COVID-19 cases spiked in Virginia in the spring

The seven-day averages of COVID-19 cases in Virginia have been escalation in the spring, from about 700 cases a day in early April to almost 3,000 a day last week.

Hospitalizations, currently with a seven-day average of 573, have seen a relatively modest increase but tend to lag behind the number of cases as infections take time to develop and worsen. Although the overall number of cases and hospitalizations is not close to the surge seen over the winter, the test positivity rate – 18.9% – is near the peaks of the initial wave and the Delta wave of the pandemic, even if the figure only includes laboratory PCR tests and not the rapid home tests which are largely used by people to diagnose infections.

The CDC has classified 77 of the state’s 133 localities as having medium or high community transmission of COVID-19. levels. A medium level of transmission is automatically triggered in any area where there have been more than 200 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. A high level also takes into account seven-day case averages and hospitalization capacity.

But in an interview last week with the Virginia Mercury, state health commissioner Dr. Colin Greene said the priority should be trying to get back to something close to normal life, and that individuals should assess their own risk tolerance and medical situation when determining how they should lead their lives amid the virus.

“At some point, we have to start living our lives again,” Greene said. “But we want people to be reasonable.”

Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Colin Greene. (Virginia Department of Health)

He urged every adult to get vaccinated, as well as “children whose parents choose to do so”. As of Monday, 73.8% of Virginians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and of those, 49% have received a third dose.

Greene pointed out that “we need to go back to something resembling our normal human interaction”, part of which means “being able to see someone’s face”. The CDC, however, recommends that those in high-community locations wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status, including 12 counties in Virginia.

Children under 5, who make up just under 6% of the state populationmay be able to get vaccinated as early as the end of June, according to a announcement by White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.

This latest increase in the number of cases appears to be the result of a dominance war between subvariants of the omicron variant, which was itself extremely contagious and led to the highest number of cases seen at any time during the pandemic. Less than two weeks after the BA.2.12.1 subvariant became the dominant permutation of the virus in new cases, cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have already increase almost 80% in the United States. However, these still accounted for just 6.1% of new cases last week.

BA.2.12.1 is considered by the CDC to be approximately 30% more transmissible than its parent BA.2, which himself is approximately 33% more transmissible than the “original” omicron BA.1. An early paper claims that BA.4 and BA.5 are four times more resistant to antibodies, better warding off the immune response even of those who received a booster shot or previous infection with Omicron.

Experts have pointed out that current vaccines continue to do a good job of mitigating serious consequences of the virus, such as hospitalizations or death.

“I think what we’re seeing is a reflection that there’s a pretty good immunity base that’s mitigating the impact of this current wave of the pandemic,” said Dr William Petri, head of the infectious diseases division. and international. health at UVA medical school. “Most people have been vaccinated or given omicron.”

He also highlighted the development and distribution of the “miracle” antiviral drug Paxlovida treatment that can significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death and is widely available by prescription, in general for people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. .

Dr Lisa Thanjan, public health physician at the Virginia Department of Health, also said vaccines protect most people from serious illness or death, but pointed out that even vaccinated people can have complications. A recent CDC study shows that 1 in 5 people under the age of 65 who have had a COVID-19 infection have persistent disease that could be attributed to that previous infection.

“Even though we’re seeing more mild illnesses, it’s still best to try to avoid COVID-19 infection, even in people who aren’t at high risk,” Thanjan said. “It’s because of the long COVID or those lasting effects of a COVID 19 infection. We’re seeing this happening even in people with mild disease. It could be heart issues, neurological issues, or respiratory problems.

However, Greene, the former director of the Lord Fairfax Health District in northwest Virginia who was appointed by Youngkin in January, said the risk of infection “has decreased significantly to the point where the benefit of stricter prevention just isn’t that big anymore.”

Signage encouraging people to wear masks on the VCU campus in Richmond, Virginia on September 3, 2020. Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury

“I think the key thing right now is that people need to understand that while the risk is not zero and for particularly sensitive people, they still need to be on their guard, for most people, in especially younger and healthier ones, it’s not 2020 anymore,” Greene said. “We are reaching a more stable state situation with this virus – epidemiologists call it an endemic stage. We are going to reach a final stage, and we have to adjust, we have to adapt, we have to decide how we are going to live our lives.

The Biden administration — in a bid to advocate for an additional $22 billion it is seeking from Congress to mitigate the pandemic — warned last month of models predicting that nearly a third of Americans could become infected with COVID-19 over the fall and winter if more funding for tests, vaccines and treatments is not secured. An estimated 130 to 140 million Americans were infected during the omicron surge.

by Greene approach leaves it up to individuals to make risk judgments and stay abreast of information such as fluctuating infection data, adaptation of public health advice and emerging variants.

“There are a lot more factors, there’s a lot of information to follow for sure,” Thanjan said. “It’s hard to follow some of the vaccination guidelines, but you know the CDC has a website stay up to date and when to get these boosters and who is eligible. It really is the most important thing right now.

Some experts, including Greene, believe COVID-19 will become endemic, meaning it will likely remain in stable condition and continue to circulate through the population. However, Dr Petri points to global efforts to eradicate polio through vaccination as cause for optimism. The key to such an effort would be to develop a vaccine with “broadly neutralizing protection” that would prevent the virus from mutating after immunization, such as omicron and its subvariants have.

“I think it’s entirely possible to eliminate SARS-CoV-2,” Dr. Petri said. “This year worldwide there have only been eight cases of wild polio, so we have gone from hundreds of thousands of children paralyzed each year to just a handful and this is proof that we can do it. . This will require a huge international effort.

Virginia Mercury columnist Roger Chesley contributed reporting.

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