In recent weeks, new coronavirus cases in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts were ticking steadily downward and the worst of a miserable summer surge fueled by the Delta variant appeared to be over.
But as people are gathering indoors more due to colder weather, new virus cases are rising once more. Over the past week, 582 new cases were confirmed in the health districts. The number of new cases had dipped into the lower 400s in previous weeks.
“The fact we are going into the holidays with higher numbers is discouraging to everyone,” Dr. Cytnhia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, said Tuesday during an online media briefing.
“We expect these numbers will continue to go up, given what is happening in other parts of the country and other parts of the world,” she said.
COVID is striking particularly hard in the Upper Midwest and New England. Federal medical teams have been sent to Minnesota to help at overwhelmed hospitals. Michigan is enduring its worst surge in cases yet. Daily caseloads in Michigan have doubled since the start of November. In New England, where vaccination rates are high, states are struggling to contain COVID. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are reporting major outbreaks.
Forecasting models at the University of Virginia suggest that holiday travel could shift the trajectory of new cases toward another winter surge rivaling that of winter 2020.
On the local level, Morrow worries that new cases will grow more prevalent with people gathering indoors for holiday events. And in many cases, indoor gatherings will be attended by people not wearing masks.
According to projections from the University of Virginia, self-reported mask usage has stalled across Virginia, with 61.5 percent of respondents masking when in crowded public places. That’s down from 65.5 percent in the first week of November.
Morrow said people who have not been vaccinated against COVID should get tested before attending a holiday event. People with symptoms of the virus should stay home, she said.
“If you are sick, stay at home. Don’t get anyone else sick,” she said.
On Monday, the health districts were reporting 32 COVID hospitalizations. Twenty-one of the people were admitted to hospitals last week.
Deaths also continue to rise. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, 669 deaths have been reported in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. More than 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since last Thanksgiving, for an overall death toll of over 770,000.
New cases of COVID are continuing to disproportionately affect younger segments of the population in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. Approximately 20 percent of new cases are in people under the age of 18. Approximately 40 percent of cases are in people under the age of 35.
“We expect that is related to low vaccination rates among these populations,” Morrow said.
More than 344,000 doses of vaccine have been administered to residents of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. That total includes booster doses.
Approximately 13 percent of the children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received a vaccine since it was made available to the age group.
Morrow said in recent weeks, a majority of the does that were given to people were booster shots.
“Our numbers are not looking favorable and I encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” she said.
In Alleghany County, 67.6 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. The percentage in Covington is 63.9.
In Virginia, 87.3 percent of the adult population has received at least one vaccine.
Morrow is also urging residents to get their flu shots. She said cases of Type A Influenza are beginning to pop up in the health districts. Flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines can be administered at the same time.
“Your arms may be a little sore but you will be better protected,” she said.