Cases of the coronavirus again are rising across the New River Health District, mirroring trends in the state and nationwide in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Also, colder outdoor temperatures are forcing people indoors for gatherings, another factor in the increase in infections, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, on Dec. 13 during a meeting with local news media.

Currently, there are 36 people hospitalized in the region with the coronavirus, which is up from last week’s total, Bissell said.

In general, she explained that case numbers don’t tell the whole story about COVID-19 infections in the region.

“For each reported case, there are three or four or more cases,” she said. 

So far, the jump in cases in the region is happening across the community, not specifically among school-age children or college students.

Meanwhile, the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 has not been detected in the New River Valley, though it has been reported in the northwest portion of Virginia. Bissell said she suspects that it is here.

The good news is there are no reported deaths from the omicron variant in Europe, the United Kingdom, and South Africa, where the variant is spreading, she said.

"This follows the typical pattern where viruses will be more transmissible but less deadly as they mutate," Bissell said. “Right now, it’s probably everywhere. It’s COVID, so the same prevention and protection measures work."

She expects that eventually, COVID-19 will be considered an endemic, which means that it will always be present.

As for coronavirus vaccines, the FDA recently approved booster vaccines for 16 and 17 year olds.

Also, Bissell encouraged people who are pregnant or want to become pregnant to get vaccinated for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 30 percent of women who are pregnant have received a coronavirus vaccine.

“Those who are pregnant with COVID are at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth, stillbirth, admission to ICU on a ventilator, or having a newborn infected with COVID,” Bissell said.

Women who are pregnant and have COVID-19 also have a 70 percent increased risk of death compared to those who are pregnant and don't get COVID, she said.

“We have to accept that COVID is still here and that COVID’s not going away,” Bissell said. “We still need to encourage people to do everything we can to keep people and their families safe. The data is clear. The people who are ending up with serious complications, including death, are those who are not vaccinated.”

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