Public health official concerned as SW VA case rates rise — Single-day rate doubles Wednesday

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Mount Rogers Health District’s Breanne Forbes Hubbard said low COVID-19 vaccination rates in Southwest Virginia put the region at greater risk if cases continue to rise.

MARION, Va. (WJHL) – Southwest Virginia’s new COVID case rates have stalled at a high level and appear to be rising again and that — along with the region’s low vaccination rate — has Mount Rogers Health District’s Breanne Forbes Hubbard concerned.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 (community spread rate) jumped more than 10% in the nine-county region Wednesday as 207 new cases were reported by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). It went from 229 Tuesday to 264, which marks the highest rate since Oct. 29.

COVID case rates rose significantly Wednesday in Southwest Virginia to reach their highest rate in three weeks.

“That’s a good question and it’s one we’re all thinking about this morning,” Forbes Hubbard told News Channel 11 Wednesday when asked what was causing the recent increases.

“Our case rates in the health district our case numbers really doubled overnight and those are all new cases, it’s not a backlog of old data or anything.”

The rate had started November at 241, less than half its level of Oct. 1, but has moved little since. It actually hit a monthly low on Monday at 221 but is up 19% since then.

“We know that as people go back to indoor activities, as it’s cooler there’s more likelihood for disease transmission,” Forbes Hubbard said as she mentioned possible causes for the recent stall and now a potential uptick in rates.

“It’s really important to carry on with those good mitigation strategies, doing things outside, masking, et cetera,” she said.

But Forbes Hubbard, who is the district’s population health manager, said she completely understands people’s frustration with the restrictions that COVID mitigation has placed on their lives.

I think the biggest thing probably is that we’re all so sick of this, right, like everyone,” she said.

Breanne Forbes Hubbard describes the COVID fatigue people are experiencing — and the risks it poses.

“We are sick of it, you’re sick of it, everybody’s sick of COVID and people are just wanting to get back to their pre-pandemic life, and I think people are letting go of a lot of the safeguards earlier than we probably should be doing because we are all so ready to move on from those things.”

There’s significant risk in that, though, she added. New COVID hospitalization rates have climbed recently after reaching a low during the delta surge last week.

Metrics remain much worse than the state’s

With low vaccination rates, Southwest Virginia has seen community spread rates more than double the statewide rates since mid-September. With those higher rates have come hospitalization and death numbers that are even more disproportionate.

Since Sept. 1, COVID deaths per 100,000 are 81 in the region and 30 statewide, or 2.7 times as high.

COVID hospitalizations during the same period are 169 per 100,000 population to 69 statewide – 2.4 times as high.

The higher level of vulnerability is exacerbated by generally poorer population health and more people with so-called “co-morbidities” like diabetes and heart disease.

As of Wednesday, VDH reported that 64% of Virginians were fully vaccinated against COVID. Regionally, the figure was 44.6%.

Forbes Hubbard said those statistics make for a potent cocktail when combined with people’s very understandable fatigue with COVID mitigation.

“I think that combined with we have really low vaccination rates comparatively in this region, it just puts us at risk for more disease transmission.”

A total of 233 Southwest Virginians have died of COVID-19 since Sept. 1. Since the pandemic began that number is 954.

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