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Community COVID cases continue to fall

University of Virginia Health officials say the number of COVID cases in the university’s medical facilities continue to drop as the post-holiday surge created by the omicron variant continues to abate.

Officials say cases continue to decline at UVa Medical Center with 57 patients being treated for COVID as of Friday. Of those, 38 are in intensive care, said Dr. Reid Adams, interim chief medical officer.

“We’re seeing a decrease in the number of patients week over week for the past couple of weeks,” Adams said.

The decreasing case counts led UVa administrators to announce on Tuesday that mask mandate would be lifted across Grounds on March 21, excluding classrooms during class and on university buses.

“We’re presently in a pretty good place in terms of our ability to predict how it’s going to impact our community right now, but the question is how or will that change over time,” said Dr. Sifri Costi, director of hospital epidemiology for UVa Medical center. “The vast majority of people in our community and across the US has been vaccinated or have had COVID due to the omicron strain. In the near term, we expect, and have seen, a continued diminution of COVID cases.”

Officials said the variation of the omicron variant, colloquially called BA.2, has not become a major vector of illness as some world health officials had feared.

The subvariant is ‘somewhat more transmissible’ than the highly infectious omicron variant, but so far makes up less than 5% of cases.

"If it’s going to lead to a second wave of cases, it hasn’t been seen, yet," Sifri said. "There is some thinking that it could slow down the rate of decrease in cases, but we’re seeing the rate drop and BA.2 does not appear to be causing a surge."

But Sifri said that the university, and the community, need to be prepared to reverse course should case counts rise again.

“We need to understand that we need to be flexible. Masks are very effective when used by everybody in times of high COVID transmission,” Sifri said. “We’ve seen the COVID virus has been unpredictable. It’s a worldwide pandemic. How long does the present period of infection continue to decrease, how long does the immunity from vaccines and getting COVID persist and what is the level of that protection, these are unknowns.”

“Things are looking better right now,” Adams said, “but we’ve been fooled before by the virus.”


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