COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rising in Dan River Region, but new models pull back on surge severity | Local News

However, elevated cases could last longer than anticipated just two weeks ago.

But as health experts are quick to warn, the coronavirus is not one for following patterns and easily can shift course without warning.

Combined, Danville and Pittsylvania County are averaging about 51 new reported cases of COVID-19 per day, a steady increase in the last month. That count is undoubtedly an underestimation of the real number of illnesses in the community. That’s because many people are opting for the at-home testing.

Those kits offer convenience, but the results aren’t reported to the Virginia Department of Health, leaving a gap in the true picture.

As of Friday, Sovah Health was treating about a dozen patients for COVID-19 across its campuses in Danville and Martinsville. That’s more than double compared to late last month.

The increase in hospitalizations pushed Danville back into the medium stage of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s community level tracker. For a week, the city briefly dipped into the low stage. Pittsylvania County’s status has stayed steady in the medium tier.

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For this level, the federal agency doesn’t recommend mask wearing for the general public, however, high-risk individuals are advised to don face coverings for indoor spaces, experts at the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute suggest.

The CDC uses hospitalizations and current caseloads to weigh the burden on health care systems for its three-category system. When a location jumps into the high level — such as neighboring Halifax County — that triggers the mask recommendation for all.

The Pittsylvania-Danville Health District remains in a surge trajectory, defined as a doubling of cases on a 100,000-population scale.

Cases have dipped slightly across the state, but officials warn the impact of the Memorial Day weekend could be in play.

“The holiday may affect surveillance and modeling efforts with testing and reporting delays,” researchers wrote in Friday’s UVa report. “A few districts are showing case declines this week, but interruptions in testing and reporting may be impacting case data.”

Also, since gatherings and travel may result in increased spread, the holiday’s impact may not become fully clear until two weeks from now.

The latest models from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute scale back the anticipated summer surge of COVID-19. However, models now show a prolonged period of elevated casesloads. 

New models

UVa narrowed its forecasting models in Friday’s report to just three: the current course, one showing the impact in new emerging subvariants and the final exploring what increased mitigation efforts would do to the situation.

The first model keeps cases increasing slightly with only a “muted rise” until the beginning of the fall.

The second models shows a larger surge occurring by early September. The also anticipates two new subvariants of omicron — itself a spawn of the original coronavirus — will overtake the current version.

“Preliminary evidence suggests the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have advantages over BA.2.12.1 and will eventually out-compete it,” scientists wrote in the report. “Models suggest the possibility of considerable growth in the coming weeks, but the uncertainty bounds are quite large.”

In this situation, the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District could see about 1,347 cases per week, Friday’s model update shows. By comparison, there were 363 infections logged over the past seven days.

The most optimistic scenario shows cases rising to a slight peak in early July, then falling until the rest of the year.

“This scenario shows the importance of Virginians continuing to practice appropriate prevention and following the prevention guidelines for the CDC Community Level in their area,” researchers said.

Overall, all forecasts point to smaller peaks compared to the model runs two weeks ago. None show a serious threat to capacity for the hospitals.

“These are all good signs for those hoping for a mild summer,” authors of the report said. “Despite this, there are reasons to remain vigilant.”

A new era

With life — relatively speaking — resuming to pre-pandemic normals, a new era of COVID-19 has emerged.

Vaccinations are considered to be the ultimate weapon safeguarding Virginians.

“Even as cases persist and new variants escape immunity, these vaccinations continue to provide protection from sever disease and death,” UVa researchers said. “Nevertheless, COVID-19 continues to kill, including over 100 Virginians in April.”

Acknowledging the battle is far from over, UVa suggests residents follow prevention methods based on current community levels. And even though cases statewide have leveled off, they are still much higher than a year ago.

“Though there is reason for optimism, there are also reasons to remain vigilant,” UVa researcher said.

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