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COVID Rates Remain Low, but Viruses in Wastewater Tell a Different Story

Credit: University of Georgia

The Georgia Department of Public Health’s weekly COVID-19 update Wednesday continued to show low case rates for Clarke County for the past week, with just 33 new cases reported and a decreased seven-day running average of 4.9 daily new cases, compared to 5.9 for the week prior.

DPH’s move to a weekly report, released each Wednesday, is in part a result of lower case numbers, at least in terms of official data. With the rise in at-home testing and general pandemic fatigue that has resulted in fewer people seeking out testing in general, the day-to-day data is becoming less reliable.

For the first time since January, no Clarke County residents died of COVID-19 during the past week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 219 Athens residents have died of COVID-19. Three Clarke County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 1,186 hospitalizations to date.

At the time of the weekly report, there were just three patients, or 0.5% of all patients in the region, hospitalized with COVID-19. ICU bed capacity remained stable, with 72% of beds in use.

While DPH data gives some perspective on the state of viral spread for the community, UGA professor Erin Lipp’s wastewater research, released on Fridays, continues to be a valuable source to keep an eye on each week, especially as official DPH data becomes less reliable because of less testing. 

This week’s wastewater lab update suggests that viral levels have actually been increasing slowly over the past few weeks. “In looking over the past 3-4 weeks in Athens-Clarke County, SARS‑CoV‑2 levels have slowly increased,” the lab report states. “This small but steady climb has not been easy to tease out week-to-week and we have reported that levels remained stable. We are not seeing the rapid rise in viral load that we have noted in prior surges, but over time, it is evident that levels have risen when compared to the recent lows noted in mid-March. This week we continue to see levels that we interpret as ‘stable’ based on the average load for this week compared to the average load for last week, but this is in the context of what appears to be slowly increasing levels overall.” 

On the vaccination front, 84 Clarke County residents received their first dose last week, and another 92 residents were fully vaccinated. To date, 53% of Athens residents have received at least one dose, and 49% have been fully vaccinated.

At UGA, 94 vaccine doses were administered during the week of Apr. 18. UGA’s weekly status update showed 40 positive cases for the week, with 114 surveillance tests administered. Positive test numbers and surveillance tests administered were similar to the week prior.