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COVID deaths increasing locally

The Piedmont Health District finally appears to be following some statewide trends in lower COVID-19 cases this week, but deaths in the area continue to increase as national data suggests rural Americans are dying of the coronavirus at twice the rate of their urban counterparts.

Between Monday, Sept. 27, and Monday, Oct. 4, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported 81 new cases of the virus out of Prince Edward.

Prince Edward County was one of the only counties in the area to see an increase in its number of virus cases over the week. Buckingham saw 41 new cases of COVID from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, and Cumberland County saw 15 new cases. Both Charlotte and Lunenburg counties saw 24 new cases of COVID-19 over the last week.

State virus numbers continued to drop over the last week as officials hoped for. On Monday, Oct. 4, VDH reported 1,749 new coronavirus cases across Virginia, down from 1,997 one week earlier. The state’s seven-day moving average in cases was also down from 3,102 cases Sept. 27 to 2,748 cases Oct. 4.

But while state numbers continue to drop and local cases are slightly reduced, the rate of deaths reported in the health district continues to rise. Seven area counties saw COVID-related deaths over the last week, with three deaths reported out of Prince Edward, one death in Buckingham, two deaths in Charlotte and one death in Lunenburg.

A data brief recently published by the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis found that rural Americans, like those living in the Piedmont Health District, are now dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of those living in urban areas.

The study, which obtained data from the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Data Repository, noted that while COVID-19 initially primarily impacted metropolitan communities, as of Sept. 15, twice as many rural Americans are dying of the coronavirus compared to those living in urban areas. Cumulative cases of COVID-19 and cumulative deaths of COVID-19 in rural Americans have also now surpassed metropolitan citizens.

Centra Health has also seen a significant increase in its COVID-related fatalities this month. Although the hospital reported a decrease in its number of COVID patients this week, the hospital continues to see a high number of critically ill patients which is requiring the full use of both the hospital’s VAU as well as surgical trauma ICU. This is challenging the hospital’s capacity to take care of general ICU-level patients.

As of Monday, Oct. 4, Centra was seeing lowered numbers of COVID patients compared to recent weeks with a total of 85 COVID-19 patients across the system, 75 of which were at Lynchburg General and 10 of which were at Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville. Of those 85 patients, 15 were in the ICU, 11 of which were being vented. Sixteen of the 85 patients were fully vaccinated while 69 were unvaccinated.

Vaccination rates continue to slowly increase across Piedmont.

The percentage of fully vaccinated people in each county of the health district, as of Monday, was as follows:

Prince Edward: 39.5%

Buckingham: 46.1%

Cumberland: 42.5%

Charlotte: 45.4%

Lunenburg: 45.9%

As of Monday, Oct. 4, Longwood University in Farmville was reporting two active COVID-19 cases among students and teachers with a total of 78 cumulative cases since Aug. 15. Hampden-Sydney College was reporting three active cases of the virus Monday with one individual quarantining. The college has experienced six total student cases and two employee cases this semester.

On Monday, Acting Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Sulola Adekoya highlighted the health district will be hosting a vaccination clinic Friday, Oct. 8, offering both third-dose vaccines for the immunocompromised and booster doses for those who have received the Pfizer vaccine. The clinic will be at the Blackstone Volunteer Free Department located at 318 Church St. in Blackstone.

“We are encouraging vaccination for those who have not received any vaccine,” Adekoya added. “The vaccine is our tool to get us out of this pandemic.”