Vaccine eligibility increases as cases fluctuate

Published 3:15 pm Monday, April 5, 2021

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It’s been a big week of COVID-19-related news for the Piedmont Health District as vaccine eligibility increases.

Over the last two weeks, health officials across the U.S. have expressed concern the country could be headed toward a fourth surge in cases. Many U.S. states, including Virginia, saw case rates begin to increase in mid-to-late March after more than a month on the decline.

However, statewide cases appear to be decreasing once again, if only slightly. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) the state’s latest available daily number of reported COVID-19 cases Sunday, April 4 was down to 1,267 compared to 1,392 the week prior. Virginia’s seven-day moving average of cases was also slightly down on Sunday, reaching 1,397 cases compared to an average of 1,495 the week prior.

According to Piedmont Health District Senior Epidemiologist Rhonda Pruitt, the local health district has seen a slight increase in cases over the past week, but no significant increase has been observed overall.

In Prince Edward and Cumberland counties, coronavirus cases were considered to be fluctuating as of Monday afternoon, April 5. Prince Edward was listed by VDH Monday as having seen a cumulative total of 2,022 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, up 18 cases from one week prior. Cumberland County was sitting at 424 total cases of COVID-19 on Monday, up eight cases from the previous week.

On Monday, Buckingham County was considered by VDH to be increasing in cases for a 21 day streak. Buckingham has experienced a total of 2,072 cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, up eight cases from last week.

Both Charlotte and Lunenburg counties were considered on Monday as being on a 20-day and 28-day decrease in cases, respectively. Charlotte on Monday was listed as having a cumulative total of 801 cases over the course of the pandemic, up six from the week prior. Lunenburg County was listed on Monday as having seen 724 cases of the virus, up seven from the previous week.

Vaccine eligibility for Phase 1c essential workers began Monday, April 5, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier last week all Virginians age 16 and up will become eligible for the vaccine by April 18, although remaining Phase 1a and 1b residents who have registered to receive the vaccine will still be prioritized for vaccination.

Locally, Piedmont Senior Resources continues to partner with VDH to transport homebound seniors age 65 and older to upcoming COVID-19 vaccination clinics in the area. An April 5 release from PSR notes clinics in Lunenburg, Prince Edward and Buckingham are coming up next over the next two weeks, and anyone who knows an older person who needs transportation to a vaccine event is encouraged to call PSR’s vaccination hotline at (434) 394-0609. This service is free for older adults.

Local vaccination efforts mean every county in the Piedmont Health District has now at least partially vaccinated more than 24% of its population.

As of Monday, Prince Edward County had partially vaccinated at least 24.8% of its population, and 14.8% of Prince Edward residents are now fully vaccinated.

Buckingham County has put at least one dose in the arm of 29% of citizens, and 18.5% of the county is fully vaccinated.

Cumberland County has put at least one dose into 27.1% of residents, and 15.9% of Cumberland residents are now fully inoculated.

In Charlotte County, 28.3% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 17% of Charlotte citizens are fully vaccinated.

In Lunenburg, 28.9% of people have received at least one dose, and 19.6% of residents are totally inoculated against the virus.

Pruitt commented that reasons for recent upticks in cases could be attributed to several factors, including new variants, people letting down their guard post-vaccination and the loosening of restrictions, an increase in travel and the recent warm weather.

When asked about variant activity in the Piedmont Health District, Pruitt responded that only a small percentage of all COVID samples undergo the whole genome sequencing required to test for variants, so it is not possible to know how many cases of the variants there are locally. She added the health district has seen one case of the B.1.1.7 (UK) varinat, one case of the B.1.351 (South African) variant and several cases of the B.1.2 variant.

Pruitt said it is important to know that the coronavirus vaccine is not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, and that vaccinated individuals should still wear masks, socially distance, perform frequent hand hygiene and take precautions to protect others. It’s also important for fully vaccinated people living in congregate settings such as nursing homes or detention centers to still quarantine if exposed to the virus.

Acting Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Sulola Adekoya said Monday the health district has been able to increase vaccine allocation over the last two weeks to its 28 partnering pharmacies and clinics.

She added the district has also been working with its ambassadors/community partners to reach out to underserved populations and minority communities to make sure all residents have equitable access to the vaccine.

Adekoya said as vaccine eligibility for all Virginians over the age of 16 is nearing, the health district has been reaching out to local colleges and universities such as Longwood and Hampden-Sydney with the goal of institutions using their student health centers to provide vaccination to staff and students.

Adekoya stressed one setback the health department encounters is the difficulty of getting potential vaccine recipients to answer the phone when a call is made to schedule an appointment.

She highlighted it is important to answer one’s phone, especially when the caller ID belongs to the health department.

“Please do us a favor. Please pick up that phone call because it could be your phone call to get vaccinated,” she said.