Virginia and health district hit all-time highs for new cases, Valley Health puts out plea

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Omicron surge beginning in Virginia
The CDC confirmed earlier this month that the Omicron variant is responsible for more than 90% of cases in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Page Valley News will have continuing coverage of the Coronavirus' impact on Page County.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Dec. 29 — On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 12,112 new cases of COVID-19 statewide — the highest one-day total of the entire two-year pandemic. The Lord Fairfax Health District also hit a new pandemic high with 368 new cases reported in a single day. Frederick County alone reported 157.

Two key reasons are being noted for the recent surge — the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and social indoor gatherings during the holidays. While many vaccinated residents are seeing only mild symptoms and illness, the unvaccinated make up the largest portion of severely ill, hospitalized or fatal victims of the virus.

“The COVID case numbers are a reason for concern, but not a reason for panic. It’s important to understand why,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement released Wednesday. “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.”

During last winter’s surge, Virginia peaked at the previous pandemic high of 9,914 new cases reported on Jan. 17. The local health district had reached a peak of 364 new cases on Jan. 22.

“One year ago, vaccines had just become available, so nearly no one had gotten a shot,” the Governor’s statement continued. “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…Vaccinations are keeping people safe, even as the Omicron variant spreads. Data from around the world show that if people have gotten vaccinated, and then get COVID, then symptoms are likely to be minor. That’s how the vaccines are designed to work.”

Although some health officials blame it partly on a lack of testing in some parts of the state, Virginia has also reached its highest positivity rate of the entire pandemic at 17.4 percent. During last winter’s surge, the commonwealth peaked at 16.8 percent in early- to mid-January. Virginia’s positivity rate has nearly doubled in the past 10 days.

Health officials note that while the number of cases is reaching an all-time high in the state, the number of severely ill patients is still being limited to mainly unvaccinated residents. Currently, 78 percent of the adult population in Virginia is vaccinated, while only 46 percent of the population in Page County is fully vaccinated — one of the lowest rates in the commonwealth.

“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,” Governor Northam stated. “The data are clear: Nearly everyone going to the hospital with COVID is unvaccinated. This is entirely avoidable, if everyone gets their shots. This is really important, because people working in hospitals are exhausted — nurses, doctors, and everyone. They have worked tirelessly for months to care for people who have gotten sick. Please go to the hospital only if you believe you really need to. It’s not fair to put even more pressure on hospital workers to care for people whose sickness is avoidable.”

With area hospitals and outpatient locations treating a rapidly rising number of COVID-19 patients, Valley Health is appealing to the community to curtail plans for New Year’s socializing and soften the holiday’s impact on our local health care resources.

“Our caregivers have given their all for nearly two years to save lives and fight COVID-19 in our community,” said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz. “They have shown remarkable resiliency, but like all of us, they’re growing tired. We are asking the community to renew their vigilance, pull together and help stop the spread of this virus.”

Valley Health’s six hospitals are currently treating 145 patients for COVID-19, about 85 percent of whom are unvaccinated.

According to Iyad Sabbagh, MD, Chief Physician Executive, the most severely ill patients are unvaccinated, underscoring the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and boosters.

“The data and scientific evidence overwhelmingly points to the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination,” said Dr. Sabbagh. “I implore residents to get vaccinated or boosted, continue to follow masking recommendations and consider implementing social distancing measures such as canceling New Year’s events where the virus could easily spread. The Omicron variant we are now confronting is more contagious than previous versions of this virus and is spreading rapidly in our community.”

More than 2,000 people are hospitalized in Virginia for COVID-19, according to the Virginia Hospital and Health Association — the highest level since late September. Virginia reported 185 deaths from COVID on Tuesday; however, 167 of those were accounting adjustments as fatalities earlier in the year of Virginians that occurred in other states were added to the commonwealth’s total.

Patient visitation at Valley Health hospitals remains at “Level Red” to reduce the risk of transmission between visitors, patients and caregivers. At this time, only approved Care Partners are permitted to visit hospitalized patients. “Social visiting” is not allowed, and those accompanying patients to outpatient appointments will be asked to wait in their cars.

“Our region is experiencing a shortage of testing resources — at-home test kits are unavailable at many local retailers and there are long lines at testing sites. Your primary care physician is the first option for care for those with mild to moderate symptoms,” reads a statement issued Wednesday by Valley Health. “When that is not an option, Valley Health Urgent Care locations offer online appointments with the following day’s schedule available beginning at midnight each day. Individuals may also select an in-person or telehealth appointment. Once available appointments are taken, individuals may walk in for care. Walk-in wait times are currently high due to heavy volume.”

Valley Health Urgent Care locations do not offer COVID testing for asymptomatic patients who were
exposed to COVID and only offer travel testing for individuals with a provider’s order.

Valley Health is also cautioning those residents who might start feeling symptoms and head straight to the ER.

“Across the country, patient volumes in emergency rooms have led to long waits and capacity concerns. If you have virus symptoms, especially with complicating medical conditions, it is best to err on the side of caution — don’t wait to be seen,” reads a Dec. 29 statement from Valley Health. “However, Valley Health officials are urging those with mild symptoms or who simply want a test to NOT go to the Emergency Department. Despite the current bottlenecks in testing, individuals are encouraged to locate tests through their primary care provider, an urgent care clinic or an at-home antigen test.”

Health officials urge discretion in seeking care for minor symptoms because of the wide-range of other health issues still facing medical facilities.

“All of our hospital care teams remain ready to provide emergency and acute treatment for patients with illnesses and injuries of all kinds,” explained Sabbagh. “But we need the community’s help to safeguard resources. If you are having symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain – which may indicate COVID-19 and many other critical illnesses – you should call 911 or seek care in an emergency department. But if you need testing, please don’t call 911.”

The Governor’s Office offered the following tips to Virginians as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly:

  • It’s a good idea to stay away from people who have not gotten their shots.
  • It’s a good idea to wear a mask when you’re around other people, especially if you don’t know whether they have been vaccinated.
  • If you have not gotten a booster shot, now is the time to do it. Shots are widely available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and local health departments all across Virginia.
  • If you have children age five and above, now is the time to get them vaccinated. This will make it easier and safer for them to go back to school. 
  • If you have chosen not to get your shots, you need to wear a mask and practice social distancing — to protect yourself and other people. 
  • If you believe you need a test, please know that PCR tests are widely available, and more rapid antigen test kits are becoming available every day. You can click here to find testing sites. The federal government is in the process of making more than 500 million free at-home tests available. It’s important to understand that supplies of rapid antigen tests are limited across the country, so everyone needs to use good judgment when seeking these.

“We are still all in this together,” Nantz reflected. “We can help our coworkers, patients, families and friends respond safely, rationally and thoughtfully to create the best possible outcomes. We can listen to one another, be thoughtful, and understand that we are dealing with this crisis together, not separately.”

Visit www.valleyhealthlink.com/coronavirus for updates on Valley Health visitation policies and other service adjustments.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve believed this even since the beginning.
    “Fear and neurotic paranoia seem more rampant than ever, even more so than the early days of 2020. And strangely, it comes from those who would ironically say they are the most protected. The thrice vaccinated. The double-masked person … who also wears a face shield. The deranged lady who wears a mask outside by herself. The vaccine hasn’t given these people their freedom. Neither has omicron. They convinced themselves for months that mask-wearing and vaccines would protect them from COVID. Now, confronted with the reality that it will not, they seem even more willing than ever to double-down on their crazy behaviors.”
    Will Cain, FoxNews

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