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Vaccine roll-out continues as COVID cases trend downward

Vaccine roll-out continues as COVID cases trend downward

More than one-third of Orange County’s 1,530 COVID-19 cases were recorded in January.

The month closed with 572 new cases of the highly contagious coronavirus, with more than 300 of those cases reported during a two-week period in the middle of the month.

However, weekly case counts have been declining since then with only 93 new cases reported since Sunday, Jan. 24.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Orange County’s seven-day average of daily new cases reported is down to 11, half as much as it had been two weeks prior.

The decline in local cases mirrors what’s been happening nationwide and statewide since mid-January. In early January, the state’s seven-day average of new cases peaked at 5,700. A week later it was 4,500 and down to 3,600 a week after that.

The decline is good news, considering the challenges associated with vaccine rollout and availability across Virginia.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 4,200 Orange County residents had been vaccinated, with 371 having received both shots. Across the state, more than 850,000 doses have been administered, with 125,000 fully vaccinated. Approximately 9% of Virginia’s population has received at least one dose, according to VDH data.

According to Rappahannock Rapidan Health District Director Dr. Wade Kartchner, Virginia’s primary distribution of doses is allocated by the Virginia Department of Health to local health districts, in proportion to each district’s population. Virginia is receiving approximately 105,000 new doses each week, and approximately 2,000 of those are allocated for the health district.

“We are working to allocate those equitably throughout the health district, using some at our central clinic at Germanna Community College and re-allocating approximately half the doses to our partners (hospitals, private clinics, or pharmacies) throughout the district,” Dr. Wade Kartchner reported. “These groups may change from week to week, but they are using the health district list we have been generating from the surveys submitted.”

Additional doses reach some residents of Virginia through separate federal allocations for employees of the U.S. Department of Defense and certain other agencies; the Indian Health Service; and a federal contract with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities.

All local health districts have moved to Phase 1b of vaccine eligibility, he said.

“This means that approximately 50% of Virginia’s population is now eligible, including frontline essential workers, people aged 65 years and older, people with high-risk medical conditions identified by the CDC, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps,” Dr. Kartchner explained.

Frontline essential workers will be prioritized in the order listed in the Phase 1b details (fire and EMS workers, corrections and homeless shelter workers, childcare and school teachers and staff, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store staff, public transit workers, mail carriers and officials needed to maintain continuity of government).

According to the VDH, workers who are in these sectors essential to the functioning of society, are at substantially higher risk of exposure to the virus, and cannot work remotely.

Other than the healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities in Phase 1a, the Virginians in Phase 1b are at the highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 or serious illness if infected, Dr. Kartchner noted. “If you do not fit into one of these categories, please be courteous and allow those who do to receive vaccine first.”

Because of the volume of doses, Virginia is unlikely to meet the demand in Phase 1b until March or April, he said, and it may be weeks longer before vaccination appointments become available for those who have registered.

Anyone eligible for Phase 1a or 1b based on occupation should check with their employer to see if arrangements have already been made, and should otherwise register with the local health department in the locality where they work, Dr. Kartchner said. Anyone eligible based on age or medical condition should register with the local health department in the locality where they live.

Those interested in receiving a vaccine should visit the health district website at rrhd.org and fill out the appropriate survey. Those without internet access can call (540) 308-6072.

Anyone who receives a first dose of vaccine will receive the second dose three or four weeks later, as appropriate, Dr. Kartchner said. Patients who receive their first dose through the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District clinic will receive an email inviting them to schedule their second dose approximately one week prior to the appointment due date. If anyone received a first dose through another entity, they should expect notification from that entity. In addition, there is no need to fill out a second survey for the second dose.

Assistance for general questions in English, Spanish, and other languages is also available through the VDH Call Center at 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343). The commonwealth is investing in a significant expansion of call center capacity in the coming weeks, and is working with local health districts to ensure information and registration is available on their websites and by phone.

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