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Cases up as vaccine offered to public

Just as COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opens up to all Virginians age 16 and older, the Piedmont Health District is experiencing a noticeable increase in coronavirus cases similar to the uptick being observed statewide.

Monday, April 19, Piedmont Health District Senior Epidemiologist Rhonda Pruitt noted case counts are up for each county within the health district.

Pruitt said reasons for the recent uptick in cases vary, including people not abiding by social distancing and mask recommendations, new variants of the virus in circulation, warm weather and people getting out and socializing more.

One of the most noticeable local jumps in cases over the last two weeks occurred in Prince Edward County. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), over the two-week period from April 5 to April 19 Prince Edward saw 63 new cases of the virus.

Buckingham County, as of April 19, was up 19 cases over the previous two weeks. Cumberland County had increased 21 cases. Charlotte County was up 23 cases, and Lunenburg County saw 14 new cases over the last two weeks.

The state has also seen a recent uptick in coronavirus cases. Monday, April 19, Virginia’s reported daily cases sat at 978. While the figure was a noticeable decrease from the 1,023 reported cases from April 5, earlier days in the week sported significantly higher numbers, leading to an overall increase in the state’s seven-day rolling average. On Monday, the rolling average was listed as 1,464. That is up from the 1,380 average of two weeks prior.

Locally, vaccine rates are slowly climbing.

On Monday, Prince Edward was listed by VDH as having 28.5% of its population at least partially-vaccinated. Buckingham County had put at least one shot in the arm of 34% of citizens as of Monday, and Cumberland County had partially vaccinated at least 30.6% of citizens.

In Charlotte County, 32.1% of the population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and in Lunenburg County, 32.8% of people are at least partially vaccinated.

Dr. Sulola Adekoya, acting director of the Piedmont Health District, said Monday that officials are aiming to see 75% of the community become immunized against COVID-19. An update in vaccine eligibility and a new website may help to get those numbers there.

Sunday, April 18, marked the day that all Virginians age 16 and up became eligible for the vaccine. It was only recently that Phase 1c personnel were eligible for the shot, and before that the state was vaccinating only 1a and 1b personnel for months.

Adekoya explained with the general public now eligible for the vaccine, a new website has just been launched, vaccinefinder.org, which residents can use to find a vaccine clinic near them using their zip code.

Adekoya said it is important to remember that young adults age 16-17 must get a Pfizer vaccine, as the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is only available to adults age 18 and up.

On Monday, Adekoya acknowledged the recent call to halt the distribution of the Johnson and Johnson one-shot COVID vaccine after six of the 7 million vaccine recipients were found to have developed a rare blood clotting disorder. Adekoya said the halt of the Johnson and Johnson shot did not have an impact on local clinics, as the health district was easily able to switch over to Moderna at sites which were prepared to utilize the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Adekoya added a community vaccination clinic was recently opened up in Nottoway County at the VNG Armory in Blackstone. She added the clinic, open to all, is now operating every week Monday-Thursday. The site is currently administering 100 shots per day with the goal of moving up to 250 shots per day. Registration is necessary in order to get an appointment.

A mass vaccination event was held Friday, April 16, in Buckingham County. According to Buckingham Department of Emergency Services Director Cody Davis, the county was able to administer 400 first-dose shots of the Moderna vaccine over the course of the day. Another clinic will be held May 14 to give those recipients their second doses.

Davis said the county was hoping to do even more doses on Friday, but added the demand did not meet the supply. Despite offering the vaccine to anyone over the age of 18 and welcoming walk-ins, only 400 individuals came out to receive a shot. He expressed hopefulness in a bigger turnout for future events.

Adekoya added Monday that the health district will continue to host mass vaccination events each Friday with the next large event scheduled for the upcoming week in Charlotte County. The event after that will occur in the Farmville area.

Additionally, Adekoya said the health district can expect to see more walk-ins offered at future vaccine clinics.

“Now’s your time to get vaccinated,” she said.