By Callie Hietala
Recently, the University of Virginia (UVa)’s COVID-19 model predicted a surge in cases for the West Piedmont Health District, which includes Martinsville and Henry County.
According to the model, which is available on the Virginia Department of Health’s (VHD) website, the area is predicted to see nearly 600 new COVID-19 cases by October 31. However, the VDH website notes that “models are not crystal balls,” and predictions do not have to become realities.
The prediction comes as COVID-19 cases in the area are trending steadily downward, and the number of hospitalizations across both campuses at Sovah Health has remained at 45, the same as last week.
“This data comes from the Biocomplexity (Institute and Initiative) at UVa, and they model based on the number of people in our community who are vaccinated as well as other factors,” including death rates and hospitalizations, said Nancy Bell, public information officer for the West Piedmont Health District. “Let’s not let the model prevail.”
Currently, Martinsville and Henry County are about 50/50 in terms of vaccinated versus unvaccinated population. “If we could get to 75 percent (vaccination rate) by the end of this month, we would miss this,” she said. “This curve would not look like it looks right now.”
Looking at this model, “you’re standing looking at the ocean and the wave looks really big on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean it has to reach us,” Bell said, and reiterated that the COVID-19 vaccines are free, readily available, and safe. “Let’s turn back the tide on this prediction from UVa.”
She also encouraged residents to get a flu shot, which can be given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine.
Flu could be a complicating factor in the continued pandemic this fall, she said, since both flu and COVID-19 attack the body’s immune system. “If you have one and get the other, it could be fatal or at least very serious.”
Dr. Sheranda Gunn-Nolan, Chief Medical Officer for Sovah Health, encouraged mask wearing in public areas regardless of vaccination status. While vaccinated people are largely protected from the effects of COVID-19, it is still possible for them to transmit the virus to unvaccinated people.
“It is devastating to see what conspiracy theories (surrounding COVID-19) can do,” Gunn-Nolan said, and added that healthcare workers routinely now ask patients about vaccine status when obtaining regular patient history. The question is asked of any patient, whether admitted for COVID-19 or something as simple as a foot injury. Patients have become fearful, upset, and at times even belligerent when the question is posed to them.
Gunn-Nolan said that care will not be withheld from any patient, regardless of their vaccination status. “We care for all of our patients the same,” she said, “but it is imperative we know that information so we can understand risk.”
To find a local COVID-19 vaccination site, visit vaccine.gov. To learn more about the status of COVID-19 in the state and in our communities or to view the latest UVa COVID-19 prediction model, visit vdh.virginia.gov.