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COVID cases creep up again in Charlottesville

Students and faculty have only recently returned to University of Virginia Grounds, but there’s one thing that never left Charlottesville: COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in recent weeks. Nationally, there were 12,613 hospitalizations between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12, according to the CDC. That’s a 21.6% increase over the prior week.

In Virginia, there were 3.37 COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population in the week ending Aug. 19, according to the state Department of Health. That’s a 22% increase over the prior week.

And while Charlottesville’s numbers are hard to come by and the state says they remain low, local doctors say they have seen an uptick in patients — and there are likely even more going unreported.

Despite the rise in hospitalizations, deaths remain incredibly rare locally, statewide and nationally: averaging in the low single digits week to week.

The predictably unpredictable nature of the coronavirus isn’t changing any time soon, epidemiologists say.

“I think the new normal is what we’re seeing right now, the continued anticipation that things will not be as predictable as we like,” Costi D. Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at UVa Health, told The Daily Progress.

COVID-19 has been harder to track now that the pandemic has come to an end, data portals have been shut down and testing has become more accessible with at-home kits, according to Sifri. It’s believed that the rate of unreported cases now exceeds the days when the pandemic first started.

An inaccurate number of cases reported poses a potential risk for those who are immunocompromised by limiting the amount of information available.

“Understanding what the risk is for them is challenging, and if they have that information they may elect to make some behavioral changes that would reduce their risk to COVID,” Sifri said.

The UVa COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard stopped updating its data on March 8.

Recent reports of cases come from physicians receiving calls from patients who have coronavirus and an uptick in employees who have called out sick, according to Sifri.

“I think we’re seeing an increase in COVID, and I don’t want to call it a spike — that may be a little bit of hyperbole at this point — but I think it’s undeniable that we’re seeing more COVID,” Sifri said.

An increase in the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 at UVa has been reported, according to Sifri. It is not a “huge” increase, though still one worth noting.

“For much of the summer and including up until the start of this month here in August we’ve averaged about two to three patients in the hospital with COVID at any given time,” Sifri said.

The current number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 sits around 12 patients, according to Sifri.

“Most are not hospitalized due to COVID. They have COVID and they may have symptoms, but they’re in the hospital for other reasons,” Sifri said. “But we’ve had individuals who are here in the hospital and are here primarily because of having a COVID infection that has led to their hospitalization.”

COVID-19 has mutated a number of times since it first arrived in the U.S. in 2020. New variants are expected to continue to emerge with some disappearing and others spreading and replacing preceding variants, according to the CDC.

A more recent variant discovered by the CDC is BA.2.86, according to a Wednesday update. Existing medications and tests “appear to be effective” with the variant.

People at higher risk for COVID-19 should stay up to date with the most recent information, according to Sifri. Masking and other precautionary measures are based on an “individualized risk assessment,” though it should be emphasized that masking does works.

“What we found with widespread mask use is that other respiratory illnesses, influenza and also RSV infections really plummeted and essentially went away when people were masking, social distancing and doing the things to protect themselves from COVID,” Sifri said.

Cases of RSV and flu peak between December and February, according to the CDC. Taking a holistic approach with respiratory viruses may help to decrease cases, according to Sifri.

“We are also watching closely to see what happens with the flu season and the RSV season. We had significant challenges last year, but we feel that if those are challenges as well, then the way we use to protect ourselves from COVID, things like masking, will also be beneficial to prevent transmission of flu and RSV,” Sifri said.


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