Last week, Westmoreland County’s School Board met for its regular monthly meeting, which meant Dr. Williams, the director for the Three Rivers Health District, was brought in to give an update on the situation in the county involving the coronavirus.
According to Dr. Williams, there was what he called “a brisk upsurge, starting in July due to the delta variant. Right now, we’re at an average of 125,000 cases per day nationwide.” Here in the Old Dominion, meanwhile, the number of cases per day clocks in at around 3,600, and has been the case for the past few weeks, indicating what Dr. Williams calls a “levelling out.”
The entire report could be summed up as “cautiously optimistic,” with case curves flattening out, though Dr. Williams also pointed out it could easily spike back up. How severe these cases actually are was not elaborated on, however.
“Covid exerts its most significant influence when it’s able to overwhelm a hospital system, thus making it difficult to find an ICU bed,” Dr. Williams explained, “We’re on the verge of that, and have been, for the past three weeks, particularly in the eastern region. We’ve had very high hospital numbers, a lot of people waiting in the ER for beds, we’ve had hospital system transfers, and we’re still trying to do better and get our hospitalizations to flatten out too.
“In Three Rivers,” he continued, “Our low was less than twenty average cases per day back in June. Since that time, our case loads shot up until last week, which clocked in at 601 new cases per day average, an increase from the last week which saw 537, but I think that’s due to under-testing and underreporting thanks to the Labor Day Holiday.”
Back in January, the number of cases in children was not that high in comparison to adults. In more recent months, cases in kids from 1 to 18 years old have increased, with Dr. Williams taking it as proof that the delta variant is, in his words, “extremely contagious, and is able to overcome the natural proclivity for children to resist the coronavirus, as a product of viral load.”
“The data’s incomplete here, but we have had a lot of outbreaks and transmissions in schools,” Dr. Williams stated, “A lot of this started out with athletic teams, but seven of our school systems have had cases transmitted. We’ll need a bit more time to see what happens with kids.”
Westmoreland County itself currently clocks in at 250 new cases per hundred thousand people, which puts it in the “area of high transmission” category along with the rest of the commonwealth, which has a threshold of 100 cases per 100,000. This actually wasn’t all bad news though, according to Dr. Williams.
“This is actually one of our better jurisdictions,” he commented, “There are some that are clocking in at 400-500 per 100,000, so there’s a lot of virus out there.”
As for transmission in schools, as mentioned earlier, there are seven school systems with cases that Dr. Williams noted, though he declined to say just how many there were.
“The close exposure exception keeps us from having to quarantine classrooms,” Williams continued, “So if there’s a covid-positive child, and the kids around them are wearing masks and maintaining a 3-foot distance, they do not have to quarantine. That’s the saving grace that’s keeping schools open right now. Athletic teams are also proving vulnerable, and we’ve had some outbreaks in every venue you can think of.”
It was at this point that Chairman Fallin chimed in, asking “if having a higher percentage of the population vaccinated would have an effect on reducing the number of variants.”
“It would reduce the opportunities for the virus to continue globally,” Dr. Williams replied, “It would reduce opportunities for more virulent strains too. Vaccination is extraordinarily effective against this disease. Most of the people that are hospitalized and die from this disease now are unvaccinated. There are breakthroughs, but here in Three Rivers, they’re maybe 5-10% of our total case load.”
When it comes to the subject of the POTUS’s plan for a federal vaccine mandate, Dr. Williams noted that such mandates are, in his words, “A double-edged sword. This administration has been very forward-leaning when it comes to trying to get people vaccinated, and I think they leaned a little too far forward with the booster program.”
For the time being, it looks like testing and vaccinations are seen as the best means of prevention. With his update delivered, Dr. Williams left the meeting with the thanks of those present. How the October report will be depends on whether cases go up or go down.