By Taylor Boyd
Health officials said complacency is a factor in the ongoing surge of infection rates throughout the West Piedmont Health District (WPHD), and they predict the coming months will be a perfect storm due to COVID-19, the holidays, and the onset of flu season.
“That scares us,” Nancy Bell, public information officer for the health district, said. “If you have the flu, and your immunity is run down because of it, and you get COVID on top of it, it is going to be very bad.”
If that scenario plays out in reverse, “it’s the same. It’s extremely hard to recuperate from that combination, since both attack the lungs,” Bell said, and noted the flu also claims lives each year.
Bell said she understands, but this is not the time for complacency.
“People are tired of COVID, and they’re tired of hearing wear the masks and wash your hands. I’m tired of it, and I’m in public health,” Bell said.
They also are turning a deaf ear to warnings.
“People aren’t behaving,” Bell said. “We’ve put people in isolation, and we see them out. People aren’t wearing masks and they’re going to parties. It’s not just Patrick County or Henry County either, it’s the whole district,” which also includes Franklin County and the City of Martinsville.
In fact, the entire southwestern part of Virginia is doing worse mitigating the spread of the virus than the rest of the Commonwealth, Bell said. “Roanoke and everything to the left has worse COVID-19 rates than the rest of Virginia.”
She added that people are not taking care when moving throughout their communities.
Dr. Ralph Kramer, of Patrick County Family Practice, said many may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, which also poses a threat.
“If a person is asymptomatic, they have COVID, but don’t show any symptoms. This is common in younger people who have the virus. Someone who is pre-symptomatic has COVID but will start to have symptoms later. They have an incubation period of a few days before they start to feel sick,” he said.
“Something as innocent as having your sister and brother-in-law over for Sunday lunch can spread the virus. If you get one person at a church congregation or choir, and they start singing, then there go the germs,” Bell said, adding the virus is adept at jumping from host to host.
“It takes two days for symptoms to start showing. So, there’s a two-day window in which you can infect everyone you spend time with, like your children and friends, without knowing it,” she said, adding that helps the virus grow exponentially.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends non-traditional holiday gatherings this year, Bell said she does not believe many will follow the guidelines or work to create “a new normal this year” because “it’s who we are, and holidays are important. Let’s just hope the weather’s warm enough to gather outside or do Thanksgiving in shifts or drive-thru.”
Kramer said those who choose to have a traditional Thanksgiving should maintain minimum distance of 6-feet from others.
“If the holidays are being held somewhere with poor ventilation and air circulation, the distance should be increased from 6 feet to 10 feet for increased safety. Six-feet has become the standard, but the virus can spread over that distance if people are coughing and the room isn’t well ventilated,” he said.
Bell noted Dr. Richard Cole of the Patrick County Family Practice and Patrick County Urgent Care, has continued his contract with the health district to continue free COVID-19 testing throughout the holiday season. In addition to Saturday testing sites located in various areas of the county, testing also is available at the urgent care facility.
“Anyone who feels like they might have exposed themselves to COVID, or just wants to make sure they are okay after Thanksgiving, should go and get one of those free tests,” she said.
If the escalation of positive COVID-19 cases continues, Bell said that Gov. Ralph Northam could issue another ‘Stay at Home’ order.
“He could put us back in Phase 2, and mandate a mask order for people when they are out, unless they have a medical card that states why they can’t” wear a mask, she said, adding masks are 95 percent effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
“If we all wore the masks” and followed other recommendations, Bell said “we would all get around the corner much quicker.”