COVID cases up sharply over past month in county

Cases of COVID-19 have increased sharply in Pulaski County in just the last month, but this latest spike may be slowing.

The most recent COVID-19 update from the New River Valley Public Health Task Force – released Wednesday – shows Pulaski County with 725 cases of the coronavirus since March.

Dr. Noelle Bissell

That number is up 27 cases in just two days, and dramatically higher than a month ago when, on Oct. 26 the county reported only 293 cases.

In that month, the county has seen its seven-day average of new cases rise from just 3 to 15. The number of hospitalizations has increased from 16 in late October to 42 this week. The number of deaths is higher as well, rising from 6 to 14.

While the recent spike in COVID-19 cases has begun to show signs of ending, health officials expect another rise in coming days following last week’s family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

“We fully expect we will see a rise in the number of cases over the next week to ten days,” said DrNoelle Bissell, Director of the New River Health District on Wednesday during her weekly video status update.

Bissell said hospitalizations may lag behind that period for a few weeks.

As the Christmas and New Year holidays near, Bissell urged valley residents to “bundle up and move things outdoors if you can.”

“If you do gather inside, try to shift the focus of gatherings away from shared meals, distance ourselves and wear masks,” Bissell urged, along with observing “good respiratory etiquette and washing hands.”

Most talk today on COVID-19 centers around the expected upcoming release of at least two vaccines.

“We’re getting positive news on vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna,” Bissell said, noting both companies’ vaccines are in the Federal Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Approval Process.  Both, she added, have “really good data to support that they are effective and safe.”

Bissell said the FDA will meet Dec. 10 on Pfizer’s vaccine and on Dec. 17 on Moderna’s, and she is hoping the FDA will issue emergency use authorization very soon thereafter.

She said availability of the vaccine will be limited initially with healthcare workers and nursing home residents being the first to receive doses because they are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It will take time for the stock of vaccine to increase enough before it can be widely distributed,” Bissell said, adding there are a lot of logistical concerns.

She noted that both vaccines require two doses – one 21 days apart and the other 28 days apart.

Bissell cautioned that citizens have to be careful to not let optimism over the vaccines “tempt us into letting our guards down.”

“We have got to remain vigilant and continue to work hard despite the fact we’re tired of COVID,” she said.

Bissell urged those who receive the vaccines to remember how vaccines work.

“They will activate your immune system and there will be some side effects,” Bissell stated, including “fatigue, headaches and some others.”

“You just won’t feel well for about 24 hours – especially after the first dose. That does not mean the vaccine has caused COVID. We get this a lot with vaccines. It’s just the immune system is doing exactly what it should be doing in mounting that immune response,” she said.

“Be prepared – that’s to be expected. It’s normal and actually a good sign the immune system is doing its thing,” Bissell said.

Bissell also noted it could take six months or more for the vaccines to be distributed enough to make a dent in the pandemic.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot