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UGA Reports Second Week of Declining COVID Cases

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The University of Georgia reported a sharp decline in positive COVID-19 tests on Wednesday for the second week in a row.

UGA reported 163 positive tests for the week of Sept. 14, down from a revised total of 446 the week of Sept. 7 and 1,500 the week of Aug. 31.

Of the 163, 70 were surveillance tests, 34 were from the University Health Center, and the rest were from other local clinics or self-reported through the DawgCheck app. Seven of the positive tests were employees, and the rest were students.

“Obviously, this downward trend is what you want to see,” Garth Russo, executive director of the University Health Center and chair of UGA’s Medical Oversight Task Force, said in a news release. “It demonstrates that the decrease we saw last week was not an anomaly: quite the contrary, even more individuals were tested, yet our numbers continued to decline. We must continue to work together to maintain this momentum and flatten the curve. Now is not the time to relax on best practices.”

However, the question still remains whether the dramatic drop means the spread of COVID-19 is slowing, or that students with mostly mild symptoms who are facing quarantine, criticism and potential sanctions against Greek organizations are simply choosing not to be tested or report the results. UGA did not say how many symptomatic individuals sought tests at the UHC.

On one hand, the positive rate for asymptomatic individuals fell to 3.5% last week, down from 7.6% the previous week and 9.1% the week before that. Almost 2,000 asymptomatic people were tested last week. UGA now has the capacity to test 500 people a day, but that is not nearly as many as other universities, such as Georgia Tech, where the positive rate is less than 1%.

Another encouraging sign: The number of new cases for Clarke County as a whole is dropping sharply as well, according to Georgia Department of Health statistics. The all-time high of 284 confirmed cases on Sept. 5 now looks like an anomaly. There were 14 confirmed new cases on Wednesday. The seven-day rolling average of cases has dropped from 140 to 28. Clarke County has had 593 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days—still high, but less than half of the peak a few weeks ago. While testing is down, the positive rate is down, too.

But there are troubling signs, as well. The UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases measures the amount of the virus in Athens’ wastewater as a way of tracking the illness. Usually, the results correlate with or even precede the trend in cases.

Last week, “the level SARS‑CoV‑2 continued to exceed 1 million copies of virus per liter of sewage,” researchers concluded. “While the 7-day running average of new cases has declined in Athens-Clarke County, there were no significant changes in the level of SARS‑CoV‑2 virus in wastewater, compared to those observed on September 9, 2020.

In addition, about 87% of the intensive care beds in Region E, which includes Athens, are in use.