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COVID Cases Continue to Fall in Athens

While new COVID-19 cases in Clarke County and around the state continue to trend in the right direction, data continues to show that Athens residents are still being hospitalized and dying from the virus. 

For Clarke County, the seven-day moving average was down to 12 new cases per day as of Oct. 21, from a high of 100 in August. To date, there have been 17,291 confirmed cases and 2,652 positive antigen tests for the county. Wastewater data from Erin Lipp’s lab at UGA shows that the viral load has declined at all three wastewater treatment plants for the third consecutive week. 

Hospital data shows two Athens resident died of COVID-19 in the past week. Further, as the Red & Black and the AJC reported, 21-year-old UGA student Shawn Kuhns died from COVID-19 last week after a six-week battle with pneumonia, despite being fully vaccinated. His death is not listed in the Georgia Department of Public Health data for Clarke County to date, but deaths are attributed to the county listed on a driver’s license and not where the death occurred.

According to the CDC, vaccination reduces the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by more than tenfold, and 91% of people who die of COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

Fewer patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 last week, with 84 patients, or 13% of all hospitalized patients for Region E, which includes Clarke County hospitals that serve surrounding county residents. A week ago, 74 patients occupied all the available ICU beds, but as of Oct. 22 only 61 were filled.

While vaccination rates have slowed, there is still steady progress being made. Last week, 271 Clarke County residents received a first dose and 454 residents were fully vaccinated. To date, 49% of Clarke County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 45% are now fully vaccinated. 

At UGA, weekly vaccination rates have fallen the past few weeks, with 422 doses administered for the week of Oct. 11-18, and 471 administered the previous week. Positive cases self-reported through UGA’s DawgCheck app rose slightly to 34 for the week. Only 630 surveillance tests were administered.

In other vaccine news, the Clarke County Board of Education rejected a policy requiring employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested once a week. An Oct. 12 vote on whether to put the policy up for public comment was deadlocked, with Greg Davis, Patricia Yager, Kara Dyckman and Tawana Mattox voting for it, and Kirrena Gallagher, Linda Davis, LaKeisha Gantt and Nicole Hull voting against it. Mumbi Anderson abstained, saying she didn’t have enough information, although as Yager pointed out, board policy says that school board members should only abstain if they have a conflict of interest. With just four votes in favor, the policy failed to move forward.

At an Oct. 5 work session, some board members raised concerns about the policy, such as inconveniencing employees and the cost of the $52 tests. The Clarke County School District has reported 54 cases so far in October. According to Superintendent Xernona Thomas, about 1,800 of CCSD’s 2,400 employees are vaccinated. The district offers a $500 bonus to vaccinated employees.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission passed a vaccine mandate for ACC employees last month, but there are no consequences for violating the policy.