A surge in Covid-19 transmission driven by the Delta variant has led to significant increases in hospitalizations in the Historic Triangle, according to recently released data collected by state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control.
Over the past 14 days, hospitalizations have jumped by 375 percent in James City County and 202 percent in York County, the figures show.
“Sentara Healthcare is not turning patients away, but like many hospitals across Virginia, we are seeing a rise in the number of Covid-19 patients in our facilities,” Brittany Vajda, Senior Corporate Communications and PR Director at Sentara Hospital, told The Triangle. “We are prepared to adjust and expand our capabilities as needed to continue caring for all of the communities we serve.”
The spike in the area’s Covid-19 related hospital admissions is also occurring alongside a sharp increase in the total number of newly recorded cases. An average of 28 cases per day were reported in James City County during the past week, marking a 75 percent increase in comparison to the average just two weeks ago. Infection rates have not been this high in the county since January 2021.
In York County, 110 new cases were reported during the week of August 14-20, and test positivity rates are above 10 percent, indicating that the actual number of cases is substantially undercounted. Williamsburg has also experienced a 56 percent increase in cases compared to the average from two weeks ago.
To date, at least one in 17 residents in Williamsburg has been infected with Covid-19, while one in 16 in York County and one in 14 in James City County are known to have had the infection.
The total number of breakthrough cases in the Historic Triangle is unknown because that information is not being collected by the CDC. However, as of Monday, August 23, the Virginia Department of Health began publishing state Covid-19 case rates by vaccination status.
According to that data, in Eastern Virginia, among fully vaccinated people, there was a total of 1,941 breakthrough infections, 85 hospitalizations and 23 deaths between January 17, 2021 – August 14, 2021.
Still, VDH notes that during that timeframe, unvaccinated Virginians developed Covid-19 at a rate 12.5 times higher than fully vaccinated residents and 2.5 times higher than partially vaccinated residents. Vajda also said that the majority of Covid-19 patients currently seeking care at Sentara healthcare facilities are unvaccinated.
“We strongly encourage all community members who are eligible and able to get vaccinated,” Vajda said.
Cases among children in Hampton Roads are also on the rise, and the CHKD Health System is also experiencing an increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to WAVY news. Between August 1 to August 10, CHKD saw 368 new cases.
The CDC is currently advising all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask when in indoor, public spaces in areas where community transmission is deemed “substantial” or “high.” James City County, Williamsburg, and Yorktown are all currently listed as having high transmission.
Community transmission is also currently listed as “substantial” or “high” throughout most of the nation and in all of the counties surrounding the Historic Triangle, including New Kent County, Charles City County, Poquoson City, Surry County and all cities in Hampton Roads.
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Finding local Covid-19 tests and vaccines
If you have symptoms of Covid-19 or suspect you may have been exposed to the virus, you can get tested for free at a pharmacy or health center that is convenient to you. VDH operates a Covid-19 test center lookup tool here.
You can find Covid-19 vaccines near you by visiting vaccines.gov. There, you’ll also be able to narrow your search down by specific vaccine type and choose to view only locations that have appointments currently available.
The Daily Press reports that walk-in vaccinations are also currently available at The Prescription Shoppe and Williamsburg Drug Co., both located in Williamsburg.
Protecting yourself and others
If you’re not vaccinated – or have not completed your vaccination series – you currently have a very high risk of contracting Covid-19 in the Historic Triangle region, according to public health experts monitoring the local situation.
A Covid-19 Case and Risk Tracker tool developed through a collaboration between Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Resolve to Save Lives and The New York Times notes that indoor activities are “extremely dangerous right now” for those in the Historic Triangle region who are not fully vaccinated. Covid-19 prevention measures recommended early in the pandemic should continue to be followed, including:
- Social distancing
- Avoiding nonessential travel and events with more than a handful of people
- Avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces
- Washing your hands often and using hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces (like tables, doorknobs, keyboards, toilets and sinks) daily
- Wearing a well-fitting mask when in indoor public spaces
If you develop symptoms of Covid-19, you should monitor your temperature and follow CDC guidelines.
The developers of the Covid Case and Risk Tracker additionally suggest that because of the current Delta surge, individuals who are not fully vaccinated should, “Avoid indoor dining, bars, gyms, movie theaters and nonessential shopping, as well as having friends over to your home, and indoor personal care services like haircuts and manicures.” Those who have not completed a vaccination series are also encouraged to choose delivery or curbside options whenever possible and, when shopping in person is necessary, “limit yourself to buying only essential supplies, shop during less crowded hours and keep your visits as short as possible.”
In general, outdoor activities where social distancing is possible are considered the safest.
If you’re fully vaccinated, indoor activities are lower risk. However, the CDC notes that while vaccines continue to reduce a person’s risk of contracting Covid-19 and are very effective against severe illness, “the Delta variant causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus that causes Covid-19.” As a result, the number of breakthrough infections appears to be increasing at a concerning rate when anecdotal evidence is taken into account.
Additionally, recent data indicates that even fully vaccinated individuals can spread Covid-19. As a result, The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals:
- Continue to be on the lookout for potential symptoms of Covid-19, especially if you’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.
- If you develop Covid-19 symptoms, get tested, stay home, and avoid others until you receive your test result.
- If you have close contact with another person who has Covid-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after the exposure, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
- If your test is positive, you should isolate at home for ten days to avoid infecting others.
- If your immune system is weakened because of a medical condition or medication, you should continue to take the same precautions that are recommended for unvaccinated individuals until otherwise advised by your healthcare provider.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks following their second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after receiving a dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).
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Not all masks are created equal, public health experts say
Because of the extremely transmissible nature of the Delta variant, some experts recommend upgrading to medical-grade masks that are known to provide greater protection from infection, such as N95 respirators.
“Delta is so contagious that when we talk about masks, I don’t think we should just talk about masks. I think we should be talking about high-quality masks,” such as an N95, said Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, in a July 18 interview with CBS’s Face the Nation.
“Quality of mask is going to make a difference with a variant that spreads more aggressively like Delta does, where people are more contagious and exude more virus. And trying to get N95 masks into the hands of vulnerable individuals in places where this is really epidemic, I think, is going to be important, even in cases where they’re vaccinated, if they want to add another layer of protection,” Gottlieb said.
On a July 29 episode of his popular podcast, The Osterholm Update, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm also suggested the use of N95 or KN95 masks to defend against the stronger Delta variant.
“I’m very, very much a fan of respiratory protection. I think face cloth coverings offer some limited protection, but it is quite limited,” said Osterholm.
Osterholm then went on to cite data suggesting that N95 masks can provide 25 or more hours of protection from inhalation of Covid-19 particles in comparison to cloth or surgical masks, which are believed to provide protection for much shorter durations.
“Unfortunately, the term mask has come to mean anything you can put in front of your face. We need to do a better job of clarifying that N95s are readily available today in any number of locations,” Osterholm continued. “Online, hardware stores, etc. You can also use the KN95, the Chinese equivalent that has been approved.”
If you get sick, know when to seek medical care
According to Riverside Healthcare, you should seek medical treatment immediately if you or a loved one becomes sick with Covid-19 and experiences any of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- Bluish-colored tint to the face or lips
- Inability to wake up
Riverside also recommends seeking medical attention if you are in a high-risk group for Covid-19 and your symptoms grow more severe. This includes individuals who are over age 65, are pregnant or have a weakened immune system or other medical condition that increases the risk for severe disease.
If you need to seek treatment for Covid-19, you are urged to call your healthcare provider before you arrive, wear a face mask when entering the medical facility and avoid using public transportation – including ride-sharing services – to get to and from the doctor’s office or hospital.
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