After reporting 55 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, Bulloch County saw cases dip over the weekend to 34, but local hospitalizations are nearing a pandemic high and for the first time in five months, Georgia Southern University is seeing an uptick in cases as students are set to return for the 2021 Fall Semester next week.
With Fall Semester classes beginning Aug. 11, Georgia Southern University recorded 30 new cases of COVID – five confirmed and 25 self-reported – for the week of July 26 to Aug. 1. It was the most new weekly cases at GS since 34 were reported for the week of Feb. 15-21 – five months ago.
During the university’s first summer session in June, the three Georgia Southern campuses went three consecutive weeks without any new cases and the 30 reported Monday was a significant increase over the 11 cases reported the previous week.
In his most recent message sent out to the university community on Friday, Dr. Brian DeLoach, the medical director for Student Health Services, pleaded with all students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated.
“I cannot over-stress the importance of getting vaccinated. I continue to remind everyone that the safest way to move forward is to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” he wrote. “While being vaccinated does not guarantee that you will never get COVID-19, the data has consistently shown the COVID-19 vaccines drastically reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the disease.”
The University System of Georgia is not requiring vaccines for students or employees and masks are only required to be worn in student health centers or riding university buses. Nonetheless, in his message, DeLoach wrote: “We are now encouraging everyone to wear a mask or face covering while inside campus facilities.”
Bulloch’s Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn reported 27 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at East Georgia Regional Medical Center on Monday, including five on ventilators.
Twice last December and twice in January there were 31 COVID patients hospitalized at East Georgia, which are the most at any one time at the hospital.
A little more than three weeks ago, only two COVID patients were hospitalized at EGRMC.
The state said in the past two weeks, infections have tripled and hospitalizations have increased by 50%.
The number of hospitalized patients statewide crossed 2,000 on Friday, the highest since late February, and stood at just over 2,400 on Monday. Intensive care unit occupancy has also been trending up and was 82.9% of capacity on Monday, according to state officials.
The 34 new cases reported for Saturday, Sunday and Monday pushed Bulloch’s total COVID cases since the pandemic began to 5,485.
While the new cases were a drop from the 55 local confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, which were the most since Jan. 22, 34 cases for a weekend compares to 39 cases recorded for the entire month of June in Bulloch.
Georgia recorded more than 2,500 new positive tests for the virus Friday and 4,387 confirmed cases over the weekend are part of a steady upward climb in cases since late June.
Across the nation, on Sunday, cases were rising in every state compared to the week prior, according to Johns Hopkins data. Cases were climbing by more than 10% in 48 states, 34 of which had cases climbing by more than 50%. Nationally, the seven-day moving average of new cases was 78,600 cases reported per day on Saturday, up from about 12,700 on July 1.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course last week and recommended that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges. It also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.
A top federal health official said that he understood frustration with new mask requirements, but hoped Americans recognize their responsibility for combating the coronavirus.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was in Georgia Monday and said: “I can’t tell you the depth of frustration that Americans are feeling who've done everything they can, they've done it right, to know that now we’ve got to go back to wearing masks," he said. “I don’t blame folks for asking why again on masks.”
But he added, "We have to hope that all Americans recognize it’s on us. We are responsible for not just our mothers and our families.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.