COVID-19 case counts surge statewide

Published 7:50 pm Thursday, December 30, 2021

COVID-19 case numbers are surging statewide as well as in Suffolk, but Gov. Ralph Northam is urging people not to panic. Meanwhile, health care officials issued a joint statement asking people to avoid visiting emergency departments unless they are truly suffering an emergency.

There were 137 and 144 cases reported in Suffolk on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, marking the two highest daily totals by far to this point in the pandemic. However, only 12 people were hospitalized in Suffolk on Thursday, a number more comparable to previous surges, such as last January and February.

Across the state, case numbers for this week looked similar. About 12,112 people were reported positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 13,500 on Thursday — once again the two highest daily counts by far.

In a news release this week, Northam sought to assuage concerns about the highly transmissible omicron variant as well as encourage people to get vaccinated.

“We have all studied the number of cases for many months now, but this data point means something different today, compared to this time last year,” the press release stated. “One year ago, vaccines had just become available, so nearly no one had gotten a shot. Today, more than 14 million shots have been given in Virginia. Only nine states have given more shots, and those states are all larger than Virginia.”

Northam added that vaccinations are keeping people safe. “Data from around the world show that if people have gotten vaccinated, and then get COVID, then symptoms are likely to be minor. As the virus becomes endemic, it’s now time to study not only the number of cases, but also the severity of symptoms and the number of people going to the hospital. The data are clear: Nearly everyone going to the hospital with COVID is unvaccinated. This is entirely avoidable, if everyone gets their shots.

Northam urged people to get vaccinated and get a booster for those who are eligible, stay away from people who are unvaccinated, get their children vaccinated and wear a mask and practice social distancing.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and the Virginia Department of Health on Thursday issued a joint statement urging Virginians with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 or other seasonal illnesses to avoid visiting hospital emergency departments.

“In the current climate, Virginia public health officials and hospital leaders are urging individuals with asymptomatic or mild coronavirus cases, or other non-serious illnesses, to avoid unnecessary trips to already burdened hospital emergency departments,” the statement read.

Hospitals across Virginia have recently experienced an influx of patients seeking emergency department care for asymptomatic or relatively mild COVID-19 infections as well as cases of the flu or other seasonal illness. In many cases, a hospital emergency department is not the appropriate venue for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms to seek medical care. Most individuals who contract these illnesses do not need to visit the hospital emergency department and can effectively recover from their illness at home, or by seeking primary care treatment and/or speaking with their primary care provider.

People with severe COVID-19 symptoms such as significant difficulty breathing, intense chest pain, severe weakness, or an elevated temperature that persists for days unabated are among those who should consider seeking emergency medical care for their condition. Individuals should not visit the emergency department if the symptoms of their illness are mild to moderate — including a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or body aches — or simply for the purpose of having a COVID-19 test administered. In those situations, people are encouraged to instead consult an outpatient primary care provider.

“Unnecessary visits to hospital emergency departments place great strain on hospitals and the frontline clinicians and caregivers who continue to bravely battle the pandemic,” the statement read. “These visits can also cause a delay in care for patients experiencing a true medical crisis and contribute to the depletion of finite resources including medical staff, testing kits, personal protective equipment, and therapeutic treatments.

“Virginia is in the midst of a fifth coronavirus surge since the pandemic began last year. The peak of this latest surge may not arrive until several weeks after the holiday season concludes, making it likely that its true impact on public health and the health care delivery system is yet to be fully felt.”

While infection numbers statewide are elevated, hospitalization numbers are below those of this time last year thanks to the vaccines, the statement said. Data show that the majority of patients currently hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19 care are unvaccinated.

Visit vaccinate.virginia.gov , call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA, or visit vaccines.gov to learn more about getting vaccinated. At Community Vaccination Centers, appointments are strongly encouraged to avoid extended wait times, but walk-ins are welcome.