In a matter of just a few weeks, the coronavirus tide has turned in Virginia, churned up by a storm known as the delta variant.
About a month ago, COVID-19 cases across the state were at the lowest levels of the pandemic amounting to about 15 infections per 100,000 people a week. Last week, there were 113 cases per 100,000 people.
It marks a “stunning turnaround” in the pandemic, researchers wrote in Friday’s report by the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute.
There are 25 out of 35 health districts in the state currently experiencing a surge in cases. Halifax County is in one of those surge areas. About a month ago, nearly all areas of the commonwealth were flat or experiencing a drop in cases.
Halifax County is averaging about seven new virus cases a day, a level not seen since March. Cases weren’t this high last summer when lockdowns forced many people to forgo routine walks of life.
What changed? The answer is two-fold. First, an altered version of the novel coronavirus — known by the Greek letter delta — started its rapid spread across the nation.
“Like many major storms that move through the South, the Delta storm is making its way into Virginia,” UVa researchers said.
Delta delivers a powerful punch because it spreads easily between individuals and can infect more people than the original coronavirus strain. Also, evidence is mounting that the variant can cause more severe illness, UVa reported.
The other factor contributing to the dramatic turnaround is the low levels of vaccinations. In Halifax County, only 45% of adults are fully vaccinated. When factoring in children, only 38% of the entire population has received full doses of protection.
Those dismal numbers give the virus plenty of room to spread, researchers said.
Even those who are vaccinated can still get COVID-19 — known as breakthrough cases — but those occurrences are somewhat rare.
“Some studies do show reduced efficacy of vaccines against the delta variant, but they are very effective against infection by delta and greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death,” UVa researchers said.
Simply put, the vaccines are doing exactly as designed. No shot will offer full protection from an illness, but the vaccines dramatically reduce the impacts of the virus if an individual were to catch it.
Another child dies of COVID-19
Last week, the Virginia Department of Health reported a child in the Eastern Region had died from complications of COVID-19.
The department provided no other details “to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family,” a news release said. This is the first reported death of a child in the Eastern Region with COVID-19 in Virginia.
“We extend our condolences to the family and friends of this child at this time of great loss,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver. “COVID-19 has taken thousands of lives from us, and every death is a tragedy.”
The pandemic is far from over, Oliver said.
“We have made progress in these past months against this virus, but a tragic event like the death of this young child is a stark reminder that our work is not done.”
Even a wave of vaccinations now may not be able to hold off an impending surge of cases that could top the records set in January.
“If vaccination rates pick up, the model estimates that over 60,000 cases could be avoided,” researchers said. “Do your part to stop the spread. Continue to practice good prevention and get vaccinated when eligible.”
However, it takes about six weeks to become fully vaccinated. Even in “optimal vaccination” scenarios, the state is poised to see cases continue to climb.
The UVa report reiterated the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s call for everyone — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks in indoor public settings for areas of high or significant transmission levels.
That currently means nearly 95% of Virginia residents — including Halifax County — are encouraged to pull the face coverings back out and don them once more.
Even those who are fully vaccinated can spread the delta variant.
“Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask in public indoor spaces, keep an eye on local transmission levels and follow guidance of local public health departments,” researchers said.
It was last November when the UVa report started sounding alarms on national trends.
At the time, cases were exploding across several states in the Midwest.
Specifically, weekly cases had topped 100 per 100,000 residents in two states, reaching 126 per 100,000 in South Dakota and 164 per 100,000 in North Dakota.
Eventually, those numbers grew and spread.
Fast forward to the present and the figures are far worst. Last week, Louisiana reported 653 weekly cases per 100,000, and Florida 590 per 100,000.
In fact, about 35 states are now in the 100-club, meaning case rates have topped 100 per 100,000 population.
“Last fall’s blizzard has been followed by a hurricane,” researchers said.