Much of society has returned to its normal activities, and many people might think that the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
But as new cases continue their steady rise around Virginia, Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene said this is far from over.
“I’d say that back in June it looked like they were right, but it doesn’t look that way anymore,” he said on Friday as Virginia added 4,070 new cases and the local health district added 155.
The case rates, “They get uglier, unfortunately, every time I look at them,” he said.
Friday’s numbers were only slightly less than Thursday’s, when the district added 184 new cases, its highest single-day report since Jan. 30. Virginia reported 4,255 new cases, its highest jump since Feb. 5.
At first glance, new case numbers appear comparable to those seen last winter.
The health district’s latest case numbers are similar to those reported in November, as the weather was growing colder and people were gathering more indoors. Worse, current statewide case numbers are as high as they were in early December.
But Greene said the cases aren’t rising for seasonal reasons but because of the progression of the current outbreak.
Last winter’s numbers grew from an outbreak that started in October, he said, and although the virus does tend to like colder weather, the delta variant that started picking up speed in July is simply more contagious.
New case numbers are almost entirely because of the delta variant, Greene said.
Furthermore, although we have the vaccine now, the variant is largely affecting the unvaccinated, he said.
“Where we are is largely because of the unvaccinated population,” he said.
While vaccination doesn’t guarantee a person won’t get the virus or experience severe symptoms, he said, “It reduces the risk of death by about 90 to 95%.”
People who are vaccinated are “less likely to end up in the hospital and they’re less likely to die,” he said.
For now, new local deaths are still relatively few, he said.
“Our death count has not shot up the way our case count has,” he said.
He attributes that to the fact that older people are most at risk, and about 75% of the local elderly population is vaccinated.
Still, he’s seen that cases are creeping back into long-term care facilities, raising the chance of more hospitalizations and deaths.
Area schools are also seeing an abundance of new cases.
Warren County, which on Wednesday reported 49 new cases — its second-highest of the pandemic behind the 54 cases it added on Jan. 2 — has 95 active student cases at its public schools and 243 students self-quarantining as of Thursday.
Nine staff members also have cases and one is quarantining, the school division reports at its online dashboard.
Most student cases are at Skyline High (21), Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary (19), Warren County Middle (15) and Warren County High (13), but all of the county’s schools have current cases except for Blue Ridge Tech and the nontraditional schools.
Student quarantines came from Skyline High (50), Warren High (31), Warren Middle and Keyser (30 each) and Ressie Jeffries Elementary (28), Hilda J. Barbour Elementary (23), AS Rhodes Elementary (19), E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle (15 each.)
Since the start of the new school year, the school division has reported 119 students and 14 staff members with active cases, compared with the 151 students and 69 staff members reported for all of the 2020-21 school year, which started Sept. 8, 2020.
So far this year, 342 students and two staff members have quarantined because of direct contact with cases, compared with 831 students and 151 staff members during the 2020-21 school year.
Winchester Public Schools also reported high quarantine numbers with 267 students under active self-quarantine as of Wednesday. Among those, 91 were from John Kerr Elementary, 46 from Daniel Morgan Intermediate, 44 from Handley High, 31 from Virginia Avenue Charlotte DeHart Elementary, 22 from Quarles Elementary, 20 from Frederick Douglass Elementary and 13 from Daniel Morgan Middle.
The district reported 22 students and two staff members with active cases along with one staff member under self-quarantine.
Shenandoah County schools are reporting 24 active student cases and three staff cases.
Clarke County schools are reporting three students and one staff member with active cases, along with 14 students quarantining.
Frederick County schools are reporting six new student cases. Since Aug. 16, it’s had 89 student cases and 19 staff cases.
Statewide, the Virginia Department of Health reports that 57% of the population (or 68.1% of people 18 and older) is fully vaccinated, not including people who received federally administered doses.
In Clarke County, 53.1% of the population and 62.2% of adults are fully vaccinated.
Winchester reports 49.1% of the population and 59.5% of adults.
Frederick County reports 45.5% of the population and 55.3% of adults.
Shenandoah County reports 44.7% of the population and 54% of adults.
Warren County reports 40% of the population and 48.3% of adults.
Page County reports 38.7% of the population and 46.6% of adults.
With flu season approaching, Greene suggested that area residents consider getting a flu shot.
“Last year we had essentially no flu season,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of chance for flu to spread.”
He doesn’t expect the flu to spread as much as COVID this season, but he said cases will likely start picking up later in the month.
Those who want a flu shot and still need a COVID shot are safe to schedule both vaccines in the same appointment, Greene said.
“We’re not done with this, unfortunately, and time will tell how long an effect that this delta variant will have,” Greene said. “Presumably, everyone will either be vaccinated or have some immunity.”
Still, he cautioned that immunity from the virus doesn’t last forever. Vaccinated people will need a booster shot starting at about eight months after their second shot, and unvaccinated people who had the virus will start to lose immunity after about 90 days.
The longest-lasting immunity comes with the vaccine, Greene said.
People who aren’t vaccinated are “really taking a huge risk,” he said.
“It’s likely to find you.”