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UGA reports 'significant' rise in COVID-19 cases after first full week of fall semester

By Joe Johnson

Reports of positive cases of COVID-19 rose significantly following the first full week of classes at the University of Georgia. According to data released by UGA Wednesday morning, a total of 821 positive tests were reported through the University’s DawgCheck reporting system for the period of Aug. 24-30. Of those, 798 were students, 19 were staff, and four were faculty. 

The university reports test results on a weekly basis each Wednesday on the University Health Center website: The DawgCheck data consists of tests from four sources: tests conducted through UGA’s surveillance testing program; tests conducted at the University Health Center; reports from Athens-area medical providers; and reports of positive tests from other sources.

Nearly half of the positive tests reported through DawgCheck for the period of August 24-30 were from the Other category (412). Many of these positive tests are reported to be from urgent care clinics and testing centers at a wide variety of locations in and out of the state of Georgia. The university has no way to validate the majority of these reports or the quality of those unknown testing sites but is reporting them as submitted. UGA said in a prepared release.

However, UGA said that it can verify the tests that it conducts. The university has established a surveillance testing site in the center of campus, where up to 400 asymptomatic students, faculty and staff can be tested daily at no cost to the individuals. Of 1,810 nasopharyngeal swabs collected during the time period, a total of 97 were positive. Of these, 95 were students, one was a faculty member, and one was a staff member.

Tests of students with symptoms are also conducted at no cost to students at the University Health Center. A total of 186 cases of COVID-19 were reported during this period through testing at the UHC.

Another 126 positive tests were reported from tests run at Athens-area medical providers.

The UGA community consists of nearly 50,000 students, faculty and staff. 

Upon learning of the growing number of positive student cases, university President Jere Morehead issued a statement to students via UGA’s Twitter account: “The rise in positive tests last week is concerning. It is critically important that all of our students continue to make every effort to prioritize their health and safety by taking the proper steps to avoid exposure to this virus. I urge you: continue to wear your masks, maintain your distance from others, make wise decisions, and stay away from social venues where appropriate distancing is impossible to maintain. Resist the temptation to organize or attend a large social gathering. And, for those of you heading out of town over the Labor Day weekend, be very careful and think about the health of everyone around you. All of us must take our responsibilities very seriously as we seek to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Victor Wilson added:

“Each of us has to do our part in exhibiting good practices and behaviors and speaking up to others who aren’t. Thank you to students who have embraced the guidelines for good health and safety practices. If you are not doing so, I urge you to join your peers for the overall health and safety of our campus and surrounding community. Keep exhibiting good mask wearing and physical distancing practices on and off campus. We are in this together.”

The university's COVID-19 report appears to confirm the fears of a purported UGA fraternity member who on Monday anonymously posted on Reddit about the lack of safety precautions by students that he has witnessed:

"Not much has gotten out about how fraternities and sororities are handling the virus on campus. I’m a member of one of the biggest chapters on campus and have friends telling me about the situations in other houses as well. The coronavirus situation has been handled worse than poorly. What I see around me is a blatant disregard for health, pure ignorance on the subject, and an extreme lack of maturity.

"The current method of handling the situation is to not get tested. Apparently, if you don’t get tested, you can’t have COVID-19, and then the numbers won’t be reported to the school and/or the media to give our chapter a bad name or get us sent home. All we seem to be worried about is how the media sees us. No one takes this virus seriously as they know it won’t have any harsh effects on them personally, never considering who they might be transferring the virus to.

"In my house, basically everyone has it. Either you have it right now, have had it in the past, or are going above and beyond to somehow avoid it. But even once you have it, nothing changes. They keep going to class, keep going downtown, and keep spending time in common areas. From talking with friends in other fraternities and sororities, the same holds true across all chapters - everyone has it and does little to prevent spreading it.

"If UGA knew how bad the COVID-19 situation was right now, we would certainly be sent home. Unfortunately, this thing will or perhaps already has blown up, but the numbers reported will continue to be inaccurate. And it’s not entirely UGA’s fault. No one is getting tested unless they have to. Mandatory testing seems to be the only way we get sent home at the right time. With the current testing practices, the outbreak will be extremely rampant before we get sent home.

"I tell this anonymously so people will know this situation is way worse than what is being reported."

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