As the one-year anniversary of the shelter-in-place order in Athens last March approaches, there are signs that help—in the form of rapid at-home testing and more vaccinations—will soon be a reality.
While health officials are continuing to promote public health measures—mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing—as the push to get more people vaccinated continues, the actual number of COVID-19 shots given to states has increased 20% since Jan. 20, and a new one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that doesn’t require cold temperature storage has now been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use approval.
Locally, the positive case numbers continue to decrease, but they are still much higher than they’ve been for much of the pandemic. As of Feb. 9, there have been 11,503 confirmed positive cases so far in Clarke County alongside an additional 1,989 positive rapid antigen cases, for a total of 13,492. The seven-day moving average has been dropping in recent weeks to 42.
Deaths, which typically lag behind cases and hospitalizations, did increase in Clarke County in recent weeks. At least 16 Clarke County residents have died of COVID-19 since Jan. 28, for a cumulative total of 100 confirmed deaths to date. There are an additional four probable COVID-19 deaths listed by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 currently make up about 26% of all patients in Region E hospitals, down from nearly half last month. There are 74 ICU beds in use, listed as 97% of capacity. Previously, the ICU bed space capacity was 70 beds, but Piedmont Athens Regional has converted some surgery recovery beds to allow for more ICU capacity. Cumulatively, 409 Clarke County residents have been hospitalized for COVID-19.
Data from UGA professor Erin Lipp’s lab at the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases showed that viruses in wastewater declined for the second week in a row—another good sign.
At UGA, there were 181 positive cases for the week of Jan. 25-31, according to self-reported data through the DawgCheck app. That’s down from 201 total positive cases the previous week. Surveillance testing, as the data shows for the most recent two weeks, continues to confirm around 60 cases a week, an indication that there is widespread viral spread at UGA. Results of testing at the University Health Center for the week included a total of 237 COVID-19 tests, with 37 positive and 200 negative, for a positivity rate of 15.6%.
On the vaccine front, while more vaccines are making their way to states slowly, the vaccine is still only available for those over 65, first responders and health-care workers. President Biden recently invoked the Defense Production Act, meaning that more shots will reach vaccination sites across the country in the coming weeks and months. There have been 1,073,482 vaccines administered in Georgia and more than 10,000 vaccines administered in the Northeast Health District, as of Jan. 29.
Last week, one Northeast Health District hospital temporarily lost its vaccination privileges after DPH learned that one provider in Elberton had administered the vaccine to people who aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated. “DPH was notified January 26, 2021 that The Medical Center of Elberton vaccinated individuals in the Elbert County School District who were outside of the current Phase 1A+ eligible population,” a press release from DPH stated.
The Medical Center of Elberton will not be able to administer any vaccinations for the next six months. In response to this temporary suspension of this facility, DPH did allocate an additional 2,100 doses to Elbert County to five remaining providers there, a follow-up press release stated. The district has partnered with Athens Technical College to “provide supplemental nursing support for vaccine administration”, to make sure that the residents there will still be able to maintain the same or greater access to COVID-19 vaccines.
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