By Jeff Poole
The highly contagious Delta variant is driving the surge in local COVID-19 case counts, according to interim Rappahannock Rapidan Health District Director, Dr. Colin Greene.
Since last Monday, Orange County has reported 136 new virus cases, including two additional hospitalizations and two more deaths, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
“What we’re seeing locally is what we’re seeing all over the country,” Dr. Greene said. “There’s not a specific outbreak. This variant is more contagious and spreads much more easily. Instead of someone who is infected giving it to one or two other people, they’re now giving it to four or five. It’s happening all over the place.”
Among last week’s 136 cases, 102 were reported between Wenesday and Saturday, with Thursday’s 30 the highest one-day count since 33 on Feb. 2.
“Thirty is a lot for a county of just over 30,000 people,” Dr. Greene said. “The majority of these cases are people who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet.”
Orange County’s vaccination rate continues to climb slowly with just 47% of the population fully vaccinated.
“Some of those are under 12 and perhaps some have already had COVID and figure they’re immune, but we don’t know that for sure,” Dr. Greene said. “But I can say this: we know getting a vaccine reduces the risk of getting infected and reduces the risk of passing it on. If you’re vaccinated the risk of something bad happening is much, much less.”
While VDH data doesn’t detail “breakthrough” cases, Dr. Greene suggested between 10 and 20% of new local cases could be those who are vaccinated and still contract the virus.
Even so, Dr. Greene said those who are vaccinated are much less likely to end up suffering from “long COVID” symptoms, are much less likely to end up in the hospital or to die.
“There are any number of good reasons to get vaccinated,” he added.
Across the five-county health district, vaccination rates continue to rise, albeit slowly, he said. With the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he expected those rates to rise. Additionally, he expected emergency authorization this fall to vaccinate children between the ages of 5 and 12, which would further limit the spread.
“Young children aren’t the ones who are likely to die, but they can spread it around,” he said.
And while he acknowledged the surging local case numbers are discouraging, he said they’re not going to keep climbing forever. “I know people are sick of this. I’m sick of this. But it’s still out there and we’re not done with it.”
He said he’d prefer people be aware, not scared, of the current situation, and take the appropriate actions to help limit the spread of the virus.
“Fear doesn’t help, but people should consider what they’re doing and ask if there’s a better way—whether that’s meeting outdoors, or with a smaller group,” he said.
Vaccinations are available at all Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District departments on a walk-in basis.
In Orange County, those interested in receiving a free COVID-19 vaccination can visit the Orange County Health Department at 450 North Madison Road, Wednesdays from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
Vaccinations also are available at pharmacies and medical care providers.
For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine/.