COVID-19 infections leap once more at College of Georgia

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COVID-19 infections leap again at University of Georgia

University of Georgia students move to Brumby Hall a week before the fall semester begins during the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, August 14, 2020. (Joshua L. Jones / Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Coronavirus infections continue to spread at the University of Georgia. The school reported more than 1,400 new cases of COVID-19 in the past week.

The numbers, which were reported on Wednesday, bring the 39,000-student university to nearly 2,600 infections in the past four weeks, according to the school. Although Georgia College & State University has still seen a greater rate of infections in its campus community since Aug. 1, the UGA outbreak is now the fastest growing among universities in the state that publicly report numbers.

The increase is clearly reflected in the numbers for the broader Athens-Clarke County community. Clarke County ranks 23rd among the US states for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to The Associated Press, although the university says some tests may have been from students and staff elsewhere.

And a rising positivity rate suggests that the situation could get worse. 8% of the surveillance tests that were done to keep an eye on the spread of the virus came back positive last week, compared to 5% the week before.

The growing outbreak at the university is due to the fact that the number of cases continues to decline across Georgia. The state is currently recording around 1,800 newly confirmed infections daily, more than half of its high from late July. That's still above the national average for new infections per person, but Georgia fell from worst to 11th for new infections on Tuesday. More than 285,000 infections have been confirmed and at least 6,070 people in Georgia have died from the virus.

COVID-19 infections are kicking off again at the University of Georgia
Students walk to the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, August 20, 2020 (Joshua L. Jones / Banner-Herald of Athens via AP).

The university announced Tuesday that it was increasing the number of surveillance tests available daily from 360 to 450 and inviting randomized groups of students for one test, starting with campus residents.

Georgia College & State University still has the highest rate of campus infections with 645 positive tests since Aug. 1, but new cases have slowed there. At Georgia Southern University, which has reported 942 infections in the past few weeks, cases are still growing rapidly. Georgia Tech, which has reported 717 cases since early August, is urging students who share dorms to move into singles.

Dr. Garth Russo, executive director of the UGA's university health center, suggested in a press release that since only one faculty member tested positive last week, the virus suggests the virus is spreading elsewhere than in the classrooms.

  • COVID-19 infections are on the rise again at the University of Georgia
    Signs mark the entrance to the University of Georgia COVID-19 testing site in Athens, Ga. (Joshua L. Jones / Banner-Herald of Athens via AP) on Thursday, September 3, 2020
  • COVID-19 infections are kicking off again at the University of Georgia
    Signs mark the entrance to the University of Georgia COVID-19 testing site in Athens, Ga. (Joshua L. Jones / Banner-Herald of Athens via AP) on Thursday, September 3, 2020

However, not all faculty members feel reassured. More than 350 faculty members across the state recently signed a petition from the State Chapter of the American Association of University Professors urging the system or individual institutions to switch to online teaching. The Board of Regents has a mandate that every university must have at least some personal classes, with dormitories and restaurants open in all schools.

President Jere Morehead called the trend "worrying" after calling it "concerning" last week. He again told the students that it was their responsibility to follow the health rules.

"Each of us must make informed decisions in the days and weeks ahead so that we can change the path, as we have seen other government institutions," Morehead said in a statement.

But the student newspaper The Red & Black published last week that "the blame shouldn't be entirely on the students."

"The Georgia university system decided to teach in person this fall, despite the obvious risk to residents of Athens-Clarke County," the newspaper wrote. "Even if the administrators of the UGA are bound by the guidelines of the USG Board of Regents, they have not created a sufficiently strong plan to ensure the safety of students and Athenians."

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