Governor Northam, local health directors talk COVID-19 changes with continued high transmission rates

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 10:20 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - From news that Dr. Danny Avula has stepped down from his position overseeing Virginia’s vaccination efforts, Governor Northam authorizing a state of emergency and a new vaccination protocol now in place for Virginia Tech athletics, Monday saw lots of changes due to an ever-changing virus.

”It is extremely transmissible, and it is spreading rapidly,” said Dr. Noelle Bissell, the health director for the New River Valley Health District.

That rapid spread and increasing strain on Commonwealth hospitals is what Governor Northam says prompted the state of emergency, which is set to last 30 days and expand the number of available hospital beds, as well as increase staffing capacity at hospitals and nursing homes

“Even though the omicron symptoms are less severe, with more people getting the virus, more people need to go to the hospital,” said Northam, during his media briefing in Richmond Monday afternoon.

Local hospitals responded to this state of emergency, saying they will use every possible tool to provide care and that it offers support for those on the front lines feeling the strain.

Northam added that according to research models, the virus is set to peak within the next few weeks, which is why the executive order has an expiration date.

”Here in the New River Valley we might have a little bit of a difference because of the return of our college students, but we do expect from data from South Africa, United Kingdom, places in Europe that the cases do increase exponentially, and then drop off pretty precipitously as well,” said Bissell.

Students from Radford and Virginia Tech will add 40,000 people to the population of the New River Valley this week, but Bissell says this return is different from previous ones with new rules in place.

”Given those other factors that they’re vaccinated, boosted, coming from areas where they’ve already been exposed, they’ve had COVID, we certainly don’t expect the surges in case numbers like we had when everyone was naive,” said Bissell.

One year ago, Virginia was behind other states in vaccine distribution. Now Virginia is ranked ninth in percentage of residents fully vaccinated with more than 14 million shots given out. Close to 90 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose.

As the Commonwealth continues to struggle with a surge of new COVID infections, all four LewisGale hospitals are working to enhance the surge plans developed in the past waves of the pandemic. We will review the details of Governor Northam’s new executive order and will continue to work with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, along with other healthcare providers throughout Virginia, to enact every possible tool to provide care for our communities during these difficult times.

Our front line healthcare heroes are continuing their around-the-clock care for the large number of patients seeking care in our facilities. We ask for all Virginians to assist our dedicated - but tired - healthcare heroes by getting fully vaccinated, practicing social distancing and masking to protect yourself and others. We also ask people to please remember that our emergency rooms are available for anyone with a medical emergency, but are not public COVID testing sites.

Chris Finley, Lewis Gale Regional Health System Spokesperson

As Gov. Northam mentioned, hospitals across Virginia are experiencing record-high numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations (the majority of which are unvaccinated individuals). This order will help systems to be more nimble with things like bed expansion, supporting those on the front lines who are feeling the strain. What is even more critical, however, is that the community do everything they can to keep themselves healthy. Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing. Most importantly, get vaccinated and boosted. That is absolutely the best and most proven way to train your body to protect itself against COVID-19.

Hannah Curtis, Carilion Clinic Hospital Spokesperson

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