COVID-19 cases spike in Prince Edward County, across the region

Published 1:43 am Friday, September 8, 2023

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The numbers are going back up. Over the last month, COVID-19 cases have climbed in Prince Edward County and in the region. The way the numbers are reported, however, can be more than confusing. 

For example, the Centers for Disease Control reported 102 residents admitted to a hospital in this region with COVID-19 over the last week. If you click on their county by county data, it attributes that number to Prince Edward County. That’s not exactly accurate. In fact, that 102 includes cases in Charlotte, Cumberland, Amelia, Nottoway and even the city of Richmond.

To be clear, the Piedmont Health District reports 12 cases hospitalized in this area since early August (once you take Richmond out of the equation), with three over the last week. Still a spike from previous low single digits, not but nearly as big as the CDC numbers would appear. And a slight spike was expected, health officials say.

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“Over the past few years, we have seen spikes during times of travel, including summers and holidays,” said Caesar Gonzalez. He works as Centra Health’s Chief Medical Officer. “The increase in travel combined with the newer variant is likely the cause of this most recent spike.” 

He’s talking about “Pirola”, the nickname for BA.2.86, the latest COVID-19 variant to pop up. Health officials say it’s too early to say if this version is more transmissible than the other strains, but they do raise one concern. The “Pirola” variant has more than 30 mutations to its spike protein. The spike protein, by the way, is how this enters human cells. 

“Such a high number of mutations is notable,” said Yale Medicine Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Scott Roberts, adding that it is similar to the number of mutations that differed between Delta, one of the early strains of the coronavirus, and Omicron.

“When Omicron hit in the winter of 2021, there was a huge rise in COVID-19 cases because it was so different from the Delta variant, and it evaded immunity from both natural infection and vaccination,” Dr. Roberts said. “The other concern is that this strain has been picked up in at least six countries, and the cases are unrelated. This suggests some degree of transmission in the (international) community that we’re not detecting.”

The variant was first detected in late July in Denmark and appeared in the U.S. in August. The fact that the known cases so far do not appear to be linked indicates that the strain is circulating more widely than believed, Dr. Roberts added. 

Crunching COVID-19 numbers across Virginia

The numbers aren’t just climbing in Prince Edward. It’s the same across the Commonwealth. The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Virginia has experienced a significant increase over the past month, more than doubling in comparison. 

According to data from the VDH, it is currently up approximately 32% from last week.

According to the VDH, 2.17 percent of emergency room visits were diagnosed for COVID-19 in the last week of August. That’s 27.6 percent higher than the previous week.

Those numbers equate to over 50 percent of hospital admissions for the same week. Since we just celebrated Labor Day and there was plenty of travel, Dr. Gonzales expects the number of cases to briefly continue to spike for a few days, before starting to go back down. Without a major holiday or reason for mass travel within the next month, he expects things to get back to normal relatively soon. 

But virus numbers climbing, the biggest question is what to do. What does a person need to do to avoid ending up in the emergency room? The answer, Dr. Gonzales said, is pretty simple. 

“Wash your hands frequently and wear a mask when around those who are sick,” Gonzales said. “Otherwise, keep your immune system healthy through proper diet, exercise and managing any chronic illnesses you may have.” 

What about around the nation?

Nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 12,000 individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the week ending Aug. 12, indicating an approximately 22% surge compared to the previous week.

While the number of case are on the rise, health officials are working to release a booster vaccine to target XBB.1.5, which was responsible for less than 5% of new coronavirus infections in recent weeks.

Officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration anticipate the rollout of the shots to commence in mid-September.

Even with the new booster set to be released this month, most Americans have some sort of protection against COVID-19

According to the Biden administration, approximately 97% of Americans aged 16 and above have acquired COVID-19 immunity through vaccination, previous infection, or a combination of both.

The CDC says the Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax shots require authorization from the FDA. Following that, the CDC’s committee of vaccine experts will meet to determine the eligibility criteria for receiving the shots.

Editor’s note: Reporter Crystal Vandegrift contributed to this story.