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Moderna OK’d, cases grow locally

With the newly approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine making its way to Virginia this week, local health officials are anxious about how the Christmas holiday could impact the spread of the virus.

Local counties are seeing upticks in their coronavirus numbers this week, with several ongoing outbreaks in local prison systems.

Buckingham County, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), increased 76 cases between Monday, Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, for a total of 1,236 cumulative cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Monday, Dec. 21, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was reporting 66 active cases in the offender population at Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC), with one inmate hospitalized due to the virus. The number of infected inmates is down from 81 last week.

The number of staff actively diagnosed with COVID-19 at BKCC has continued to increase, reaching 10 cases as of Monday after having only four infected staff members the previous week.

In a Dec. 21 interview, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash acknowledged the health district was battling large outbreaks in a number of local prisons.

“Their facilities are just really contributing a whole lot to our daily numbers of cases,” Nash said.

On Monday, VDOC Deputy Director of Communications Gregory Carter said BKCC was not experiencing any sort of staff shortage due to the outbreak, adding that all posts have been filled on each shift.

Dillwyn Correctional Center (DCC), also located in Buckingham, was reporting one active offender case Monday and no active staff cases.

Lunenburg County, which increased 16 cases this week for a cumulative total of 229, is also seeing a large outbreak coming out of its local prison, Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC). LCC was reporting 32 active offender cases and two active staff cases as of Monday morning.

Nash said the health district detected the beginnings of an outbreak at the center approximately three weeks ago.

Carter said all inmates in one dormitory at LCC were tested for COVID-19 after several residents
of that dorm reported symptoms and tested positive.

“All positive cases are currently being cohorted in a dormitory designated as a Red Zone,” he added.

Prince Edward saw a noticeable rise in cases this week, with the county’s new rolling average sitting around seven to eight cases per day averaged out over the last week. The county rose 55 cases this past week for a cumulative total of 992.

“We’ve got probably a 50-60% increase in cases per day in Prince Edward,” Nash said.

He added he believes the county’s latest cases, most of which appear to be community spread, are a secondary wave leftover from Thanksgiving.

Charlotte County increased 25 cases this week according to VDH for a cumulative total of 334 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

“They’re actually looking better than I had expected, to be honest with you,” Nash said in reference to Charlotte County. “ It looks like they’re right between two and three new cases a day, which is not bad. They are on that increasing slope, however.”

Cumberland County has continually shown some of the smallest daily increases in COVID-19 cases of any locality in the commonwealth. On Monday, VDH was reporting 13 new cases out of Cumberland in the last week for a cumulative total of 187 cases.

Nash said this figure appeared to be a pocket of related cases, describing the increase as a hotspot more than an outbreak phenomenon.

Americans received more welcome good news about vaccines this

week when the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was approved for distribution.

Monday morning, Nash said he was pleased to hear Moderna’s vaccine would likely become available in the next two days or so, adding this was especially good news due to the fact

that the vaccine can
be stored fairly easily
at minus 20 degrees Celsius rather than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that must be stored at an ultra-cold minus 70 degrees.

“That’s going to be a real impact in this battle,” he said.

Nash said he had been made aware the state was expecting 117,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to be distributed across Virginia

this week. He added he expects even greater numbers of doses to follow the next week.

Nash explained what the addition of the M0derna vaccine may mean for the fight against the pandemic.

“I think what you’re going to see is there’s going to be a lot more vaccine more conveniently and more readily available to the vaccinator communities, both the hospital centers, the pharmacies, you know, CVS and Walgreens, and the health departments, to concentrate on those identified populations in Phase 1A, those populations being our front line health care workers and the residents at assisted living and long-term care facilities.”

Nash added he expects those groups in Phase 1A of the vaccination plan will likely be fairly well covered by the second week of January, at which point the state will move onto Phase 1B, which prioritizes vaccination of other critical infrastructure personnel such as EMTs, teachers and law enforcement officials who deal with the public every day.

“I’m not opposed to thinking about grocery store workers in that group also, large retail employees that have a

lot of contact with the public on a daily basis,” he said.

Locally, Nash said he believes long-term care facilities this week are
in initial steps to work with pharmacies to set up schedules for vaccination events, which may start as early as the end of the week.

With good news comes concern about possible large waves of infection in the weeks that follow the Christmas holiday. Health officials have been largely anxious over COVID-19 spread anticipated as a result of holiday gatherings.

“I shudder to think what this holiday season is going to bring, because it took us really two weeks to see the fallout from the Thanksgiving holiday, and these two are going to be back- to-back holidays right around weekends, so those gatherings and even small family celebrations are going to go on for a number of days, and I’m really afraid
that this is going to be a

really significant spike in cases,” he said.

Nash commented that projections from university centers are predicting horrible surges of COVID-19 between the

end of January and the end of February.

“I hope it doesn’t happen,” he said. “The models have been wrong before, but the only thing that’s going to impact

those predictions is going to be everybody’s collective, individual responsibility. We can’t afford to make bad decisions now, because we’re so close.”