The pandemic’s latest surge is too far along to be stopped by people getting their first shots now, a new forecast by University of Virginia scientists shows.
Statistical models indicate that in the short-term, masks and keeping a distance of 6 feet or more from others will be the most effective strategy against COVID-19, with the potential to dodge 150,000 cases through the end of the year, according to a report based on the U.Va. Biocomplexity Institute’s findings.
Mask-wearing and social-distancing have already reduced projections from surpassing January’s peak to coming in just below it.
But the message isn’t to give up on getting vaccinated.
Vaccines will be necessary to stop cases from surging again in the winter, public health officials say. Because the shots take 5-6 weeks to become fully effective, they want unvaccinated Virginians to make plans now to get them before the holiday season.
About 1½ years into the public health crisis, COVID-19 has led to 11,899 deaths and at least 591,000 cases statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Some 39.6 million infections have been reported throughout the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 644,000 Americans have died. About 219.2 million people have had confirmed cases worldwide, with 4.5 million deaths.
As the more contagious delta variant fuels transmission, COVID-19 tests are becoming harder to find in Hampton Roads.
Despite the health department partnering with Walgreens to offer additional free rapid antigen tests, pharmacies, clinics and other health care facilities are filling up testing appointments quickly.
A search of test sites by The Virginian-Pilot on Friday found few in the region with available times. The vaccination site in the old Macy’s at Military Circle Mall has been holding free tests on Wednesdays, with no appointment necessary.
Over the past week, more than 10% of standard nasal swab tests came back positive. Close to 4,100 new cases are being diagnosed throughout Virginia each day, up 45% from the prior week.
Public health officials say vaccination will be the most effective tool at stopping the pandemic in the long run, but testing is still important. When people know their COVID-19 status, it helps protect those around them and allows epidemiologists to monitor pandemic trends.
“It’s critical that we reserve our hospital emergency rooms and rescue squads for medical emergencies,” said Laurie Forlano, deputy director of epidemiology for the state, “so if you’re seeking a COVID test and it is not an emergency, please utilize other testing locations.”
More than 1,900 Virginians are hospitalized for confirmed or suspected COVID-19. One in four is in an intensive care unit, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Over the past week, hospitalizations for the disease have increased close to 20% statewide.
Unvaccinated people have made up most of Virginia’s COVID-19 cases and serious illnesses.
During the week of Aug. 21, fully vaccinated people had infections at a rate of five out of every 100,000 Virginians, compared with unvaccinated people, who had infections at a rate of 495 per 100,000 people. That means unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at a rate more than 95 times higher than fully vaccinated people, according to the state health department.
About 4.9 million Virginians, or 57% of the population, were fully inoculated as of Friday — a level that has slowly ticked up again after stalling midsummer. About 64% of Virginians have had at least one shot.
Though so-called “breakthrough cases,” infections in fully vaccinated individuals, are happening more often with the delta variant, they are still considered rare. There have been 10,959 statewide, with 83 fatal.
The White House wants to make booster shots available to all U.S. adults starting Sept. 20. Federal officials must review evidence before the plan gets final approval.
Some businesses, universities and government agencies are moving forward with vaccination requirements.
Sentara, Riverside Health and Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters announced new vaccination policies for all employees starting in a little over six weeks. Bon Secours Mercy Health officials said they, too, will be enforcing the shots this fall but don’t have a deadline set.
Public health officials also strongly recommend all Virginians 2 and older wear masks in indoor places.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised people in areas where COVID-19 transmission is elevated to resume wearing face coverings, regardless of their vaccination status. A recent finding showed that vaccinated people can spread the virus to others. All of Hampton Roads and Virginia are now experiencing a surge, according to the CDC.
There were 43 new coronavirus-related deaths reported during the past week in the region: 16 in Virginia Beach; six each in Hampton and Norfolk; four in Accomack County; three each in Chesapeake and Newport News; two in Suffolk; and one each in Franklin, Isle of Wight County and James City County.
Virginia Beach’s caseload did not top last week’s total but was still the highest in the region, reporting 1,346 new infections.
High caseloads are expected in bigger cities, but some communities with fewer people see greater rates of new cases per capita. For last week, Mathews County ranked the highest in the region based on population size, at 82 per 100,000 people. By comparison, Virginia Beach had 43 and Norfolk had 39.
Here’s a look at vaccination rates throughout the region. These figures do not include the 462,000 doses administered to Virginians by the federal government, such as military, because location information has not been provided for them:
In Virginia Beach, 65% of adults and 55% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 48% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Norfolk, 50% of adults and 43% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 37% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Newport News, 60% of adults and 49% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 43% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Chesapeake, 63% of adults and 52% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 46% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Portsmouth, 56% of adults and 45% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 38% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Hampton, 60% of adults and 50% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 43% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In James City County, 77% of adults and 66% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 58% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Poquoson, 72% of adults and 60% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 54% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In York County, 69% of adults and 57% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 51% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Suffolk, 63% of adults and 52% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 45% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Williamsburg, 56% of adults and 51% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 46% of all residents are fully inoculated.
For other pandemic data, go to www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.
Elisha Sauers, 757-839-4754, firstname.lastname@example.org