region E did see the number of total COVID-19 patients decrease to 140 last week, or 24.6% of all patients.

The vaccination rate is growing slowly but steadily. Last week, Clarke County’s “at least one dose” category increased by 353, and now stands at 60,480, or 48% of Clarke County residents. Another 584 people became fully vaccinated, for a total of 55,439, or 44% of Clarke County residents.

At UGA, 275 doses were administered during the week of Sept. 20, and the University Health Center currently has 16,491 doses on hand. There was a slight increase in self-reported cases for the week, with 91 positive cases compared to last week’s 82. There were 1,158 surveillance tests administered this week, a slight decrease, but so far surveillance testing rates have held fairly steady at UGA this semester.

Many public health experts suspect that we may be at the peak of the Delta wave and are further hopeful with the FDA scheduling a meeting for late October about approving the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11. However, many are voicing concerns about the potential for further spread in the winter, and also the impact that the flu may have on the pandemic this year.

According to public health expert Amber Schmidtke, data for Georgia does not suggest that we are anywhere near herd immunity at this point, and the Delta variant has had a much larger effect on children than it had before.

“So what this means is that we still need to vaccinate as many people as we can, including children when they are authorized to receive the vaccine, if we want to get back to ‘normal’ without these continuing surges and disruptions of lives, economies, etc.,” she said in her weekly newsletter about the pandemic in Georgia. “I for one will be watching the data closely as we approach the holidays. Because the lifting of pandemic precautions even while vaccination rates remain low means more transmission of all diseases, not just COVID-19. And it appears that influenza, which also hospitalizes and kills people, is not sitting this year out.”