After a summer slowdown in COVID-19 cases in the New River Health District, the coronavirus is making a comeback, with case numbers growing as a result of the contagious delta variant.

As of Aug. 16, 26 people in the New River Health District were hospitalized with COVID-19, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, during a weekly meeting with the news media.

HCA, the hospital system for LewisGale Hospital Montgomery in Blacksburg, has reported that none of its COVID-19 patients received coronavirus vaccines, she said.

“This is becoming the pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Bissell said, citing that more than 95 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are happening among unvaccinated individuals.

“We can’t underestimate the benefits of being vaccinated,” she said. “That is the way to get out of this pandemic.”

Children younger than 12 also are among the COVID-19 cases, she said, and they are most susceptible because a vaccine has not yet been approved for them. Bissell did not know the number of children in the district who have been infected with the coronavirus, but the region saw infections as a result of summer camps at which people were not wearing masks and were unvaccinated.

“As more children get sick, you’ll end up having more children in the hospitals,” Bissell said.

The best way to protect children is for the adults in their lives, from family members to teachers, to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

As of Aug. 16, 79,077 people were fully vaccinated in the district, Bissell said.

She said she is excited that a substantial number of the region’s college students have received COVID-19 vaccines. Both Virginia Tech and Radford University require students to be fully vaccinated this fall, unless they receive a medical or religious exception.

At Virginia Tech, 94 percent of students are fully vaccinated.

“It shows that they want to do their part for their community,” Bissell said. “They want to get back to more of the normal college experience.”

The Centers for Disease Control is recommending that some people who are immunocompromised receive an additional dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. As a result of this news, Bissell urged people not to overwhelm doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and other locations where vaccines are available with inquiries.

This guidance applies to only 2 percent of the population, and people should check with their doctor to see if they are eligible.

“We are already overwhelmed with people calling wanting that third shot who really don’t fall under that authorization,” she said.

For everyone, “in addition to getting vaccinated, we encourage other layered mitigation strategies, such as wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and avoiding closed confined spaces,” she said.

By Jenny Kincaid Boone

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