By Callie Hietala
With COVID-19 still in the region, local health officials encouraged both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated to use caution when gathering this holiday season.
“We want everyone to gather safely for the holidays so they can be together to gather another year,” said Dr. Sheranda Gunn-Nolan, chief medical officer with Sovah Health.
Particularly for families of mixed vaccination status, “any time you’re indoors with a variation in vaccine status, it does put those that are not vaccinated at highest risk,” Gunn-Nolan said, adding that she has had conversations with families who have made decisions to gather “and then the one unvaccinated person contracted COVID-19 and will not be there celebrating another year. That’s something that will affect them for the rest of their lives.”
For those family gatherings, Gunn-Nolan said that masks, social distancing, and good hand hygiene are critical to helping mitigate risk. Some families are even asking loved ones to get tested before a holiday visit.
There are ju st over 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across Sovah’s Martinsville and Danville campuses, Gunn-Nolan said. She added that two-thirds of those are hospitalized in Martinsville. “More than 80 percent of those are unvaccinated,” she said, and noted recent data indicated that the unvaccinated are 4.3 times more likely to get COVID-19.
“COVID-19 vaccinations continue to prevent 9 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths,” she said., adding that the hospital system also is seeing an uptick in patients with post-COVID syndrome.
“It’s a little different for everyone,” she said of the symptoms, which can include shortness of breath and more serious medical events, like increased risks of heart attacks or strokes. Some patients develop post-COVID pneumonia that could require them to be placed on life support.
Though the omicron variant has been found in Virginia, it has not yet been detected in the region, Gunn-Nolan said, adding it is a matter of time before that variant is discovered locally.”
Omicron is “a significant mutation that could lead us down a pretty dark path,” she said, adding that unfortunately, in terms of variants, ““there are more to come.”