Two years after the first positive COVID-19 incident in the Blue Ridge Health District, the Charlottesville area is starting to open up even more, but officials and doctors say the pandemic is not over yet.
“Although COVID is definitely going down right now, it is fair to say that we are not going to overcome COVID and what we need to do now is learn to live with it and go about our daily lives in a way. , which is safe for all of our community members, ”said Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Blue Ridge Health District, at a news conference Wednesday.
Since March 16, 2020, 44,000 people have been tested positive for COVID-19, and 435 community members have died due to the virus in the health district, which includes the towns of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties.
The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to end the county’s local emergency in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The county, which has held virtual public meetings for nearly two years, plans to return to some personal meetings next month.
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In the region, only Charlottesville and Scottsville still have COVID-19-related local emergencies in place. All localities in the district fall below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ‘medium’ COVID-19 community level, which recommends that those who have been vaccinated against the virus can go without a face mask.
COVID-19 cases continue to fall in the district as hospitals see fewer patients with the virus than just a few weeks ago. Yet the pandemic is not over.
Bonds said there will continue to be cases in the community as it moves toward an endemic state of continuous infection.
“There are likely to be further variants happening in the community and we are likely to see further outbreaks as time goes on,” she said.
There may be a future need to reintroduce mitigation measures and additional boosters or different variations of the vaccines needed.
“As part of that, I want to acknowledge that some members of our society will remain at higher risk than other members of our society, and we must be kind and caring to those who continue to distance themselves and wear masks and Avoid these indoor spaces which we now know are the highest risk areas, ”she said.
There is no “light line” when a virus or disease has crossed into the endemic stage – where there is a constant level of it.
“It can be a constant low level, or it can be a constant high level. It’s just a disease that we expect and will always have in society, such as the common cold, ”Bonds said.
She said the health district is looking to the CDC to move into that phase, but she would prefer a longer period without major increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths before it is considered.
“Over the last six months, we’ve had several big peaks when we’ve got new varieties. It would be really useful to have more months where there is a lower, more stable rate to make that call, ”she said.
“But it really should not change people’s behavior. You should be able to go to the websites and see what is happening in your community, and base your behavior on the rates that are happening in the community and your personal risk levels, ”Bonds said.
Dr. Bill Petri, an immunologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said in an interview that two things could mean we are not out of the woods yet – new varieties are emerging and vaccine or natural infection acquired immunity is short-lived.
“The best estimates are that immunity to re-infection can be as short as three months or as long as five to six years, and the best bet is that there are probably about a year and a half or so,” he said. “So if that’s true, it’s really good news, because then it means it would probably take us into the fall or even winter with persistently high levels of immunity.”
A new version of the latest omicron variant, called BA.2, is creeping into the area, Bonds said. However, many people who test positive still have the BA.1 omicron variant.
“We, probably more than Europe, had a higher infection rate with omicron in general in the US, and so that should mean more people are resistant and in the immediate post-recovery stage where your immunity is highest,” Bonds said. “Hopefully it’s not that big of an impact. It hasn’t been that far.”
Petri said it is important that people who have not yet been vaccinated do so.
“If you fall into one of these risk groups that do not respond well to the vaccine, such as people who have received kidney transplants, for example, there are now ways to passively immunize you by giving you the monoclonal antibodies to the spike glycoprotein. . ,” he said.