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Health district urges patience as holidays approach

It may be the holiday season, but health officials don’t want Central Virginians to lose their social distancing spirit.

And while talk of a vaccine looks promising, officials are reminding residents to be patient and vigilant, as the pandemic shows no signs of abating.

November was the third worst month for the spread of the coronavirus in the Thomas Jefferson Health District.

As of Thursday, the district, which includes Charlottesville and Albemarle County, had seen 5,430 cases, 277 hospitalizations and 82 deaths.

November saw the third most new cases in the district since March with 870, trailing October’s 954 and September’s 1,081.

Ryan McKay, the health district’s director of policy and planning, looked on the bright side, saying the district is in “much better shape” than others seeing a sharp increase, like those in Southwest Virginia.

As of Thursday, the percent of administered tests returning positive in the district was 3.6% and had increased for six straight days.

Charlottesville and Albemarle County have the lowest positivity rates at 2.7% and 2.8%, respectively. Nelson County had the highest rate at 9.6%.

The number of tests has sharply declined since the Thanksgiving holiday and students of the University of Virginia returned home. The district administered more than 3,000 tests on Nov. 23, but only 288 were reported on Dec. 1.

Health officials warned of the dangers of smaller gatherings with relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday, but The New York Times reported 800,000 to 1 million people traveled. While it was less than the same time last year, it was likely more than health officials had hoped for.

Part of the large number of local tests, McKay said, were people trying to get a negative result so they could be with family over the holiday. He said it’s “a little early to say” what impact Thanksgiving travel will have on the local numbers.

“We anticipate some increases. I think what’s unknown is the impact that surge might have,” he said. “If we can continue to be vigilant then we may be able to stave off any significant increase in cases.”

Although health officials will likely still caution against travel for the year-end holidays, McKay expected another testing surge as people make the choice to go home.

McKay also commended UVa for a “tremendous job” providing resources to students who needed to isolate or quarantine.

Although Pfizer has applied for approval for a vaccine to fight the virus and could receive approval in the coming weeks, the treatment will be far from widely available.

McKay said distribution will likely first target health care workers and people in long-term care facilities before making it to the general public.

“I think we need to be really patient,” he said. “It’s really encouraging. It gives us a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. … But distribution may be slow and it’s certainly going to be slow at first.”


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