New variant sparks concern

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Local health officials are imploring residents to improve the community’s defensive line against the coronavirus following the discovery of a new, rapidly-growing variant of the virus that has already been spotted in North America.

While the commonwealth as a whole has seen cases fluctuate in recent weeks, the Piedmont Health District has remained fairly low in terms of new cases over the last seven days.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Prince Edward County saw nine new cases from the period of Nov. 22 to Nov. 29. Buckingham saw five new cases, and Cumberland county was up four cases. Charlotte saw a sizable increase at 18 new cases over the last week, while Lunenburg County was up six cases.

Buckingham County recorded one new COVID-related death over the last week.

Most of the counties in the area have been trending downward in cases for some time with the exception of Cumberland, which has been trending upward for 17 days, and Charlotte, which is currently considered fluctuating in cases.

The commonwealth reported 1,433 new cases of the virus Monday, Nov. 29, up significantly from 1,097 cases the week prior, but Virginia’s seven-day moving average was actually down on Monday from 1,644 cases Nov. 22 to 1,377 cases Nov. 29.

Centra Health was reporting a total of 31 COVID-19 patients at its Lynchburg General hospital and Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville on Monday, Nov. 29, with 10 of those patients in the ICU. Five of Centra’s ICU patients were being vented on Monday. Of the 31 total patients, six were fully vaccinated and 25 were unvaccinated.

While local case numbers are looking good, officials are quickly growing concerned over a new coronavirus variant. On Friday, Nov. 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the new B.1.1.529 variant of the virus, known as the “omicron variant,” as a variant of concern.

According to WHO, the omicron variant was first reported out of South Africa on Nov. 24 after local infections began increasingly steeply.

Officials reported the variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning, including preliminary evidence of an increased risk of infection and a possible growth advantage.

While much is still unknown about this new variant, its arrival has sparked a number of travel restrictions, and omicron has since been spotted in several different countries, including Canada.

Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Maria Almond spoke Monday, Nov. 29, on how the local community can play a part in the defense against this mysterious new variant.

“With the identification of a new COVID-19 variant, omicron, that has multiple concerning mutations, we have to, as a community, continue our vigilance,” Almond said. “Right now, the world’s scientists are working on further understanding the threat the variant omicron may pose. But right here in the heart of Virginia, we can also do our part.”

Almond said while case numbers have decreased across the district, residents are still susceptible to any significant threats because of limited community immunity.

“We have to improve our defensive line,” she highlighted. “Currently, 49.6% of those older than 5 years old have been fully vaccinated. There may be an additional percentage that has already been infected with previous COVID variants, but alone, we know that is not enough.”

Almond stressed anyone 5 years old and up can obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, and all persons ages 18 and older are eligible for a booster shot of any U.S. vaccine.

“Vaccines and boosters are our most effective lines of defense against variants and the future development of variants,” Almond said. “Boosters provide a known bump to our antibodies — which are one line of defense — but the additional shot may also help a maturing immune system better remember the enemy and improve the body’s tools in the fight against COVID.

“Give the gift of protection this holiday season. Support our front line, support our teachers, support our healthcare system. Protect your family. Get vaccinated.”

Vaccination rates in each county of the health district, as of Monday, were as follows:

Prince Edward: population fully vaccinated: 42%, population with booster shot: 11.1%

Buckingham: population fully vaccinated: 49.6%, population with booster shot: 10%

Cumberland: population fully vaccinated: 45%, population with booster shot: 9.3%

Charlotte: population fully vaccinated: 48.7%, population with booster shot: 11%

Lunenburg: population fully vaccinated: 49.2%, population with booster shot: 8.8%

Below is a list of testing and vaccination opportunities in the coming weeks. All vaccination events are free and open to walk-ins.

 

  • 1 – Crewe Fire Dept., 10 a.m. – 1p.m. by Spencers Drugstore. Walk-ins only.
  • 3 – Hampden-Sydney Field House, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. by Charlotte Drug. Walk-ins only.
  • 6 – Buckingham Community Center, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. by Cumberland Pharmacy.
  • 8 – Mobile unit at Moton Museum in Farmville, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
  • 13 – Nottoway Community Vax Clinic at Blackstone Fire Dept., 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Register at vase.vdh.virginia.gov.
  • 13 – Prince Edward County Schools Feedmore Market at Firemen’s Sports Arena, 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. by Farmville Family Pharmacy
  • 15 – Mobile unit at Journey Community Center in Jetersville, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.