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Dec. is key month in virus fight

Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said the district is doing well currently but cautions that could change next week once the results of any gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday are better known.

Monday, Nov. 30, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) listed Buckingham County as having seen 44 new cases of the virus in the last week alone for a cumulative total of 893 cases since the pandemic began. However, Nash said 80-90% of the alarming jump could be attributed to Buckingham’s latest correctional facility outbreak.

H. Robert Nash

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) listed Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC) as having 45 active cases in its offender population Monday, with two active cases among staff. A total of 256 cumulative cases have been recorded among BKCC inmates across the duration of the pandemic. Four inmates have died as a result of the virus.

Cumberland County also saw an unexpected jump in cases between Monday, Nov. 23, and Monday, Nov. 30. VDH reported 15 new cases out of the county in the past week, bringing Cumberland’s cumulative case count to 160.

Nash said only two of Cumberland’s most recent cases were incidences of familial spread, noting that the rest of the county’s latest COVID infections were spread sporadically across the area.

Nash said the rest of the health district was doing well in terms of COVID-19 data, including district hub Prince Edward County.

VDH listed Prince Edward as having risen 17 cases since last week for a cumulative total of 877.

Nash said Prince Edward’s positivity rate has dropped to 3.5%, and new cases in the county are down 51% from last week. He said while there is still a fair number of cases out in the county, the locality is headed in the right direction.

“Of course, this time next week, we’ll see,” he added.

Nash and other public health officials expressed concern this month that family gatherings due to the Thanksgiving holiday could likely lead to a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases across the commonwealth. Signs of the holiday’s effects on the spread of the virus will likely become visible next week.

“I think we’re going to see the results of Thanksgiving really make themselves known by Dec. 7 or 8,” Nash said. “Really, a week from tomorrow (Tuesday) we’ll start seeing cases from Thanksgiving.”

Nash said he shares in the fears of his friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the Christmas holiday will result in a “spike on top of a surge,” as coronavirus cases statewide are double what they were following the spike in cases seen after the Fourth of July.

“That was nothing compared to where we are now, and I shudder to think where we’ll be my mid-next week,” he added.

Despite discouraging numbers seen across Virginia, Nash said the Piedmont Health District is actually doing quite well in reference to the spread of the virus.

“By and large, our district is doing great,” he said.

Nash stressed that staying vigilant in mitigation of the virus and keeping numbers low would help to make for an easy transition into vaccine territory.

With a COVID vaccine looking promising, Nash said he’s fairly confident vaccines could be making their way to the area before Christmas. He said the health district has been laying out the blueprints for its local distribution process since October, following the CDC’s recommendations of which populations should be vaccinated first.

According to Nash, the health district plans to administer vaccinations to healthcare providers and nursing home/assisted living facility residents first. The next step will be to vaccinate critical infrastructure workers such as teachers, paramedics, police and others who are intimately involved on the frontline of the pandemic every day.

He emphasized that while the general public will certainly be getting the vaccine, it will be immensely important to vaccinate health care workers and long-term care facility workers first.

While health officials are confident the vaccine will work, it is unknown how long the immunization will work. Nash said officials are prepping for what is likely to be a two-dose vaccine, with the second dose coming 28 days after the first shot.

Nash asked residents to be aware that the health district is actually doing very well compared to the rest of the state. However, residents should also be aware that the rest of Virginia is in “serious trouble.”

“Be careful with whom you associate,” he continued. “Keep your guard up, keep your masks on and keep your hands clean.”

The state established a new high of cases per day with 3,242 Monday, Nov. 23. The state had 1,893 cases reported this past Monday.

It is also important to note that it is not too late to get a flu vaccine, which can help keep hospitalization rates low and prevent confusion between flu and coronavirus symptoms. From December 6-12, the CDC will observe National Influenza Vaccination Week, an annual event that aims to remind everyone 6 months old and older that there’s still time to get a flu shot.

Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville was reporting four patients in its COVID unit as of Monday afternoon, Nov. 30.

Hampden-Sydney College was reporting two active cases of the virus and six individuals quarantining as of Monday morning. The college has seen a cumulative total of 101 student cases and four staff cases of the virus.

Longwood University was reporting two cases of the virus in its campus community as of Monday morning, with 124 confirmed cumulative positive cases since Aug. 2.