‘I hate to be proper about this:’ SW VA public well being official says rising hospitalizations predictable | WJHL
ABINGDON, Virginia (WJHL) – Southwest Virginia is following northeast Tennessee in a spike in COVID with serious illnesses, and a public health official said the consequences are predictable.
“What we’ve been telling the community for months is that we feared that if we spike, we would see hospitals and our populations would be hit really hard because we weren’t vaccinated,” said Breanne, health manager for Mount Rogers Health District Forbes -Hubbard told News Channel 11 this week.
VDH: 214 new COVID cases in Southwest Virginia, 8 new hospital admissions
As case numbers began to surge in mid-to-late July, Forbes-Hubbard said officials in their health district and others in Southwest Virginia – Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco – were concerned. They knew hospital admissions and death rates could be worse there than in parts of Virginia with higher vaccination rates.
Almost 57 percent of Virginians are fully vaccinated compared to just 39 percent of Southwest Virginians. If the state rate is revised down to account for unmapped vaccinations, it is still 52.5 percent, well above the region’s level.
Since the delta variant has increased significantly, the percentage of unvaccinated COVID patients in the hospital has usually been over 90 percent.
Ballad Health therefore predicted high hospital admissions numbers, Forbes-Hubbard said.
“We really hoped it wouldn’t, some of Ballad’s models that we hoped wouldn’t work, but it really is.”
Cases continue to rise, and while the seven-day community spread rate of 369 per 100,000 is only about 60 percent of that in northeast Tennessee, it is more than 50 percent higher than the rate of 241 in Virginia.
COVID cases are rising faster in Southwest Virginia than nationwide
“Today we saw the highest number of cases internally, more than in all of June,” Forbes-Hubbard said of the Mount Rogers district, which includes Washington and Smyth counties, on News Channel 11’s viewing area.
“It’s only increasing at an exponential rate, and that’s just a direct result of the fact that our population is so underdeveloped that they are susceptible to this more contagious version of COVID 19.”
According to Forbes-Hubbard, the data shows that not only are vaccinated people “far, much less likely to be hospitalized, become seriously ill, or die,” but that they do not become infected with the virus nearly as often as unvaccinated people.
Active cases hit new highs in northeast Tennessee
Public health counties are still pushing for vaccination and containment
Forbes-Hubbard said the health districts, Ballad, and others have had some success with vaccine events, especially in businesses.
Companies that support vaccination run repeat clinics and she said “more and more employees are getting vaccinated”.
She also said that a local parishioner who was hospitalized has proven to be an effective advocate of vaccination and that those numbers have increased somewhat in the past few weeks.
This graph shows the spread rate of the COVID-19 community in Virginia and Southwest Virginia on July 30th and August 27th. The rate has increased much faster in rural southwest Virginia, where the vaccination rate is much lower.
“I think some people see some personal stories and see this hit around them in ways they may not have seen before.”
But before this surge, the low acceptance even extended to community workers with the health department. She said some “were a little hesitant to get the vaccine, wanted to hold out, wanted to wait a little, see how things went”.
Several of these employees changed their minds after contracting COVID themselves, she said.
They “realized this is definitely very serious and are now advocating COVID vaccines and protection strategies in their community.
“I think sometimes when people have this close connection, that person meets themselves or a loved one, they really realize how important it is.”
She hopes this will extend to eligible school age children. As in northeast Tennessee, the current surge has resulted in a higher percentage of children contracting the virus than they did earlier in the pandemic.
“Over the past week we have seen the greatest, albeit very small, growth in our vaccine numbers in 12-15 year olds who received their first dose and were fully vaccinated,” said Forbes-Hubbard.
In Mount Rogers County, 25.8 percent of that age group had at least one dose and 18.7 percent were fully vaccinated by Wednesday.
Schools in Washington County, TN will be closed next week due to COVID-19
She said despite the “very significant increase in the number of pediatric cases,” she believes a nationwide school mask mandate will help contain the spread in schools, at least to some extent.
“This is a proven strategy in our region that has worked, it worked last year and will help this year too,” she said. “We expect more cases just because of the increased portability of the Delta variant, but we know that the masks will protect.”
Forbes-Hubbard has no data on compliance within schools. However, she believes that most of the people connected to the school system “have a good understanding of why we need to do this and how it helps prevent quarantines and keep children in school”.
She called the current situation in the region “frustrating and sad”.
“We were all hoping we wouldn’t be as bad as winter here and we said, ‘Well, we have vaccines now and hopefully it will get better.’ But we’re so unvaccinated that it looks like the hospital stays could get worse.
“It’s so frustrating and so sad that we’re here because we don’t have to be here. We didn’t have to be in this place and we didn’t have to be in this place and the power to stop this is in the hands of our community. “