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Wastewater Data Suggests Another COVID Surge Could Be Coming

Credit: University of Georgia

New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remained low again in Clarke County last week, according to Georgia Department of Public Health data, but wastewater monitoring for Athens showed a consistent uptick in viral levels across all wastewater facilities last week. 

Clarke County had 33 new confirmed cases, up slightly from 20 cases the previous week. The seven-day running average of new daily cases increased slightly from 2.3 on Apr. 8 to 4.7 on Apr. 15. To date, Clarke County has had 26,226 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Wastewater surveillance data from Erin Lipp’s lab at UGA’s Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, however, is worth keeping an eye on going forward, researchers said in this week’s update. The viral load increased across all three treatment plants last week compared to the previous week. 

“We are still considering levels to be steady but are keeping watch to determine whether we may be seeing the start of an inflection point,” the report noted last week.

Two Clarke County residents were hospitalized for the virus last week, for a total of 1,174 hospitalizations to date. As of Apr. 15, five patients, or 0.8% of all patients, were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the region. ICU bed capacity remained stable, with 61 patients occupying 87% of bed space.

One Clarke County resident also died of the virus last week, for a total of at least 217 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. According to DPH data, Clarke County has not gone a week without a COVID-19 related death since early January.

Starting this week, DPH will no longer report case numbers daily, instead updating them each Wednesday. With at-home tests more widely available, numbers reported by testing sites are becoming less reliable, and public health officials are transitioning toward benchmarks like hospitalization and vaccination rates.

Vaccination rates remain slow and stagnant for Clarke County. To date, 66,540 Clarke County residents, or 53%, have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 61,904 residents, or 49%, have been fully vaccinated. Last week, 75 residents received a first dose, another 78 residents received a second dose, and 193 got a booster shot.

Child vaccination rates have also remained slow locally, with just seven new doses administered to children aged 5-9, six new doses administered to children aged 10-14 and four new doses administered to children aged 15-19. To date, 26.9% of children 5-9, 45.4% of children 10-14 and 26.4% of the 15-19 age group have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

At UGA, 87 vaccine doses were administered for the week of Apr. 4, and there were 31 confirmed positive cases for the week, with 163 surveillance tests administered.