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COVID cases surge throughout health district

With the delta variant of COVID-19 now the dominant variant in the area, coronavirus cases are soaring in the health district as most of the commonwealth sees a large virus surge.

Many of the counties in the Piedmont Health District saw their new weekly case numbers double or even triple this week.

Between Monday, Aug. 9, and Monday, Aug. 16, Prince Edward County jumped 32 COVID cases compared to 12 new cases the week prior. Buckingham rose 18 cases compared to a 15-case increase the previous week.

Cumberland County increased by 16 cases in the last week compared to just four new cases across the week prior. Charlotte County saw a massive increase of 20 new cases this week compared to four cases last week, and Lunenburg County rose 13 cases compared to 11 the previous week.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the area saw at least three new coronavirus-related deaths this week including one death in Buckingham and two others out of Lunenburg.

Virginia’s daily coronavirus cases also continue to surge. The state saw 1,712 new coronavirus cases on Monday alone, up from 1,298 cases reported last Monday, Aug. 9. Virginia’s seven-day moving average of cases sat at 2,058 on Monday. That’s up from 1,626 one week earlier.

On Aug. 16, Acting Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Sulola Adekoya noted the health district is concerned about this recent surge in cases, adding the department is beefing up staffing in terms of contact tracers and investigators in order to properly track the virus and educate people to get tested and to isolate or quarantine when necessary. The health district continues to make public educational efforts regarding the continued need for masking as case numbers rise back up.

Adekoya noted most of the area’s virus activity appears to be from community spread rather than congregate living facilities.

Following Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Aug. 12 announcement of a Public Health Emergency Order requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools, the masking of students has been a controversial topic in districts across Virginia and the U.S.

Adekoya said it’s important to remember the coronavirus is known to spread through respiratory droplets, adding universal masking in schools dramatically reduces the chance of transmission by reducing the viral load a student or employee can emit.

In addition to reducing a person’s viral transmission to others, including for asymptomatic individuals, masking up also allows children the emotional and psychological benefits associated with in-person learning.

While a common concern of unvaccinated individuals is the lack of information available regarding possible long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccine years down the road, Adekoya noted it’s unlikely that side effects present themselves years later, as is the case with other vaccines.

“Their effect really is known within months of vaccine administration,” she noted.

Adekoya highlighted the health district continues to grow excited regarding the expected Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) full approval of the vaccine which is anticipated to occur some time in September.

Adekoya added the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new guidance on vaccination against COVID-19 for pregnant individuals.

The CDC is now urging pregnant people, people breastfeeding and people attempting to become pregnant to consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that immunosuppression during pregnancy leaves an individual at an increased risk of developing severe illness due to COVID-19. The CDC also states there is currently no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine nor any other vaccine can cause fertility issues in men and women.

In its new guidance, the CDC notes a report looking at people enrolled in the v-safe pregnancy registry who were vaccinated with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Of this group, data did not show an increased risk for miscarriage.

Adekoya said the health district continues to see an increased demand in COVID-19 vaccines from area providers administering the shot. Vaccination rates continue to inch forward in the health district.

As of Monday, Aug. 16, the percentage of fully vaccinated people in each county was as follows:

Prince Edward – 35.9%

Buckingham – 41.2%

Cumberland – 38.6%

Charlotte – 40.2%

Lunenburg – 41.5%

“The virus is smart. It’s mutated and has the ability to transmit easily and efficiently,” Adekoya emphasized. “The vaccine is our way out.”