The number of positive COVID-19 cases is decreasing in the New River Health District, but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic is ending any time soon.

Hospitals remain at capacity due to high numbers of COVID-19 patients, said Noelle Bissell, the district's health director, on Sept. 27 during a meeting with members of the news media.

In the district, there were 70 people hospitalized with the coronavirus as of Sept. 27, including some patients battling the disease in intensive care units, she said.

“We continue to ask for everyone’s help to relieve the stress on hospitals,” Bissell said, urging people not to visit the hospital emergency departments for COVID-19 tests or routine care. Many hospitals in the region are holding patients in emergency departments until available beds open up.

For people who have COVID-19, there is a monoclonal antibody therapy that they can receive to prevent hospitalization. People should contact the health department or their primary care physician for help receiving this treatment, Bissell said.

In the meantime, she encouraged people to continue following certain mitigation measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This includes receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a facial covering indoors, avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces, and gathering socially outdoors.

“Let’s do the things that work,” she said. “This is everybody collectively against the virus.”

The New River Health District also will begin offering booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine to a new eligible group of people. The Pfizer booster has been authorized for those who are 65 and older, residents of long-term care facilities, and people who are age 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. The booster also is available for people ages 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions and for those who work in high-risk jobs.

People who get these boosters must already have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago.

“The booster shots are authorized to increase immunity levels,” Bissell said.

Currently, the booster only is available to people who previously had the Pfizer vaccine, not the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

The district does not plan to hold large vaccination clinics for these boosters, but it will offer the vaccine at its own clinics, as well as at pharmacies and through other local partners, Bissell said. Large clinics are not necessary, because the vaccine is readily available.

“I think it should roll out pretty smoothly,” Bissell said.

The health district also expects that the Pfizer vaccine will be authorized for children ages 5 to 11 in the coming weeks, and it already is making plans to roll out the vaccine to area schools.

Additionally, the district is offering flu shots in schools and to the public. Bissell said she expects the flu season to be larger this year, compared with last year.

“We did see more of a flu season in the southern hemisphere, and we usually follow that same trend,” Bissell said. “We have already started seeing flu cases this year.”

The flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered at the same time, and the health district is offering both.

Over time, Bissell said she expects that the coronavirus will become an endemic disease, which means that it will always be present but will ramp up seasonally, similar to the flu.

“We do expect that our COVID numbers, if we do see more COVID cases, will ebb and flow,” she said.

By Jenny Kincaid Boone

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