NRV health district will continue to monitor wastewater as COVID cases decline

Published: Mar. 14, 2022 at 4:39 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The leader of the New River Valley Health District said even though COVID-19 case counts are in the teens for the district, public health leaders aren’t abandoning their vigilance against the virus.

Dr. Noelle Bissell addressed the future of COVID-19 during a regular virtual briefing Monday afternoon.

She said the district is currently tracking about 14 active cases. Compare that with the hundreds of daily cases the health district was recording at the virus’ peak.

All five of the district’s localities are reflecting moderate disease activity, in the yellow zone, and are expected to drop to the green zone this week.

That said, Dr. Bissell said the health district will continue to do wastewater surveillance in an effort to keep a close eye on the virus. She anticipates we’ll continue to live with COVID-19 as a seasonal illness and expects cases to rise again in late summer or early fall. The wastewater detection will help them stay on top of the disease activity, as well as monitoring ER visits, urgent care, COVID testing and even disease activity in the southern hemisphere.

Dr. Bissell said she would not be surprised if the CDC eventually recommended an annual COVID-19 shot, much like a flu shot, to suppress spread.

When asked what she’s learned in the last two years, she stated she believes media, social media and politics contributed to the divisiveness of the pandemic. Bissell said the binary thinking she’s seen from people is very challenging to navigate as a public health leader. The way people responded to masks and vaccines, she said, “almost became part of their identities.”

Bissell said she doesn’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to vaccinations. She said she is continuing to research and work with her team to look at the best way to issue guidance to the community, because this will happen again.

“There will be another pandemic. It’s not a matter of it, it’s a matter of when,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll be so lucky that it’ll be in another 100 years.”

As we move forward, Dr. Bissell said she hopes public health continues to learn and grow.

“We need more robust data tracking tools to do surveillance,” she said.

That said, Dr. Bissell said it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come in the treatment of COVID.

“We are in a different place,” she said, noting the need to put some of their focus now on dealing with the negative impacts of the pandemic, like increased substance abuse and mental health issues.

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