COVID-19 on increase in region

Published 7:14 pm Thursday, December 23, 2021

COVID-19 cases across Western Tidewater and across Virginia have spiked over the past two weeks, with statewide cases reaching their highest one-day total since January. Health officials caution that more cases are likely on the way with the emerging omicron variant.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 5,972 cases Dec. 22, and 6,473 cases Dec. 23.

Acting Western Tidewater Health District Director Dr. Billie Blair-Taylor, who also serves as the deputy director of the Chesapeake Health District, told Suffolk City Council at its Dec. 15 meeting that while the omicron variant has been more prevalent, and has been found among cases in Virginia this month, there is much health officials do not know about it.

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Blair-Taylor said medical officials do not know if omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease compared to other variants, including Delta, but preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with omicron compared to other variants. Omicron has now been detected in all 50 states.

“We just continue to recommend that we diligently try to prevent COVID,” Blair-Taylor said. “Vaccination is our most important tool in regards to prevention, so we want to reiterate that all persons 5 years and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. We want to encourage booster vaccination for all persons 16 and older if it’s been greater than six months since they’ve been vaccinated.”

In a press briefing Dec. 22, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said, “due to omicron, we expect a significant rise in cases. Fully vaccinated people, particularly those with a boost, are highly protected. But due to omicron’s highly transmissible nature, we will see fully vaccinated people get COVID. They’ll likely be asymptomatic or will feel under the weather for a few days.”

President Joe Biden announced that his administration is using the Defense Production Act to spend $3 billion to expand the number of available at-home COVID-19 tests available to purchase online and at pharmacies, and having insurance cover at-home testing in addition to the PCR tests at a hospital or doctor’s office. The federal government is buying 500 billion at-home rapid tests with deliveries starting in January, and Biden said a website would be set up for people to have them delivered to their residence.

The rates of those fully vaccinated and rates of those who have received a booster or third dose in Western Tidewater, along with Surry County in the Crater Health District, trail statewide rates. Statewide, 67.2% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated and 32.8% have received a booster or third dose. However, only Isle of Wight County has exceeded 60% of its population who are fully vaccinated and has more than 20% of its population who has received a booster or third dose.

The region’s rates for those who are fully vaccinated and who have received a booster or third dose are as follows:

Isle of Wight County: 63.8% fully vaccinated, 21.4% booster/3rd dose

Franklin: 58.6%, 19.7%

Surry County: 58.3%, 18.7%

Suffolk: 57.4%, 17.4%

Southampton County: 49.5%, 14.7%

Blair-Taylor noted at the meeting that there had not yet been any omicron cases detected in Western Tidewater, saying it had only been found in the northwest part of the state. Generally, she said it takes about two weeks for test samples to come back to determine what variant they are.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Dec. 20 that omicron is the most dominant strain of the virus in the United States, even though the state department of health continues to report just two confirmed cases.

Blair-Taylor also recommended people wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds, wash hands and avoid poorly ventilated areas.

She said the state and Western Tidewater are seeing more cases among those who are unvaccinated. Statewide, as of Dec. 11 (the most recent date for which information is available), the rate of infections per 100,000 people among fully vaccinated people is 55.39, among partially vaccinated people 113.62 and among unvaccinated people 535.96. Translated, the state department of health says that unvaccinated people develop COVID-19 at 9.7 times the rate of fully vaccinated people and 4.7 times that of partially vaccinated people.

The rate of hospitalizations per 100,000 people is 1.06 for fully vaccinated people, 1.74 for the partially vaccinated and 10 for those who are unvaccinated, who are hospitalized at a rate 9.4 times that of fully vaccinated people.

The state says unvaccinated people die at a rate 25.1 times that of fully vaccinated people and 6.6 times that of the partially vaccinated. The rate of death per 100,000 people for fully vaccinated people is 0.04, 0.13 for the partially vaccinated and 0.89 for the unvaccinated.

From Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, Suffolk had 216 positive COVID-19 cases according to the state department of health, with 45 cases reported on both Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, the highest one-day total in the city since Oct. 12, when it had 57.

Statewide, hospitalizations are also showing an increase, with 136 Dec. 22 and 132 Dec. 23. The last time more than 100 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 was in early October.

As of Dec. 23, Sentara Obici Hospital had 22 confirmed COVID-19 patients, representing 13% of its total inpatients who have the virus.

Though the number of deaths due to COVID-19 is on an increase, it is nowhere near the peak of deaths from late February and early March, when it reached a peak of 383 reported dead March 3. On multiple days over the summer, the state reported no deaths due to the virus, whereas on Dec. 23, there were 33.

In Suffolk, 37 people have died since Oct. 1, and 254 overall during the coronavirus pandemic. Another 93 have died in Isle of Wight County, 72 in Southampton County, 44 in Franklin and 13 in Isle of Wight County.

From Dec. 15 to Dec. 23, Virginia has had at least 3,000 COVID-19 cases daily, except for Dec. 20, when it had 2,991.