COVID-19 in Virginia

Virginians will be headed home for the holidays soon, as reports of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant’s rapid spread proliferate.

The first case of the Omicron variant in the Commonwealth was discovered in Northwest Virginia on December 9, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). It is unclear at this time how the Omicron variant will affect holiday gatherings. Per VDH it has spread to 21 states in the US so far.

When asked what preparations are being made for the Omicron variant, Centra Health spokesperson Stephanie McBride responded:

“We are preparing for Omicron in the same way we have prepared for the other variants.”

A Sovah Health spokesperson likewise said Sovah will handle COVID-19 and all of its variants with: “the same strict protocols and rigid safety guidelines as we have always done with any infectious disease. We will continue to monitor community spread of COVID-19 and adjust our visitation policies accordingly.”

The Sovah spokesperson also pointed out that during the holidays virtual gatherings via Zoom or FaceTime pose the lowest risk for spreading COVID-19, and that masks may be necessary even outdoors at times for crowded events like parades.

Both hospitals are accepting visitors who abide by CDC mask guidelines. Centra is accepting visitors from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Generally 1 or 2 visitors may be allowed, depending on the patient’s condition and which unit they are in. Sovah is accepting visitors from 1 p.m. 6 p.m. Generally only one visitor is allowed per patient. 

“We knew it was only a matter of time before we would record our first Omicron infection in the Commonwealth,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. via a recent VDH statement. “This drives home the challenge the COVID-19 virus presents to the world as the virus changes and mutates over time. Scientists are hard at work studying the newly identified variant to understand how easily it spreads and how sick it makes people. Right now, the highly transmissible Delta variant is causing almost all cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. We have very effective vaccines that can interrupt the chain of transmission and reduce the odds that unpredictable mutations like the Delta and Omicron variants will emerge. Do your part. Get vaccinated if you are eligible. Get your booster shot if you’re eligible. Vaccination is how Virginia, the U.S. and the world will put this pandemic behind us.”

According to data made available at 9:30 p.m. on December 13, there were a total of 63 individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Centra’s Lynchburg and Southside hospitals. 8 of that total were fully vaccinated, and 55 were unvaccinated. 10 were in the ICU.

December 14 CDC data shows 115 COVID-19 cases in Pittsylvania County, with a case rate of 190.54 per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 17.15% for COVID-19 testing. In Pittsylvania County 42% of the population older than 5 is vaccinated.

The same data set showed 70 cases in Danville, with a case rate per 100,000 of 174.81 and a positivity rate for testing of 10.69%. 35.6% of Danville residents over 5 are vaccinated.

Nearby areas have fared worse.

CDC data provided on December 14 showed a total of 164 COVID-19 cases in Campbell County. The County has a case rate of 298.81 per 100,000 people, and a 33% positivity rate for COVID-19 testing. 41% of the population over the age of 5 in Campbell County is vaccinated.

Relatively few new hospitalizations have occurred during the previous week in those three locales, except for 11 in Danville. In nearby Lynchburg, however, the CDC listed 47 new hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 in the last week.

Danville’s Sovah Health location released a statement December 9 encouraging Southside residents to wear masks in indoor public settings, hold gatherings outdoors if possible, get tested for COVID-19 if needed and stay home with any COVID-19 symptoms of after close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.

“If you have already been fully vaccinated and are eligible for a booster shot, I recommend that you get one,” the statement penned by Market Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sheranda Gunn reads. “Just as its name implies, a booster “boosts” your levels of protection and can help you feel more confident about gathering with others safely this season. All individuals 18 and older who are fully vaccinated are eligible for boosters at least six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or at least two months after their single Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose.”