The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic can be described as an amusement park ride, minus any amusement.

“This is a roller-coaster ride and it’s not going to be ending any time soon, based on the projections for the next 18 months,” said Lee Learman, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “I think people need to be ready to follow the data, for things to improve, for things to surge, and to be ready to move back and forth between practices based on the data.”

Learman was one of three medical experts who took part in a conversation about the virus on Wednesday afternoon. He was joined by Noelle Bissell, director of the New River Health District, and Paul Skolnik, chair of medicine at Carilion Clinic and professor of medicine at the School of Medicine. The trio discussed the highs and lows of the region’s current status and shared guidance to help lessen future twists and turns.

“We continue to try and encourage people to get the vaccine,” said Bissell. “From a public health standpoint, vaccines save millions of lives every year, and undoubtedly the COVID vaccine has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since we started doing it.”

The continuation of layered mitigation strategies, such as face masks, increased hygiene, and moving activities outdoors, were also highlighted. Booster shots for already vaccinated individuals were discussed, as well as Hokies remaining aware that the Virginia Tech community isn’t completely in a bubble.

“Nowhere is an island unto itself,” Skolnik said. “Virginia Tech exists in a larger regional community, and we exist in a global situation. We’ve seen with air travel that variants get introduced into the United States and take hold … so it’s hard to think in that way, but it’s critical. It’s not just about your classroom or your local group of friends, it’s about the larger community.”

The group also discussed the statuses of localities in Southwest Virginia in relation to the most recent delta variant surge, the status of vaccine boosters, and the lack of value of commercial antibody testing. They emphasized the need for the flu vaccines and explored what future mitigation might look like during the winter months, including indoor sports and social activities.

“In order for this to be sustainable for people in the long term they need to be able to enjoy freedoms that come in safer circumstances, while being vigilant in other circumstances,” Learman said.

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