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Athens COVID Cases on the Rise After Thanksgiving

COVID-19 cases in Clarke County increased last week, with the seven-day running average nearly doubling from 6.9 on Dec. 3 to 13.1 on Dec. 12, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, likely the result of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

As of Dec. 10, there had been 17,785 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Clarke County, with 96 new cases last week. Eleven Clarke County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week, and one Clarke County resident died. In total, 179 Clarke County residents have died from the virus.

Last week’s wastewater report from infectious diseases professor Erin Lipp’s lab at UGA suggests the increase in cases last week may not yet be a trend. However, cases are rising across the state.“After two weeks of increasing [viral] loads in wastewater, levels declined this week to pre-Thanksgiving levels,” according to her lab’s website. “Total loads declined across all [sewage] plants on Monday followed by an increase at all plants for the Wednesday sample.” 

According to Amber Schmidtke, a public health expert who has been monitoring the pandemic in Georgia since the beginning, the statewide hospital census data shows an increase in case rates for all 14 regions in Georgia. “When we see this amount of agreement, it’s usually not a good sign,” she noted on Twitter last week.

While scientists continue to assess the possible impacts of the Omicron variant, the strategy in the U.S. so far is more of the same—get vaccinated, if you haven’t already, and get a booster. “Preliminary data show that Omicron may cause less severe illness but may spread more easily than the Delta variant. Scientists are still researching how well the current COVID vaccines or natural immunity hold up against Omicron, and caution that it is too early to make conclusions about Omicron because there is not enough data available,” according to a DPH press release. “More than 1,000 new cases of COVID are reported daily in Georgia, 99% of which are Delta variant and predominantly in unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination is crucial to stopping transmission of COVID and preventing the emergence of variants.”

About 51% of Clarke County residents have received at least one dose, and 47% have been fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates remain slow and steady, with a total of 1,104 vaccine doses administered to Clarke County residents last week. DPH’s vaccine dashboard finally added data about Georgia’s COVID-19 booster shot rates last week, and 14% of people in Clarke County have gotten a booster. About 19% of children ages 5–9 and 41% 10–14 have been vaccinated with one or more doses.Last week, the Athens-Clarke County Commission added another $500,000 to the county’s COVID-19 vaccine incentive program that offers $100 gift cards to people who live, work or go to school in Clarke County. $240,000 will go to the Innovative Healthcare Institution, located at 100 Seagraves Ave., through the nonprofit East Athens Development Corp. Another $100,000 will go to the Athens Neighborhood Health Center, which offers vaccinations at its two offices at 672 College Ave. and 402 McKinley Drive, as well as the Hilsman Middle School clinic. Gift cards are also available at the Clarke County Health Department and various community events.