COVID-19 cases rising exponentially in Athens, masks now required

COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially in Athens-Clarke County, threatening to overwhelm our healthcare system. This will cause an extremely dangerous situation for the elderly, the immunocompromised and anyone with risk factors such as obesity or heart disease.

Taking action to fight coronavirus

Realizing the danger, authorities are beginning to take action. The University System of Georgia will now require masks on campuses starting July 15. Just last night, the ACC Commission passed an ordinance requiring masks in the rest of the city, joining Atlanta, Savannah and East Point. They did so even though it’s apparently in violation of an executive order given by Governor Brian Kemp. 

While Kemp still rejects a statewide mask requirement, he’s been promoting masks recently and seems unlikely to enforce his executive order against cities who choose to defy it.

Athens’ risk went from “good” to “critical” in under four weeks

The Georgia Department of Public Health has been tracking COVID-19 in Georgia since the epidemic began. They’re now reporting that Athens has 775 cases as of July 7, up 35 percent since the beginning of the month. If that trend continues, Athens would record 1,907 cases by July 28. 

COVID-19 cases growing exponentially in Athens
Source: Georgia Department of Public Health
Includes extrapolation out to July 28 at +35% per week.

At that point, a complete economic shutdown would be essential to prevent the virus from spreading any further.

An organization called COVID Act Now, which is a, “multidisciplinary team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts, and public policy leaders” according to their website, has also been tracking COVID-19 spread. They break down the data by county into four risk levels:

  • Good: cases are steady
  • Medium: cases are growing
  • High: cases are growing rapidly
  • Critical: cases are growing exponentially

These categories are based on infection rate, a measurement of the average number of people each person who gets COVID 19 will infect themselves.

As recently as June 11, ACC had an infection rate of 0.88, which was considered “good”. On June 12, our risk level changed to “medium” as our infection rate increased to 0.92. On June 17, our risk level was changed again, this time to “high” with an infection rate of 1.14. On June 26, COVID Act Now reported that they consider our threat level to be the highest possible, or “critical,” with an infection rate of 1.41.

Our case numbers are increasing exponentially. If these trends continue it will put our hospital system, including potentially hundreds of lives, at risk.

It’s easy to see this exponential growth when you look at the 7-day rolling average of new cases provided by the Georgia Department of Public Health. On June 16, the 7-day rolling average for new cases was 4. Exactly one week later on June 23, it was 8. On June 30 it had more than doubled again and was 18. By July 6 it had doubled yet again to 36.

COVID-19 cases in Athens by day
Source: Georgia Department of Public Health

What do we do now?

COVID Act Now believes that “aggressive action is urgently needed” in Athens-Clarke County. Our local situation is complicated by a lack of leadership at the federal level, and state executive orders that limit a local government’s ability to implement stricter measures, such as re-implementing a shelter-in-place ordinance.

So, what we’re left with is this critical data, the CDC guidelines, guidance from local officials and our own common sense. In other words, stay at home as much as possible, avoid indoor gatherings, wear a mask when you can’t maintain social distancing of 6-10 feet and wash your hands frequently.

If you feel you’re in good enough health to survive COVID-19, take these precautions for someone who isn’t.

Data tables for this article

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