The COVID-19 risk level for Danville increased this week, and holiday gatherings and celebrations are expected to bring even more cases in the coming days.
Danville is now in the medium level for COVID-19, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s three-tier system to rank the threat on local communities. At this level, the federal agency still doesn’t recommend wearing face masks, but believes people at a high risk for severe illnesses should talk to a health provider on precautions.
The CDC no longer calculates how the virus is spreading within a community to determine the risk. Instead, hospitalizations are used as a barometer to factor the burden on local health care facilities.
Pittsylvania County remains in the low category.
As of Friday, Sovah Health was treating less than five patients for COVID-19 at its campuses in Danville and Martinsville, said Dr. Sheranda Gunn-Nolan, market chief medical officer for Sovah Health.
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The health system hasn’t seen a significant change in local hospitalizations, she said.
The Pittsylvania-Danville Health District continues to see a slow growth of cases, according to Friday’s report from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute. Two dozen state health districts are experiencing surges, meaning cases have doubled week-over-week based on a 100,000 population scale.
The omicron variant — an altered version of the original coronavirus — is blamed for the winter spike in cases. Now a subvariant of that is becoming dominant, helping to drive this current uptick in cases.
The official daily caseload count — 15 in Danville and 19 in Pittsylvania County — is no longer a true representation of the infection level given more readily available at-home testing.
Results from those kits aren’t recorded in the state database, meaning the official records are likely a vast undercount.
“This ‘guest’ will be with us for an indefinite time, with periodic increases related often to gatherings,” Dr. Scott Spillmann, director of the local health district, told the Register & Bee on Friday.
The season of gatherings is in full swing with Pittsylvania County high school graduations next weekend followed by Memorial Day, the unofficial kick off to summer that often brings family and friends together.
“Pandemic fatigue is present in our communities,” Gunn-Nolan acknowledged Friday.
“While the relative likelihood of serious consequences from the current variant and sub variants of Omicron are less, this virus still has the power to hospitalize or kill people,” Spillmann said. “Given this, life has resumed somewhat normally but we should continue to exercise caution in our daily lives.”
Gunn-Nolan also encourages residents to “continue to mask in public settings, and stay vigilant in protecting yourself and your loved ones.”
The Virginia Department of Health is moving away from treating COVID-19 in an emergency fashion and instead will start to confront it as an endemic disease, Brookie Crawford, a spokesperson for the health department, said Friday.
“Shifting from a pandemic to an endemic phase does not mean our COVID-19 fight is over,” she said. “COVID-19 is still a dangerous disease.”
Instead, it means working “to live with the virus as a consistent and more predictable presence in our communities,” she said.
The most recent model runs from UVa forecast a steady rise of COVID-19 cases heading into June and July. The exact course will ultimately depend on measures taken by the public, experts wrote in a recent report.
Vaccines — and especially boosters — are viewed as the cornerstone of protection from severe illness and hospitalizations from the virus.
“Most importantly, as we’ve shared many times, the COVID-19 vaccine is still our best defense against this virus,” Gunn-Nolan said. “Vaccines are still readily available and can be found at vaccines.org.”
In Danville and Pittsylvania County, slightly more than half of the population is fully vaccinated and only 1-in-4 have received a booster dose of protection, data from the health department shows.
“Staying up to date with vaccines, including boosters, remains the best way to protect yourself,” Crawford wrote in an email.
Taken at face value, the most dire of UVa models suggest Danville and Pittsylvania County could record about 3,400 COVID-19 cases a week by June 12. By comparison, there were 1,432 cases logged at the height of the January surge.
The astonishing prediction of more illnesses is tempered with another reality: January’s figures were likely 10 times higher than the official record books show. With a shortage, many people who had COVID-19 in that wave weren’t able to get tested, so their illnesses were never recorded.
That’s why UVa experts believe even though cases will continue to grow into the summer, the impact on hospitals won’t be as severe compared with previous surges.