One out of every 10 nasal swab tests are coming back positive for the coronavirus, as the state rides the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Over 2,800 new cases are being diagnosed throughout Virginia each day, up more than 20% from the prior week, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
But Virginians are putting on their masks again, and some who hesitated to get vaccinated initially are now rolling up their sleeves.
Scientists at the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute say those measures already are making a difference. A week ago, the team projected that cases could surpass January’s peak. Now the forecast puts cases just below that.
Mask usage dropped by half in July, to about 40% of Virginians self-reporting mask usage, according to one survey from the Delphi Group at Carnegie-Mellon University. Last week, that jumped to 60%.
Scientific research suggests the new delta variant, the dominant strain circulating in Virginia, is twice as contagious and is more likely to cause severe illness.
About 4.8 million Virginians, or 56% 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 at least one shot.
Health experts say vaccination will be the most effective tool at stopping the pandemic, which has killed 11,769 Virginians and infected at least 576,000. Among last week’s reported deaths was a child under 9 in Northern Virginia, the third juvenile to succumb to the disease in the state.
Some 38.4 million cases have been reported throughout the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 634,000 Americans have died. About 214.8 million people have had confirmed infections worldwide, with 4.5 million deaths.
Hospitals aren’t overcrowded, but are getting busy again, with numbers of admitted patients steadily rising.
More than 1,600 Virginians are hospitalized for confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections. One in four of those admitted is in an intensive care unit, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Over the past week, admissions statewide have increased about 25%.
Dr. Jordan Asher, Sentara Healthcare’s chief physician executive, said the system, which runs the majority of hospitals in the region, has not had to expand out of its facilities or operate above its licensed capacity. But he described growing frustration among many weary health care workers who want people to do their part in mitigating the spread of the virus.
Unvaccinated people have made up most of Virginia’s COVID-19 cases and serious illnesses caused by the disease since late January.
“This has moved away from being a health issue to a political issue, and that is most disturbing to me, because this really is a pandemic, it’s a health crisis,” he said. “It is not a political crisis. It is not a debate over individual rights versus societal rights. I’m all for individualism, but I really believe people are picking the wrong hill here.”
Though so-called “breakthrough cases,” infections in fully vaccinated individuals, are happening more often with the delta variant, they are still considered rare. So far there have been 10,712 statewide, with 83 being fatal. During the week of Aug. 14, unvaccinated people developed COVID-19 at a rate 8½ times higher than fully vaccinated people and more than twice as high as partially vaccinated people.
The White House wants to make booster shots available to all U.S. adults starting Sept. 20. First federal officials must review evidence before giving the plan final approval. If it moves forward, people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines would be eligible for a third dose eight months after their second. The timing would mean that health care workers, long-term care residents and other seniors would be first in line.
Some businesses, universities and government agencies are establishing vaccination requirements. All 120,000 state employees will have to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing beginning Wednesday, and the Pentagon expects all military personnel to be vaccinated immediately.
Since the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine last week, many more groups and institutions are expected to announce vaccination mandates.
Sentara, Riverside Health and Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters announced new COVID-19 vaccination policies for all employees starting in a little over seven 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 again wear masks in indoor places. State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver issued a public health order requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in Virginia schools.
The mandate is intended to reduce the spread of the virus, especially among students who aren’t eligible to get inoculated. Federal drug regulators aren’t expected to authorize vaccines for children under 12 until September or later.
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 the vast majority of Virginia’s localities are now experiencing a surge, according to the CDC.
Thirty-two new coronavirus-related deaths were reported during the past week in the region: eight in Virginia Beach; four each in James City County and Suffolk; three each in Accomack County, Newport News and Portsmouth; two each in Hampton and Isle of Wight County; and one each in Chesapeake, Franklin and Norfolk.
Virginia Beach cases shot up last week, reporting 1,519 new infections. Chesapeake had 774, and Norfolk had 698.
High caseloads are expected in bigger cities, but some communities with fewer people see greater rates of new cases per capita. For last week, Franklin ranked the highest in the region based on population size, at 77 per 100,000 people. By comparison, Virginia Beach had 48 per 100,000 and Norfolk had 38.
Here’s a look at vaccination rates throughout the region. These figures do not include the 457,000 doses administered to Virginians by the federal government, such as military, because location information has not been provided for them:
In Virginia Beach, 64% of adults and 54% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 48% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Norfolk, 50% of adults and 42% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 36% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Newport News, 59% of adults and 48% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 42% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Chesapeake, 63% of adults and 52% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 45% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Portsmouth, 55% of adults and 45% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 38% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Hampton, 59% of adults and 49% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 33% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In James City County, 77% of adults and 65% 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, 68% of adults and 57% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 51% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Suffolk, 62% of adults and 51% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 44% of all residents are fully inoculated.
In Williamsburg, 55% of adults and 51% of the entire population have at least one dose. About 45% of all residents are fully inoculated.
For other pandemic data, go to www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.
Elisha Sauers, 757-839-4754, email@example.com