MARION, Va. (WJHL) – COVID-19’s Omicron surge is at or near its peak, and the record numbers of new cases are making it impossible for health officials to fully investigate and contact trace, Mount Rogers Health District’s population health manager said Friday.

“This many cases is very challenging for both public health and health care systems to manage,” Forbes Hubbard said. “It is not possible for local health departments to investigate and trace all cases when numbers are so high, and our staff have been working under a prioritization approach, similar to other surges in the pandemic, with the goal of interrupting disease transmission.”

That transmission is higher than it has been during any previous surge.

COVID case rate graph
Southwest Virginia’s new COVID-19 case rate is now higher than the statewide peak reached eight days ago and has increased by more than 25% in just two days. (WJHL Photo)

“Our percent positivity is 33.2% today,” Breanne Forbes Hubbard said of a district that includes Washington and Smyth counties and the city of Bristol within News Channel 11’s viewing area. Test positivity rates are similar in the rest of the nine-county Southwest Virginia viewing area covered by the Lenowisco and Cumberland Plateau districts.

Case rates are falling statewide in Virginia but have climbed rapidly the past week in the rural southwest of the state, where the Omicron variant began sending case counts higher about 10 days later than most of the state. Thursday and Friday’s daily totals were the two highest on record.

The seven-day rolling average of 1,555 new cases per 100,000 population Friday was higher than Virginia’s statewide peak of 1,543 reached Jan. 13.

“We will have to see what our case numbers are in the coming days/week to determine if we have peaked or if cases are still rising,” Forbes Hubbard said.

In the meantime, both workplaces and schools are suffering, Forbes said, just as they have nationwide.

“We anticipate a continued challenge for employers and schools as the surge continues,” she said. 

Testing capacity remains — some positives have few symptoms

Forbes Hubbard said local health departments still have capacity for the “gold standard” PCR tests and appointments are available. She encouraged anyone who needs one to make an appointment or visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/protect-yourself/covid-19-testing/covid-19-testing-sites/ to locate other available testing.

She also said people should consider visiting the federal website that offers free home COVID tests, https://www.covidtests.gov/.

The Omicron variant is proving difficult to slow down partly because many people who have it show few symptoms.

“We have had people come in for testing with one or few mild symptoms that they ordinarily would assume to be a cold or allergies, but turn out to be COVID-19,” Forbes Hubbard said.

While it may be difficult or seem like overkill, she encouraged people to stay home if they have any symptoms at all and to get tested, even though rapid tests are currently difficult to find on store shelves.