Overall, COVID-19 cases are declining in Virginia and Southside, but health experts warn becoming complacent could lead to more trouble.
Even though cases are dropping, that slide is based on a post-holiday surge in January.
For example, Halifax County is now averaging about 17 new cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus a day. In late December, that daily figure was 14.
Locally, the peak hit in mid-January when the holiday surge coupled with an outbreak at a local prison sent the seven-day caseload average to 47. Deaths have remained steady this week at 56 for Halifax County.
However, declining numbers are encouraging. For the second week in a row, the University of Virginia struck an optimistic chord in its weekly report released Friday.
In nearly all scenarios, it appears Virginia has passed its peak caseload.
“Things are looking up,” researchers wrote in Friday’s report.
Cases are dropping at the fastest rates in the pandemic that gripped the state nearly a year ago. Vaccines are increasing, and hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients.
Still, there’s one model that shows a combination of virus variants mixed with pandemic fatigue may cause an even larger surge in May. That so-called pandemic fatigue basically means residents giving up wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
“While the situation looks promising, the model provides fair warning: we could reach another peak just as high as the one we saw this January if we relax our behavior,” researchers wrote in Friday’s reports.
More virus variants are popping up across Virginia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates variants will become the dominant strain by March. These variants seem to spread quicker than the original coronavirus strain.
Under a scenario with variants rapidly spreading, cases would rise until a peak on May 30.
In addition, experts will be monitoring numbers this week to see if Super Bowl parties will lead to another holiday surge.
After showing a decline, the local positivity rate has nudged upward to 16%, the CDC reports. That percentage is a calculation on the number of positive results against the overall tests administered.
Experts use the positivity rate to show if the virus is spreading in a community. The overall goal is to keep that figure under 5%.
However, one reason the number has increased could be fewer COVID-19 tests are being given. In the Southside Health District — an area that spans Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties — there are currently about 225 COVID-19 tests given in a day. That’s down from the nearly 419 in early January.
Experts have long said a robust testing system is needed to keep the virus in check. Not only does it confirm infections among the sick, it also can catch the virus before a person shows symptoms. In some cases, an individual may have COVID-19 and not show any signs, yet still spread it to someone else.
In Halifax County, 843 residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning they have received two doses of the shot. In all, 3,801 shots have been administered to local residents, according to data made available by Saturday evening.
Herd immunity — a term often tossed about singling the end of the pandemic — occurs when enough people are immune to a virus that it can no longer find a host, and the virus dies out.
Immunity develops from prior infection or through immunization, the UVa report notes.
It’s estimated that 75% to 90% of the population must be immune to COVID-19 to achieve the “herd” designation.
Doing the math, since about 8.5 million people live in the state of Virginia, to achieve 80% immunity, more than 6.5 million Virginians must be immune to the virus.
“However, according to some estimates, even this may not be enough to achieve herd immunity,” researchers wrote in Friday’s report.
Circling back to Halifax County, to get to 80% immunity, about 27,600 residents would need to be vaccinated. There are less than 1,000 current residents fully vaccinated.