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COVID transmission rates remain high, but few are hospitalized

Clarke County has continued to record high rates of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with an average of 24.9 new daily cases over the past week, according to the Georgia Department of Health’s weekly update June 21. The seven-day running average has steadily increased over the past four weeks.

While DPH’s weekly data update gives the community a snapshot of trends on the ground, the increase in home antigen testing that is unreported to DPH and represented in the official data is likely to vastly undercount the high rate of new cases every day. Despite the drop in PCR tests officially reported to DPH, 23% of all tests have been positive in the past two weeks. Above 5% indicates a high penetration rate in the community.

Sewage data, which provides a more accurate, real-time picture of virus levels in the community, has shown a steady rise over the past month. However, the June 17 lab update gave a glimmer of hope that the number of new cases might be leveling off. According to the laboratory report from the UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 levels “remain high (68th percentile) but have leveled off after several weeks of sustained increases.”

While it’s unclear whether this trend will continue, large crowds at this weekend’s Athfest could influence this potential trend. If you want to catch some music this weekend, check out this overview of the pandemic here, with a guide to data sources that can help you with your personal risk assessment.

On the bright side, while the seven-day moving average has continued to climb, this surge has not resulted in high numbers of hospitalizations or deaths so far. Two Clarke County residents have died from COVID-19 in the last month, according to DPH data. To date, the virus has killed at least 224 residents. An average of 23 Athenians have been hospitalized for COVID-19 each week for the past three weeks. So far, 2,289 residents have been hospitalized for the virus.

Looking at regional trends, the Georgia Medical Facility’s patient census for Region E, which includes Athens and surrounding counties, showed a fairly substantial increase in patients hospitalized for COVID-19 over the past week. As of June 22, 30 patients, or 4.8% of all patients in the region, had been hospitalized for the virus. In the previous week, only 12 patients, or 2% of all patients, had been hospitalized for the virus in the region. However, ICU bed space remains stable at 82% capacity, with 69 patients occupying beds.

Vaccinations and booster doses continue to be given every week, but Clarke County’s immunization coverage 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%, have been fully vaccinated. To date, 33,073 additional booster doses have been administered to residents.

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for ages 6 months to 5 years, a positive note for many parents. Vaccinations for this age group have only just begun and have yet to see the initial response to approval that other age groups have seen before. As of June 21, only four children aged 6 months to 4 years have been vaccinated. 1,711 children aged 5 to 9 years, 2,901 children aged 10 to 14 years and 3,870 children aged 15 to 19 years received at least one dose of vaccine.

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