City DopeNews

Has Omicron Peaked in Athens?

Credit: University of Georgia

The seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases in Clarke County dipped slightly over the past week, from an all-time high of 256 cases per day on Jan. 11 to 183 on Jan. 19. While it’s too early to tell, it’s possible the Omicron surge is peaking.

But the virus is still wreaking havoc, especially on hospitals and schools. Clarke County had 3,100 cases over the past two weeks, bringing the total number of confirmed cases throughout the pandemic to 23,341, with another 3,229 positive antigen tests, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. About a fifth of the local population has now been infected with COVID-19, resulting in 990 Clarke County residents being hospitalized and at least 183 deaths.

Local hospitals’ intensive care units remain full, with 68 of 70 ICU beds occupied. The number of patients with COVID in local hospitals rose to 257, or 38% of all patients. Stress on health-care providers could continue to mount even if cases start to fall, because hospitalizations tend to lag a couple of weeks behind symptoms. Or the return of students to campus after holiday travel, coupled with massive gatherings to celebrate the Bulldogs’ national championship, could lead to another spike. One encouraging sign, though, is that professor Erin Lipp’s lab at UGA reported that viral loads in wastewater have leveled off.

UGA reported 804 cases among students, faculty and staff for the week of Jan. 3 after reporting about 250 cases each of the previous two weeks and just a few dozen during the last weeks of the fall semester. The university revised that number upward to 852 in its Jan. 19 update and reported 992 additional cases for the week of Jan. 10. However, that number is likely on the low side. UGA relies on students to self-report positive tests unless they’re conducted by the university itself, and surveillance testing is voluntary. The positivity rate for surveillance tests was nearly 15%, which would equal 7,500 cases if everyone on campus had been tested.

The Clarke County School District reported 725 cases over the past two weeks, already the highest number of any month during the pandemic. Due to staff shortages, four schools—Alps Elementary, Clarke Middle, Clark Central and Cedar Shoals—are going virtual Thursday and Friday.

The United Campus Workers of Georgia union submitted a petition signed by 600 people to Gov. Brian Kemp, state legislators and the Board of Regents urging them to implement mask and vaccine mandates, allow remote instruction and work options, and provide high-quality personal protective equipment.

“UGA’s failure to lead a rational response to the pandemic will haunt us for many years to come,” professor Joe Fu said. “They expect staff, students and faculty to toe their line, while they don’t even enforce their own stated requirement to wear masks on campus buses.”

This post has been updated to reflect that UGA, which generally provides a COVID update every Wednesday around 9 a.m., did post weekly statistics after 5 p.m. on Jan. 19.