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Mask mandates ease, area COVID cases fluctuate

COVID-19 cases are fluctuating locally as mask mandates are eased by Governor Ralph Northam across the state.

According to Rhonda Pruitt, senior epidemiologist for the Piedmont Health District, COVID-19 cases are down slightly in the Central Region of Virginia over the past week, but cases are slightly up in Piedmont.

Pruitt said Monday, May 3, the counties of Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland and Lunenburg all saw an uptick in cases in the last week, with only Nottoway and Prince Edward counties showing a slight decrease. Locally, cases have been fluctuating for weeks.

On Monday, May 3, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) was reporting 2,126 cumulative cases of the coronavirus in Prince Edward County since the start of the pandemic, up 19 cases from last Monday, April 26.

Buckingham County increased 15 cases over the last week for a cumulative total of 2,119 cases of the virus. Cumberland County was up eight cases for a total of 473.

In Charlotte County, coronavirus cases increased by 13 this week for a total of 844 since the beginning of the pandemic. Lunenburg County saw 16 new cases of the virus in the last week for a total of 761.

From a statewide perspective, cases are on the decline. On Monday, VDH was reporting 611 daily cases of the virus across the commonwealth. That is down from 719 cases one week prior. The state’s seven-day moving average of cases was also down this week from 1,117 to 999.

Pruitt added the Central Region has seen its largest recent increase in cases in the 6- to 10-year-old age group.

Reports have indicated there are now more than 100 million people fully vaccinated against the virus in the U.S., and vaccine numbers continue to rise in the Piedmont Health District.

The percentage of people who are at least partially-vaccinated against COVID-19 in each county is as follows:

Prince Edward – 31.3%

Buckingham – 36.7%

Cumberland – 33.7%

Charlotte – 35.3%

Lunenburg – 35.6%

With the increase in vaccination rates among Virginians comes an easing of face mask mandates. Thursday, April 29, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended Executive Order 72 to adopt new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on mask use in outdoor settings. Guidelines now state that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear face masks outdoors when alone or in small gatherings.

On Monday, acting Piedmont Health District director Dr. Sulola Adekoya confirmed residents who are considered fully vaccinated (at least two weeks past their last dose) can safely gather in a small group outside, such as for backyard BBQs and picnics.

“I think it’s nice to see that light at the end of the tunnel,” Adekoya said.

Adekoya noted Monday the area is now in a position in which vaccines are plentiful and supply outweighs demand. She highlighted the district has doses available for anyone who wants to get vaccinated, adding recent changes in guidelines and ample vaccine supply mean even those who contracted COVID-19 and were waiting the previously recommended 90 days to receive a shot can schedule a vaccine now if they have fully recovered and are past their isolation period.

Adekoya added the CDC community vaccine site in Nottoway is operating under extended hours this week to accommodate those who work during the day. The clinic is open Monday and Tuesday this week from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is offering extended hours Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.

She also noted the district will be hosting its next Friday mass vaccine clinic in Prince Edward this Friday, May 7, with the next two clinics scheduled for Buckingham and Charlotte counties. On May 19, another Pfizer clinic will be hosted in Farmville, the next chance for 16- and 17-year-olds to get their shot. Friday clinics, Adekoya noted, are open for all.