Cases trending downward in Piedmont

Published 8:30 am Friday, February 11, 2022

The last week marked another period of primarily good news for the Piedmont Health District as omicron continues to release its hold on the commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), officials in Piedmont saw a large reduction in COVID-19 cases over the past week. As of Friday, Feb. 4, cases were trending downward in the majority of local counties with the exception of Lunenburg, which has been trending upward in cases for 61 days, and Buckingham, where cases are considered fluctuating.

From the seven-day period of Monday, Jan. 31, to Monday, Jan. 7, Lunenburg saw 96 new cases of the virus.

Prince Edward County saw 127 new cases of COVID over the last week. Buckingham was up by 87 cases, Cumberland rose by 28 cases, and Charlotte County reported 59 new cases of the virus.

Longwood University in 12 active cases of the virus in its most recent dashboard update Sunday, Feb. 6. Hampden-Sydney College was reporting 16 active cases and seven individuals quarantining as of its last update Feb. 4.

The state saw a total of 2,839 reported COVID-19 cases on Monday, Feb. 7, compared to 4,247 the previous Monday. Virginia’s seven-day moving average was also down this week from 9,194 Jan. 31 to 5,514 Feb. 7.

Despite encouraging drops in case numbers, the state and health district both saw significant increases in their COVID-related death counts this week. Health officials say these numbers, while older than they seem, can be attributed to the omicron surge which swept the nation last month.

VDH reported no new deaths out of Lunenburg this week, four new deaths out of Prince Edward and another four deaths out of Buckingham. Cumberland saw an increase of two COVID-related deaths over the last week, and Charlotte rose by three deaths. The state was reporting a whopping 134 deaths on Monday, Jan. 7, compared to just 23 deaths reported seven days earlier.

On Friday, VDH issued a release stating the recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant resulted in an increase in COVID-associated deaths, and the department, as expected, is beginning to observe increases in the number of death certificates received.

Beginning Feb. 2, VDH’s case dashboards began to reflect those deaths, the majority of which (92%) occurred back in January.

As certified death certificates continue to be reported, VDH will continue to receive new death certificates for deaths which occurred in January and those that will occur subsequently in the coming weeks and months ahead until the omicron surge has dissipated.

“Those deaths will also appear on the VDH ‘Localities’ dashboard, but since Localities shows deaths by date of report, rather than by date of death, that dashboard should not be used to evaluate any trend in the pattern of deaths over time,” advised Acting State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene.

Local reductions in coronavirus figures have thankfully lifted some pressure off of the local health care system. Centra Health issued a release Wednesday, Feb. 2, which stated the hospital system had seen significant, consistent falls in its COVID-19 patient census since cresting at 186 patients Jan. 25.

As a result of these decreased numbers, Centra updated its visitation policy Monday, Feb. 7, to allow patients one visitor at a time in acute care facilities. The visitor can interchange during the patient’s hospital stay, and exceptions based on patient experience or end-of-life care may apply depending on the location.

Visitors must be 16 or older, must not display any COVID-19 symptoms, will be screened when entering hospital facilities and are expected to wear a mask and comply with CDC guidance at the time of their visit. Visitation time will shift to 2 – 7 p.m. for all Centra hospitals.

Centra officials noted that while this downward trend in patients is allowing the hospital system to de-escalate some of its COVID policies, the current number of patients still represents a strain on facilities and caregivers.

Centra was reporting 141 COVID patients across its Lynchburg, Bedford and Southside hospitals Feb. 4, with 16 of those patients in the ICU, six of which were actively being vented.

VDH was pleased this week when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the decision to grant full licensure to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 18 or older.

According to a statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Christy Gray, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended approval of the vaccine following rigorous review and study by scientists and other researchers at both organizations.

“More than 204 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered in the United States, with 3,466,960 Moderna doses administered in Virginia since the vaccination campaign began in late December 2020,” Gray commented. “The science is clear that this is a safe vaccine that is effective in preventing infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and subsequent variants and in preventing serious illness that could result in hospitalization and/or death.”

Gray said the Moderna vaccine will be marketed under the brand name “Spikevax.” It will continue to be available under Emergency Use Authorization for individuals and older for the administration of a two-dose primary series, a third primary dose in immunocompromised individuals and as a single booster dose either five months after completion of a two-dose mRNA vaccine or two months after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Spikevax has the same formulation as the EUA Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and can be used interchangeably with the EUA Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Maria Almond took some time to reflect on the omicron surge’s impact on the area.

“Piedmont Health District seems to now be on the other side of the omicron surge,” Almond stated. “However, we are just beginning to be able to more fully understand the effects this recent surge has had on our community.

“Not only have there been lives lost — of our family, our neighbors, our friends — but we have had time stolen away from essential activities due to illness. And we have been changed as a society. And we are exhausted. Now is the time for re-building as a community. We need to find ways to strengthen areas that were weakening even before COVID, find ways to build respect for and ease the loads of our teachers and our healthcare workers, find ways to come together and live fully. Time is always fleeting, and COVID has reminded us of the importance of living each moment.

“We continue to move forward with humility as a community, knowing that Covid has continued to surprise us and will be something with which we will continue to contend. But it does not need to stop us. Vaccines continue to offer a path forward. Now is always the time to get vaccinated.”

In speaking about local school systems, Almond said the health district will be continuing to work with schools to provide them with the most up-to-date local information with which to guide policies.

Almond noted during the time of highest transmission of the virus when the local hospital system was being strained, the health district had been recommending all schools maintain a 10-day isolation period for students infected with COVID.

She said the health district will now be changing that recommendation to a five-day isolation period followed by five days of strict masking.

“Together, schools and the local health district continue to strive to balance safety with the importance of keeping our children in school,” she said.

The Piedmont Health District continues to slowly increase its number of vaccinated and boosted individuals.

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

Lunenburg: population fully vaccinated: 54.5%, population with booster shot: 24.4%

Prince Edward: population fully vaccinated: 44.6%, population with booster shot: 22.1%

Buckingham: population fully vaccinated: 53.9%, population with booster shot: 24.8%

Cumberland: population fully vaccinated: 49.2%, population with booster shot: 21.1%

Charlotte: population fully vaccinated: 53.3%, population with booster shot: 23.7%

(These figures represent a change in the way VDH now reports case, hospitalization, death and vaccination statistics. Beginning Feb. 1, VDH now uses 2020 National Center for Health Statistics population estimates for COVID-19 events.)

Vaccination events this week include:

Saturday, Feb. 12 at Kenbridge Recreational Center 2 – 4:30 p.m.