Moderna OK’d, cases rise
With the newly approved Moderna COVID-19 vaccine making its way to Virginia this week, local health officials are waiting anxiously to see how the Christmas holiday could impact the spread of the virus.
Local counties are seeing upticks in their coronavirus numbers this week, with several ongoing outbreaks in local prison systems.
According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Charlotte County increased 25 cases the week of Monday, Dec. 14, to Monday, Dec. 21, for a cumulative total of 334 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
“They’re actually looking better than I had expected, to be honest with you,” Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said in reference to Charlotte County during a Dec. 21 interview. “It looks like they’re right between two and three new cases a day, which is not bad. They are on that increasing slope, however.”
Lunenburg County increased 16 cases this week for a cumulative total of 229 cases since the pandemic began.
The county is starting to see a large outbreak coming out of its local prison, Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC).
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) LCC was reporting 32 active offender cases and two active staff cases as of Monday morning, Dec. 21. By Tuesday that number had more than doubled to 65 active offender cases and five staff cases.
Nash said the health district detected the beginnings of an outbreak at the center approximately three weeks ago.
VDOC Deputy Director of Communications Gregory Carter told The Charlotte Gazette all inmates in one dormitory at LCC were tested for COVID-19 after several residents of that dorm reported symptoms and tested positive.
“All positive cases are currently being cohorted in a dormitory designated as a Red Zone,” he added.
Buckingham County, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), increased 76 cases this week for a total of 1,236 cumulative cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Monday, Dec. 21, VDOC was reporting 66 active cases in the offender population at Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC), with one inmate hospitalized due to the virus. On Tuesday, the number of infected inmates had increased to 70, and two inmates were being actively hospitalized due to the virus.
The number of staff actively diagnosed with COVID-19 at BKCC has continued to increase, reaching 10 cases as of Tuesday.
Nash acknowledged the health district was battling large outbreaks in a number of local prisons.
“Their facilities are just really contributing a whole lot to our daily numbers of cases,” Nash said.
On Monday, Carter said BKCC was not experiencing any sort of staff shortage due to the outbreak, adding that all posts have been filled on each shift.
Dillwyn Correctional Center (DCC), also located in Buckingham, was reporting one active offender case Tuesday and no active staff cases.
Prince Edward saw a noticeable rise in cases this week, with the county’s new rolling average sitting around seven to eight cases per day averaged out over the last week. The county rose 55 cases this week for a cumulative total of 992.
“We’ve got probably a 50-60% increase in cases per day in Prince Edward,” Nash said.
Nash added he believes the county’s latest cases, most of which appear to be community spread, are a secondary wave leftover from Thanksgiving.
Cumberland County has continually shown some of the smallest daily increases in COVID-19 cases of any locality in the commonwealth. On Monday, VDH was reporting 13 new cases out of Cumberland in the last week for a cumulative total of 187 cases.
Nash said this figure appeared to be a pocket of related cases, describing the increase as a hotspot more than an outbreak phenomenon.
Americans received some hefty good news this week when the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was approved for distribution.
Monday morning, Nash said he was pleased to hear Moderna’s vaccine would likely become available in the next two days or so, adding that this was especially good news due to the fact that the vaccine can be stored fairly easily at minus 20 degrees Celsius rather than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that must be stored at an ultra-cold minus 70 degrees Celsius.
“That’s going to be a real impact in this battle,” he said.
Nash said he had been made aware the state was expecting 117,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to be distributed across Virginia this week. He added he expects even greater numbers of doses to follow the next week.
Nash explained what the addition of the Moderna vaccine may mean for the fight against the pandemic.
“I think what you’re going to see is there’s going to be a lot more vaccine more conveniently and more readily available to the vaccinator communities, both the hospital centers, the pharmacies, you know, CVS and Walgreens, and the health departments, to concentrate on those identified populations in Phase 1A, those populations being our front line health care workers and the residents at assisted living and long-term care facilities.”
Nash added he expects those groups in Phase 1A of the vaccination plan will likely be fairly well covered by the second week of January, at which point the state will move onto Phase 1B, which prioritizes vaccination other critical infrastructure personnel such as EMTs, teachers and law enforcement officials who deal with the public every day.
“I’m not opposed to thinking about grocery store workers in that group also, large retail employees that have a lot of contact with the public on a daily basis,” he said.
Locally, Nash said he believes long-term care facilities this week are in initial steps to work with pharmacies to set up schedules for vaccination events, which may start as early as the end of the week.
With good news comes concern about possible large waves of infection in the weeks that follow the Christmas holiday. Health officials have been largely anxious over COVID-19 spread anticipated as a result of holiday gatherings.
“I shudder to think what this holiday season is going to bring, because it took us really two weeks to see the fallout from the Thanksgiving holiday, and these two are going to be back to back holidays right around weekends, so those gatherings and even small family celebrations are going to go on for a number of days, and I’m really afraid that this is going to be a really significant spike in cases,” he said.
Nash said projections from university centers are predicting horrible surges of COVID-19 between the end of January and the end of February.
“I hope it doesn’t happen,” he said. “The models have been wrong before, but the only thing that’s going to impact those predictions is going to be everybody’s collective, individual, responsibility. We can’t afford to make bad decisions now, because we’re so close.”