Virus concern mounts as winter arrives

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Health officials continue to stress the importance of vaccination and boosters as the entirety of the Piedmont Health District sees an upward trend in cases.

Both local and national health officials have expressed concern as the winter months approach, bringing with them the memory of last year’s huge winter wave of cases and the toll it took on local communities and health care systems.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) all counties in the Piedmont Health District are currently seeing an upward trend in COVID-19 cases.

From the period of Monday, Dec. 13, to Monday, Dec. 20, Prince Edward County saw 38 new cases of the virus. Buckingham was up by 39 cases, and Cumberland rose by 19 cases. Charlotte County saw 31 new COVID cases last week, and Lunenburg was up by 31 cases.

The counties of Prince Edward, Buckingham and Charlotte each saw one new COVID-related death in the last week.

State numbers continue to reflect dramatic increases in cases across Virginia. According to VDH, the commonwealth saw 2,991 new cases of the coronavirus on Dec. 20 alone, a large increase from the 1,668 cases observed one week prior. The state’s seven-day moving average also made a sizable jump from 2,520 on Dec. 13 to 3,286 cases as of Dec. 20.

As the number of Americans who have received their booster shot continues to climb, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made new recommendations this week regarding the clinical preference of mRNA vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.

This April, the CDC paused administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six of the vaccine’s 7 million recipients developed thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a rare blood clotting condition, mostly in adult women younger than 50.

According to a Dec. 16 release from VDH, more recent data shows the rate of TTS development in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is higher than previous estimates in both men and women and in a wider age range.

The CDC states there have been 54 cases of TTS between March 2 and Aug. 31, and as of Dec. 9, nine deaths have been associated with the blood clotting issue among the more than 17 million people who received the vaccine.

While the problem is still rare, officials now recommend the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson. However, those who still wish to receive J&J over the other two options can still do so.

Local rates of hospitalization continue to rise this week.

Centra Health was treating a total of 68 coronavirus patients between Lynchburg General and Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville as of Monday, Dec. 20, with 17 individuals now in the ICU, 10 of which were being vented as of Monday. Of the 68 patients, 11 were vaccinated, while the remaining 57 were unvaccinated. Of the 17 individuals in the ICU, three were vaccinated, while the remaining 14 were unvaccinated.

Local and national health officials continue to stress the importance of vaccination as the winter approaches, particularly in reference to the pressure which may be brought upon hospitals.

On Monday, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Maria Almond highlighted the omicron and delta variants of the virus are now in a complicated competition over dominance, a battle whose effects will be felt within the community in the next month.

“I remain hopeful that the most significant challenges will be short-lived, but there is a high potential for widespread infection in a short period of time,” Almond said. “Even if in the best case scenario, (that) there are only mild symptoms for most due to omicron, there will be enough who will have a more serious course to strain our health care system. Capacity in our hospitals is historically difficult during the winter months with flu. We will be adding an unknown layer of stress to that system.

“The unvaccinated remain at the greatest risk for severe disease,” Almond highlighted. “Right now, 50.32% of our district population is fully vaccinated. Only 41.4% of those over 65 years of age have received a booster. Protect our community and our ability to continue to be able to access health care when we need it. Now is the moment to get vaccinated and boosted. Give that gift of good health and protection.”

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients took a more blunt approach in expressing his thoughts on the matter during an opening statement of a Dec. 17 press briefing regarding the omicron variant.

“We are intent on not letting omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated,” Zients said. “You’ve done the right thing, and we will get through this. For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.”

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

Prince Edward: population fully vaccinated: 43.3%, population with booster shot: 15.8%

Buckingham: population fully vaccinated: 50.9%, population with booster shot: 15.7%

Cumberland: population fully vaccinated: 46.9%, population with booster shot: 14%

Charlotte: population fully vaccinated: 50.2%, population with booster shot: 16.2%

Lunenburg: population fully vaccinated: 50.5%, population with booster shot: 13.6%

Upcoming vaccination clinics listed below are open to the public. Walk-ins welcome.

All vaccinations will be available, whether initial series or boosters, for free, no insurance required.

Thursday, Dec. 23 at Farmers Market in Farmville 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 28 at Kenbridge EMS Building 8 a.m. -11 a.m.

Thursday, Dec. 30 at Farmers Market in Farmville 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 14 at Cumberland Community Cares/Delma’s Pantry 9 a.m. – noon

Free PCR Testing at:

PEFYA in Farmville from 1 – 4 p.m.

Monday, Dec. 20

Monday, Jan. 3

Tuesday, Jan. 18

Monday, Jan. 31

Monday, Feb. 14

Buckingham Community Center from noon – 3 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 10

Monday, Jan. 24

Monday, Feb. 7

Monday, Feb. 21

Libraries offering free, rapid antigen tests (need internet access):

Central Virginia Regional Libraries in Prince Edward and Buckingham counties

James L. Hamner Public Library in Amelia Court House

Soon to arrive at Nottoway County Library in Crewe