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COVID Is Leveling Off but Spreading Fast Among Children

Credit: University of Georgia

COVID-19 continued to take a toll on the Athens community last week, with several weeks of rapidly rising new cases resulting in new hospitalizations and deaths of Clarke County residents. While data did show some stabilization and a slight decrease, the transmission level is still very high, with a seven-day average of 2,019 new cases on Jan. 21. 

Four Clarke County residents died of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, and ICU bed space at local hospitals is maxed out with 74 patients in intensive care units that normally only have 70 beds. As of Jan. 21, COVID-19 patients made up 35% of all hospital patients in Region E, with 98 COVID patients from Clarke and 147 from neighboring counties. As public health expert Amber Schmidtke noted last week, Georgia residents are being hospitalized at a very high rate, likely because of low vaccination rates. As of Jan. 20, Georgia was ranked second behind Guam for the rate of new hospitalizations.

While the Omicron wave may have peaked and new cases are trending down for adults, new cases among children are still increasing. As of Jan. 20, the DPH School Aged Surveillance report showed that in Clarke County over the last two weeks there were 175 confirmed new cases for children ages 0-4 and 381 new confirmed cases for children ages 5-17. The Clarke County School District reported 1,167 cases for January as of Friday, already more than twice as many as the previous high in August 2021.

Wastewater data from UGA infectious diseases professor Erin Lipp’s lab suggests that viral transmission is still very high but may be stabilizing. Viral loads in Athens wastewater, which give us a picture of viral spread before it’s apparent in testing data, was stable for the second week in a row, but “levels remain very high, indicating that active transmission is ongoing.”

UGA reported 992 positive cases for the week of Jan. 10-16, the second-highest number of cases reported yet for a week since the beginning of the pandemic. The highest weekly case count at UGA to date was 1,490 in August of 2020. UGA administered 2,343 surveillance tests on campus for the week with a 15% positive rate, again indicating cases are likely being undercounted.

While new cases have been on the rise, vaccination rates at this juncture are abysmal. In the last two weeks, 553 first doses and 459 second doses were administered to Clarke County residents. To date, 48% of residents, or 60,445, are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates for children under 17 have not seen much success in recent weeks, either. As of Jan. 21, 1,455 children ages 5-9; 2,674 children ages 10-14; and 3,617 children ages 15-19 have received at least one dose. In the last two weeks, a mere 119 children ages 5-9 and 65 children ages 10-14 have received a dose. While the Omicron wave may have peaked at this point, public health experts are still concerned that more children are not being vaccinated, as they remain the largest part of the population that’s still vulnerable to the virus.