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National, state and local cases down

National, state and local COVID-19 numbers continue to decline in what health officials have described as an encouraging trend, but the continuation of that trend may be dependent on further vaccine emergency use authorization and the predicted increase of mutant virus strains in the commonwealth.

Most counties in the Piedmont Health District were still experiencing a consistent decline in cases Monday, Feb. 15, with the counties of Prince Edward, Buckingham, Cumberland and Charlotte all displaying an official case decline of greater than 20 consecutive days according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

Lunenburg County, which previously was also described as on a downtrend, experienced a small uptick in cases last week. The county is now defined by VDH as on a four-day decrease, which does not surpass the 14-day decline necessary to declare the county’s cases as officially decreasing.

“Lunenburg did have a little bit of blip last week,” Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said Monday. “Overall, they’ve been declining with everybody else,” he added. “Everybody’s going in the right direction right now.”

The continued downtrend for local counties is evident in the decline in weekly cases.

From last Monday, Feb. 8, to this Monday, Feb. 15, Prince Edward experienced 66 new coronavirus cases for a cumulative total of 1,906.

Buckingham rose 79 cases for a total of 2,012.

Cumberland County saw 19 new cases this week for a total of 362.

Charlotte County increased by 32 cases in the last seven days for a total of 712.

And Lunenburg County saw 23 new cases this week for a total of 611.

State numbers, according to Nash, are also down. On Monday Virginia was reporting 1,539 new daily coronavirus cases compared to the 1,700 reported seven days prior. The state’s seven-day moving average was also down to 2,959 cases compared to 3,312 last Monday.

“Our statewide numbers are down a lot as well as the percent testing positivity,” Nash said. “That’s down quite a bit. Very encouraging so far.”

The United States overall is on a similar trajectory, with the Associated Press reporting Sunday, Feb. 14, that the country was seeing national daily COVID-19 cases under 100,000 for the first time in months.

Nash attributed much of the decrease in cases to vaccination efforts, stating he was encouraged to see the vaccine’s effect on daily case rates so early on.

“I’m actually kind of surprised,” he said of the recent numbers. “ I didn’t really think that it would demonstrate this much of an effect, but it may be doing just that.”

Nash said other causes of the downtrend may include the winter weather, as many individuals are cooped up in their homes.

The percentage of inoculated health district residents continues to climb. As of Monday, 3,156 Prince Edward residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine with 455 citizens fully vaccinated. That’s 13.8% of the county at least partially-inoculated.

On Monday Buckingham was listed by VDH as having 2,043 residents, or 11.9% of the county, partially vaccinated, and 333 residents were listed as fully vaccinated.

Cumberland County has inoculated 6.6% of its residents with 657 individuals having received at least one dose of the vaccine. Approximately 115 Cumberland citizens have received both doses.

In Charlotte, 12.7% of people, or 1,515 citizens, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 288 residents have been fully vaccinated.

Lunenburg has at least partially vaccinated 1,299 of its residents, or roughly 10.6% of the population, and 182 Lunenburg County citizens have received both doses.

Nash said the health district is continuing to receive its allotment of 1,200 vaccine doses per week in addition to occasional second shipments of secondary doses. He added the amount of doses in those second shipments fluctuates based on the number of first doses administered three to four weeks prior.

Nash added he is anticipating emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to likely come within the next week. He said although reports claim the vaccine is only 85% effective, it is also much more shelf stable than its mRNA counterparts, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

He added the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also appears to be very, very effective against the UK strain of the virus that has popped up around the country and in Virginia, more so than Pfizer or Moderna.

In recent weeks, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci has said it is likely the mutant UK strain of the coronavirus will become the dominant strain in the United States.

Nash said it has been predicted that the UK variant, which appears to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain the U.S. has been battling, will likely be the dominant form of the virus in Virginia by the end of March.

And while the variant hasn’t yet been detected in the Piedmont Health district, samples are being submitted for total gene sequencing to search for the variant’s existence here. Results, he said, may take weeks.

He added while current downtrends are extremely encouraging, he is cautious to predict a continued downtrend, adding further case decline will likely be dependent on how quickly the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved and the progression of the UK variant.

Nash added the vaccination process is in many ways one of self-advocacy in that residents should be proactive in calling to schedule their own vaccinations rather than expecting a call from the health district.

He said the district is working to find ways of getting in touch with those who are not reaching out to the health department by partnering with local ministers and pastors to compile lists of those in their congregation who want to get the vaccine but don’t know where or how to get it.

Nash said he’s also asked local representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to take an active role in referring clients from the community, as African-Americans are known to be of higher risk to the coronavirus.

He said the Farmville Cares organization has also been extremely helpful in getting residents the necessary info regarding COVID-19 vaccination efforts.