Cases of COVID-19 continue to spread throughout the New River Health District as a result of the delta variant. But they may have hit a peak, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director.

During an Aug. 30 meeting with news media, Bissell said she expects that cases soon will decline as has happened in some other parts of the country with surging infections.

On Aug. 24, there were about 180 positive COVID-19 cases in the health district, according to district reports.

Also, during the week of Aug. 22 - 29, there were 47 COVID-19 cases in the district’s K-12 schools, out of about 20,000 students total. Montgomery County schools had the most cases at 15.

There is not a magic threshold for deciding when to close public schools due to an outbreak, Bissell said. The district looks at various situations differently, such as if there was in-school transmission of the infection and if students or staff were infected.

“With the cases that we’re seeing, there is nothing that has started to suggest to us that we would need to work with any of our schools to shut down at all,” she said.

As of Aug. 30, there were 42 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the region. Still, hospitalizations are not likely to decrease even if cases decline, Bissell explained. That’s because there typically is a lag between the time that people test positive for the coronavirus and the time that they enter the hospital.

Currently, less than 50 percent of the New River Health District is fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

“We still have a significant portion of our population that is at risk,” Bissell said. “The best way to get out of this is for everyone who is eligible to go ahead and get vaccinated and for everybody to be vigilant with those public health precautions that layer mitigation.”

The health district has seen an increase in people who are interested in receiving a vaccine since last week’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Federal Drug Administration. The district also is working with health care providers to offer third vaccine doses to individuals who are immunocompromised.

Additionally, the district will offer vaccines at Virginia Tech before the first home Hokie football game. On Sept. 3, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., vaccines will be available at the Hokie Village, which is the turf field across from Lane Stadium.

District representatives also will hand out masks before the games. Regardless of vaccination status, Bissell said she encourages fans to wear masks in the stadium stands because of the close contact that they will have with others.

“In most cases, I don’t think masks outside are really necessary, but in a situation where you’ve got a lot of people, and they will be yelling and screaming and cheering, it would benefit people to put on masks,” she said. “It’s that individual risk assessment.”

In general, Bissell encouraged everyone to wear a mask when they are indoors. She referred to this idea as smart masking.

Even so, “we don’t want to get into the blaming and shaming of people who are not masking,” Bissell added. “People need to do what works for them and their family. We need to get past the judgment. It really is us collectively versus the virus.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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