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Numbers rise, vaccine arrives

Some local counties are experiencing alarming levels of community spread of the novel coronavirus, but help is on the way in the form of 78,000 doses of the vaccines sent out this week that are destined for the state’s front-line health care workers and long-term care facilities.

Monday afternoon, Dec. 14, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash addressed the latest available COVID-19 data for the health district.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Charlotte County was reporting 15 new cases of the virus this week for a cumulative total of 309. Nash said Charlotte’s numbers have proven to be a bit unpredictable.

“They’re in that gray zone where it’s really not considered a significant community outbreak at this point, but it’s really too early to say.”

Lunenburg County saw an alarming bump in COVID numbers this week, with 29 new cases between Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 for a cumulative total of 213.

Nash said the county’s latest cases were split relatively evenly between familial and community spread, although the health district is investigating a possible early outbreak at a nearby correctional facility.

Some of the week’s most startling figures came out of Buckingham County. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Buckingham saw 149 new cases of the coronavirus between Monday, Dec. 7, and Monday, Dec. 14, bringing the county’s cumulative total of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 1,160.

On Monday, Nash said in addition to being at the tail end of a “roaring outbreak” at one correctional facility, the county is experiencing widespread community outbreaks as well, many of which are a result of spread from family member to family member.

Nash said many of Buckingham’s COVID patients have the same last names and the same addresses, and some may be secondary family outbreaks still left over from the Thanksgiving holiday.

Nash said his team was aware of the beginnings of another outbreak at a second correctional facility and a small outbreak at a long-term care facility in the county.

“A smaller correctional facility is just starting up now,” he said.

On Monday, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) was reporting 81 active offender cases and four active staff cases at Buckingham Correctional Facility (BKCC).

Dillwyn Correctional Facility (DCC) was also reporting one offender case and one staff case Monday morning.

Monday afternoon VDOC Deputy Director of Communications Gregory Carter said no COVID-19 test results were pending for DCC. He added 112 tests were performed at BKCC December 11 and 12, but results could not be obtained before press time.

Buckingham Emergency Services Coordinator Cody Davis emphasized Monday the importance of virus mitigation as the county watches the virus’ progression.

“It’s obvious that it’s kind of breached the walls of our correctional facilities now, and we’re out in the community,” Davis said, “It’s reached our nursing home facility unfortunately, so I think the best thing I can say as the local guy is that it’s here, it’s in the county, and we need to remember that mask wearing and social distancing is of the utmost importance.”

Nash said residents shouldn’t venture out anywhere without a mask.

“They should be aware of the very high prevalence of the virus in their community,” Nash said of Buckingham County residents. “Don’t go anywhere without your mask. Don’t go anywhere if you don’t have to, like the governor said. Stay at home as much as you can.”

Prince Edward County increased by 30 cases this week for a cumulative total of 937 cases since the start of the pandemic. Nash said Prince Edward’s numbers were also almost evenly split between sporadic community outbreak cases and familial spread.

Cumberland County saw encouraging news this week, dropping to just two new coronavirus cases in the last week for a cumulative total of 174. Nash said he was pleased with Cumberland’s mitigation efforts and dedication to mask wearing.

“They’re being very conscientious, and it shows.”

Saturday was a rather rough day for the commonwealth in terms of virus figures, marking the second highest single-day increase in cases for the entire pandemic with 4,177 cases as reported by VDH. The state also reached its highest seven-day moving average ever on Saturday at 3,920 cases per day.

“We’re in that phase of the spike on top of the surge,” Nash added, acknowledging that Virginia has very minimal chances of seeing a dip in virus numbers before Christmas.

Nash said despite this, a ray of sunshine was appearing that morning in the form of the delivery of the state’s first round of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve got 18 of the major health care facilities across the state that will be receiving their Pfizer vaccine today or tomorrow,” Nash said Monday. “That constitutes the bulk of our 78,000 doses we’re getting this week.”

Nash said the vaccine vials, which all must be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius, are all going to be used to immunize Virginia’s frontline health care workers and long-term care facility staff/residents.

He added the state’s smaller health department districts will be getting their vaccines beginning next Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 21 and 22, which will be used primarily for frontline health workers not affiliated with large medical centers. He said the health departments will also be responsible for a lot of the student health facility personnel for local colleges as well as distributing vaccines to fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel as well as personnel of the health departments themselves.

Nash said next week the state is anticipated to receive approximately 220,000 additional doses of the vaccine, with another 220,000 the following week.

But even as the state prepares to vaccinate nearly 475,000 Virginians before New Years, Nash said it is important that everyone continues to maintain social distancing and wear face coverings.

“It’s going to take 21 days after we administer the vaccine before the second dose, and then it’s going to take another 21 days before we have any degree of clinical immunity … This is going to take a good six to eight weeks before the vaccine starts to be providing effective immunity. So, don’t leave your masks off just yet.”