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COVID Transmission Rates Remain High, but Few Are Being Hospitalized

Credit: University of Georgia

Clarke County continues to see high rates of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with an average of 24.9 new daily cases during the past week, according to the Georgia Department of Health’s weekly update on June 21. The seven-day running average has increased consecutively for the last four weeks.

While the weekly data update from DPH does give the community a snapshot of trends locally, the rise in at-home antigen testing, which is not reported to DPH and represented in the official data, means the high rate of new daily cases is likely a vast undercount. Despite the decrease in PCR tests reported to DPH officially, 23% of all tests were positive in the last two weeks. Above 5% indicates a high rate of community spread. 

Wastewater data, which provides a more accurate real-time picture of viral levels in the community, has shown a continued increase in the last month. However, the June 17 lab update did provide some glimmer of hope that new cases may be leveling off. According to the UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases lab report, COVID-19 levels “remain high (68th percentile) but have leveled off after several weeks of sustained increase.” 

While it is unclear if this trend will continue, large crowds at AthFest this weekend may impact that potential trend. If you’re headed to see music this weekend, check out this overview of the pandemic at this juncture, with a guide to data sources that can help navigate your personal risk assessment.

On a positive note, while the seven-day running average has continued to increase, so far this wave has not resulted in a high level of hospitalizations or deaths. According to DPH data, two Clarke County residents have died in the last month from COVID-19. To date, the virus has killed at least 224 residents. For the last three weeks, an average of 23 Athens residents have been hospitalized each week for COVID-19. To date, 2,289 residents have been hospitalized for the virus.

In looking at regional trends, the Georgia Medical Facility Patient Census for region E, which includes Athens and surrounding counties, showed a fairly sizable increase in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 last week. As of June 22, there were 30 patients, or 4.8% of all patients, hospitalized in the region for the virus. The previous week, there were just 12 patients, or 2% of all patients, hospitalized for the virus in the region. ICU bed space remains stable, however, at 82 % capacity, with 69 patients occupying beds.

Vaccination and booster doses continue to be administered each week, but Clarke County’s rate of vaccination still remains low. According to the DPH Vaccine Dashboard, 69,780 residents, or 55%, have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 64,004 residents, or 51%, who have been fully vaccinated. There have been 33,073 additional booster doses administered to residents to date.

The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for ages 6 months to 5 years of age, a positive note for many parents. Vaccinations for this age group have just started and have not yet seen the initial response to the authorization that other age groups saw previously. As of June 21, just four children ages 6 months to 4 years old have been vaccinated. There have been 1,711 children ages 5-9, 2,901 children ages 10-14 and 3,870 children ages 15-19 who have received at least one dose of vaccine.