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Cases fluctuating, vaccine scarce

Health officials warn it’s still too early to tell if the area is on the verge of another large COVID-19 surge after cases declined for a period of days last week.

H. Robert Nash

Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said Wednesday, Jan. 27, cases in the health district were seemingly on a downward trend following a record-breaking peak seen Jan. 17.

“Up through yesterday, I would have actually said we’re demonstrating a nice downward trend,” Nash said.

But charts did not trend downward for long. Between Monday and Tuesday, many local counties saw large jumps in their number of coronavirus cases, a pattern also reflected statewide.

On Wednesday, Nash said Prince Edward alone had seen 35 new cases just in the last 24 hours, although that data was auto-populated and had yet to be verified by area contact tracers.

Nash said it’s too early to say whether the recent spike could be the beginnings of a new surge or just a blip on the radar, adding that the commonwealth and health district seem to be in a fluctuating zone.

He added the area would need to see consistent lower numbers for a week to 14 days in order for a trend to be established.

“I do think it’s too early to say, honestly,” he said.

Locally, numbers did rise quite dramatically from Wednesday, Jan. 20, to Wednesday, Jan. 27. Prince Edward, according to data obtained from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), increased by 140 cases over the week for a cumulative total of 1,611 coronavirus cases.

Buckingham County was up 159 cases this week for a cumulative total of 1,819. Nash said Wednesday a portion of Buckingham’s cases could be attributed to a local correctional center outbreak.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was reporting 11 active inmate cases of COVID-19 at Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC) on Wednesday as well as 11 active staff cases. Dillwyn Correctional Center (DCC) was listed as having 60 active cases among offenders with one offender hospitalized and 15 cases among staff.

Cumberland rose 33 cases this week for a total of 311. Charlotte was up 69 cases for a total of 601.

Lunenburg increased 44 cases for a cumulative total of 556. Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC) had eight actively-positive offenders and one staff member.

Longwood University in Farmville was reporting 64 active COVID-19 cases among students, faculty and staff Wednesday, Jan. 27. Hampden-Sydney College was listed on its COVID-19 dashboard as having 21 cases of the virus among its campus community with 47 individuals quarantining.

On Wednesday, Nash reiterated a statement heard around the commonwealth that the area’s greatest obstacle in the fight to get vaccines in arms is not the amount of vaccinators accessible but now the supply of vaccines available.

Nash said the health district is laser focused in finishing vaccination for Phase 1b candidates, primarily public school teachers and staff and at-risk populations of adults age 75 and over.

Longwood University announced this week it would partner with the health department to administer vaccines to Prince Edward County Public Schools teachers and staff starting Thursday, Jan. 28.

Nash said the health department now has 27 partnership locations throughout the district which can assist in vaccination, 10 of which are in Prince Edward.

He added the department is directing smaller pharmacies and family practices to concentrate on the population of adults age 75 or older.

Nash said as the state has been allotting vaccination shipments based off of population, the health department is currently receiving only 1,200 doses a week.

“We could do three times that now, but Virginia has overall been allocated between 101,000 and 110,000 units a week,” he stated.

He added the Piedmont Health District and Centra Health are now confirmed partners in the vaccination effort, as the health department will be distributing portions of future vaccine allotments to Centra partners throughout the district in order to aid in immunization efforts.

When asked about scheduling a vaccine, Nash acknowledged those looking to obtain their vaccine by calling the health department in the near future will likely have their name, age and number taken down by a receptionist who will add them to a list of recipients, although callers may not receive an appointment date beyond two weeks out.

If vaccination spots are booked out up to two weeks in the future, calls will be answered in the order they are received, with precedence given to those over 75.

“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to call you back with an appointment date within two or three weeks,” Nash said.

With vaccine distribution being such a big setback, Nash warned scheduling will depend on call volume, adding that some office locations are booked through February or further.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Governor Ralph Northam said the state was working on establishing one number and a call center for residents to call to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. The number is expected to be available in the next few days.

Nash estimated it may take the district until June to vaccinate all residents in the 1b vaccination category, which some officials have estimated includes 70% of the state’s population.

The district intends to use every last shot available. While shipments typically come in the first or second day of the week, Nash said he intends to run out of doses every Thursday or Friday.

Nash said he is hopeful about other COVID-19 vaccines nearing emergency use authorization, particularly the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is extremely stable and does not require any form of refrigeration for storage.

“You can ship it (through) UPS. Really,” he said.

Nash urged residents to be patient and continue safe practices while awaiting vaccination.

“I really have to stress again that just because we do have vaccine available, and I intend to exhaust the supplies every week, that’s not going to make people immune to this virus. That’s just the first dose. You get the second dose of the Moderna, which is all we’re using right now, four weeks later. And then you should have an acceptable degree of clinical immunity three weeks after your second dose.

“You need to keep wearing the mask. Not everybody’s going to get vaccinated at the same time, so you still need to keep wearing your mask, you still need to conscientiously maintain your social distancing. Keep doing all the same things we’ve been doing that have worked so well so far … You’re doing well. Don’t give up now.”