At the end of October—eight months after recording its first of the novel coronavirus—Orange County had reported 421 total cases. One month later, that figure had climbed to 599. Less than two months later, it more than doubled to 894.
As of Tuesday morning, Orange County had reported 295 new COVID-19 cases in December alone and has averaged more than 83 new cases per week for the past two weeks.
For the sake of comparison, there weren’t more than 83 cases in any one month until October—which brought 90 new cases of the highly infectious, easily transmissible global disease.
Rappahannock Rapidan Health District Director Dr. Wade Kartchner said the surge is community-spread.
As alarming as Orange County’s numbers appear, they’re disturbingly consistent with case spikes in neighboring counties.
Louisa County’s case count also more than doubled from the end of October through Dec. 29 (from 410-870). In Madison County, there were 139 cases at the end of October and there are 283 now. Greene County reported 294 at the end of October and now reports 524 cases. Culpeper had 1,394 two months ago and 2,915 Tuesday.
“The case numbers, measured as the seven-day average of new daily cases reported, are fairly similar across all those counties,” Dr. Kartchner noted.
He said the governor’s increased restrictions implemented late last month “probably have helped,” and he hoped central Virginia families adhered to recommendations to limit Christmas gatherings to help prevent the spread. “If not, there may be a surge in a few weeks,” he added.
As of Tuesday morning, there are 340,297 total cases in Virginia with 17,782 hospitalizations and 4,920 deaths. Orange County reported 44 hospitalizations and three more deaths in the past week, bringing the local count to 13.
The surge in cases comes as Virginia begins its rollout of the two FDA-approved virus vaccines and a new dashboard reporting the number of doses administered and a demographic summary of the recipients.
This new information will keep the public informed about the numbers of COVID-19 vaccines distributed and administered in Virginia, the Virginia Department of Health said in a press release issued last Wednesday.
“We are providing this information because there is a lot of interest in COVID-19 vaccine,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver. “In this initial phase, our VDH teams are working with healthcare systems to get vaccines to healthcare personnel and with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care residents and staff. As the supply of COVID-19 vaccine gradually increases, it will continue to be offered to additional groups.”
According to the VDH virus dashboard, 65 of 41,709 statewide vaccine doses have been administered in Orange County as of Tuesday morning.
Dr. Kartchner said those vaccines would have been given to various hospital system employees who reside in Orange County.
“Our health district is starting vaccination clinics for this week for the entire district and will be doing so for the next six to eight weeks as we move through the priority groups identified by the CDC,” he said.
Initially, those vaccines will be given at a central location in the five-county district, he said. Appointments are ongoing to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers, EMS providers, law enforcement staff and others identified as essential by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the VDH.
“This step in our battle against COVID-19 cannot come soon enough, as the numbers continue to tell a story of increasing cases in Virginia and the district, with the accompanying hospitalizations and deaths increasing as well,” Dr. Kartchner said. “Even with the arrival of the vaccine, we are not out of the woods yet. It will take time to vaccinate all of the first phases of recipients, and I anticipate the vaccine will be available to the general public around the end of spring or early summer. Keep in mind that events and timelines are fluid and often due to circumstances out of our control.”
Until vaccinations are widely available and administered, the basic safety precautions still hold true, Dr. Kartchner said.
“I want people to realize that even though vaccines are being rolled out, we still need to follow the standard advice of washing hands frequently, watch your distance (6 feet), wear a mask, and wait to return to work if you are sick.”