Reports of COVID-19 case numbers and deaths continued to rise around the region this week, and vaccination remains the health community’s best recommendation for preventing serious illness.
“Vaccination is far and away the most effective way to avoid dying from COVID,” Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene said on Friday. “It reduces the risk eightfold.”
On Thursday, the health district reported eight new deaths, five of them in Frederick County and one each in Shenandoah County, Warren County and Winchester.
Along with two local deaths added Wednesday and one on Friday, this brings the district’s October reporting of deaths to 20, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
On the surface, the timing of these reports is misleading, Greene said.
The Health Department assigns deaths to the date on which they’re reported to the state, he said, but that doesn’t mean all eight people recorded on Thursday died that day or even this week.
“[T]hey almost certainly all died during the previous several weeks, rather than on the listed day,” he said.
Furthermore, large spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths can sometimes reflect accounting changes, which Greene noted after the district added seven new deaths on Sept. 21.
“The 7 deaths did not occur all at once,” he wrote at the time. “Those were most likely an accounting update, stemming from Lord Fairfax residents who died in other states, whose data has just been entered into the system.”
Regardless, the health district, which also includes Clarke and Page counties, has recorded 58 deaths since Sept. 1 (38 of them in September), which far exceeds the rate of deaths reported in the past few months.
From June 1 to Aug. 31, the district recorded 23 deaths, only three more than it’s reported so far in the first eight days of October.
As of Friday, the district was reporting a seven-day average of two deaths per day.
Thursday was Frederick’s second report of five new deaths in a little over a week. It exceeded five cases in one day only once during the pandemic, when it reported 11 new deaths on March 3.
On Wednesday, Frederick reported 79 new cases, its highest single-day increase in cases since late January.
The Lord Fairfax district reported 162 new cases on Wednesday, 142 on Thursday and 163 on Friday. Its seven-day average, as of Friday, is 135 new cases per day. It’s also averaging three new hospitalizations per day.
Though representative of recent consistently high numbers, so far October’s new daily case counts have been lower than nine of September’s highs, which range from 177 new cases on Sept. 10 to 207 on Sept. 22.
On Friday, Valley Health spokesperson Carol Weare reported fewer system-wide hospitalizations, with 82 COVID-positive patients across its six regional hospitals, down from the 126 it was reporting on Sept. 27.
Winchester Medical Center had 59 COVID hospitalizations on Friday morning, down from 100, while Shenandoah Memorial Hospital had eight and Warren Memorial six.
Recent cases are almost entirely because of the Delta variant, Greene has said. The Valley Health also reports that about 85% of its COVID-related hospitalizations are among people who are not fully vaccinated, and the remaining 15% are mainly among older individuals or those who are at high risk of illness because of underlying medical conditions.
To make COVID-19 reporting data even more efficient and reliable, Greene said he and other health district directors have been talking with the Health Department on upgrading the online dashboard to reflect deaths by when they happen instead of when they’re reported to the state.
So far, he said the site only shows actual death dates by region through its “cases” tab.
As cases rise around the district, local school divisions are also affected.
On Friday, Shenandoah County Public Schools was reporting 46 active student cases, with most at Sandy Hook Elementary (15), W.W. Robinson Elementary (eight) and Peter Muhlenberg Middle (eight), along with eight staff cases.
Only Honey Run Elementary currently has no student or staff cases, according to the school division’s online COVID-19 dashboard.
Warren County schools, which recently started keeping a daily scroll of new cases on its dashboard, reported four new student cases Friday, bringing its current active total to 23 student cases and one staff case.
The division also reports 128 students and seven staff members under self-quarantine. This brings its totals so far for the school year to 302 students and 35 staff with active cases, along with 723 students and 22 staff who have self-quarantined.
Frederick County schools, which also keeps a limited number of daily case counts at its site, reports four new student cases and one staff case as of Friday, following 12 new student cases and one staff case recorded Thursday, 15 student cases and one staff case recorded Wednesday, 18 student cases and one staff case as of Tuesday, and 16 student cases recorded Monday.
Though it doesn’t report the current total of active cases, as of Thursday the school division was counting 332 student cases and 59 staff cases so far this school year.
Clarke County Public Schools reports 11 active student cases and two staff cases as of Thursday, along with 26 students under self-quarantine.
Winchester Public Schools, as of Wednesday, reports eight student cases and two staff cases, along with 83 students and four staff under self-quarantine.