Central Virginia ready for another COVID peak

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Central Virginia is expected to experience another wave of COVID infections, with the CDC updating their COVID-19 community levels in several places to the average level.

The community level measures “case rates, hospitalization rates, and hospital capacity” and replaces a previous CDC measure that was based only on transmission.

The Richmond and Henrico Health District (RHHD) released a statement Friday saying that an increasing number of cases have been observed across the region, including in places where their community level has not yet been updated.

This map shows COVID-19 community levels across the state. (Map courtesy of the CDC)

“We understand that people can feel frustrated or tired when they get to an intermediate level,” says Dr. Melissa Viray, Acting Director of RHHD. “However, this is what we have prepared for.”

The district said they were increasing the availability of free PCR tests at community clinics in anticipation of an increase in cases. However, the list of community testing sites the district refers to in their statement has not been updated since April 25, and the last scheduled testing event was on May 5.

Residents can also pick up free home tests from several Richmond Public Library branches, listed here. The free tests are also available from RHHD resources in the city, whose addresses are listed on the same page.

Leading Indicators

Cases across the state have risen again in recent weeks, following a rise in cases earlier this year, which peaked in mid-January.

Data from the Virginia Department of Health shows that COVID cases are on the rise again in the Commonwealth. (Graph courtesy of the VDH)

However, another early warning may come from an unexpected place: Richmond’s sewers.

dr. Rekha Singh runs the CDC’s wastewater monitoring program in Virginia, and she told 8News that viral loads in the sewage system — the measure of dead COVID-19 viruses released in stool — may be a “leading indicator” of an increase in infections in a area.

The program is currently operating at one location in Central Virginia, where viral loads are being observed in Richmond’s sewer system. An increase in viral load in sewage is often followed by an increase in clinical cases within a week or two, making it a potentially useful tool in predicting outbreaks.

dr. Singh said they have seen an increase in viral load at the Richmond observation point since mid-April, pointing to a likely increase in the number of cases in the future.

The program also hopes to expand to other places in the near future, which will help officials compare levels between different locations.

What residents can do?

The health district advised residents of affected counties to “stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, improve indoor ventilation, and follow CDC recommendations for isolation or quarantine if they are sick or exposed.”

The district added that while Richmond City was not yet at an intermediate community level, the increasing number of cases in the region meant it was likely they would be relocated soon as well.

“If we stay on top of COVID vaccinations and take more preventive measures during times of increased transmission, we can protect our most vulnerable,” said Dr. virus.

Data shows that in Virginia, unvaccinated people died from COVID-19 much more often than those who were vaccinated. (Graph courtesy of the VDH)

During the peak of the Omicron peak earlier this year, nearly 600 Virginians per week died from COVID.

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