New cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the New River Health District and across the country because of the virus’s new Delta variant.

But people who are vaccinated remain the most protected from contracting the coronavirus or from becoming seriously ill with it, said Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Health District, during a weekly meeting with news media on Aug. 2.

She cited data from the Virginia Department of Health showing that from July 1 - 30, there were five hospitalizations and zero deaths among vaccinated people in Southwest Virginia who contracted COVID-19, also called “breakthrough” cases.

During the same period, there were 114 hospitalizations and six deaths among unvaccinated individuals in Southwest Virginia who had the coronavirus.

“It seems like it’s a broken record, but the best way to stop the pandemic and protect our loved ones is to get vaccinated and to encourage our family and friends to do the same,” Bissell said.

Currently, less than 50 percent of the district’s population is fully vaccinated for COVID-19. There is no decision about whether people who have received a vaccine, including the Johnson & Johnson version, will need to receive an additional one as extra protection, Bissell said.

Some of the increases in coronavirus infections are a result of people traveling, socializing, and overall not being as cautious, Bissell explained.

“COVID is more likely to be present if there are more unvaccinated versus vaccinated individuals” in large gatherings, she said.

She advised that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks in crowded public, indoor spaces, including in classrooms in K-12 schools and at colleges and universities.

Also, it’s a wise move for universities to require vaccines for enrolled students because classrooms are congregate settings, she said. Virginia Tech mandates vaccines for all students enrolled this fall, and they must register their vaccine status by Aug. 6.

“We understand that people are angry, tired, panicked, and scared, and everyone just wants this to end,” Bissell said. “We are living this real time. We learn as we go. We have to adapt, and we have to adjust. But the vaccine really has been a game changer.”

—Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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