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Holidays concern officials

As Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tightens COVID-19 guidelines due to rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations statewide, health officials are growing increasingly concerned about the surge in cases anticipated to follow the holidays.

In a Monday, Nov. 16, interview, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said the health district’s coronavirus data trends were more encouraging than data seen at a statewide level. However, community spread remains an issue locally.

“The disturbing thing that we’ve seen locally, really, is a lot of little ‘brush fires’ in community spread popping up from neighborhood gatherings, little neighborhood get-togethers, and then we wind up with five or six cases resulting from that,” Nash said.

And those types of spreader events are expected to increase as residents gather in the coming weeks for Thanksgiving and again in December for Christmas.

“All the directors in the whole central region are really, really concerned about the upcoming holidays, and we’re absolutely behind the recommendations that the governor put in place after early this morning,” Nash said, referencing new statewide measures put in place Sunday for mitigation of the virus.

The new measures include limiting gatherings to 25 people and making mask wearing/social distancing regulations enforceable by a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Nash said holiday recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are austere.

“They’re encouraging everybody to pretty much limit their Thanksgiving and December holiday celebrations pretty much to immediate family in the household. That’s pretty tough to do…They’re very clear about recommending masks for everybody when you do have family even across town coming into your home.”

In speaking about local coronavirus cases in each of the health district’s counties, Nash said Buckingham, despite an increase in case numbers due to an outbreak at Buckingham Correctional Center, is doing well in terms of COVID statistics, and that it does not appear that the community is experiencing any increased numbers due to infected staff.

Other counties are not doing as well. Charlotte County, according to Nash, is dealing with a peak in COVID-19 cases that likely isn’t attributed to a super-spreader event at a church that caused cases to spike last month. Nash said Charlotte’s current numbers are most likely due to community spread.

“This is why wearing masks is so critical,” he added. “You just casually pass another citizen at the grocery store, at the Fas Mart, whatever. It doesn’t take that 15-minute magic window to be exposed if you’re not wearing a mask …If everybody’s wearing a mask, that cuts the likelihood of contracting COVID by 84%.”

Nash said while Prince Edward County saw a rise in coronavirus cases through the middle of October to the first week of November, those numbers seem to be leveling off.

“All in all, I think we’re going in the right direction. The word of caution on that is we have the holidays coming up,” he reiterated.

“We really can’t let our guard down … Again, I can’t stress enough how concerned we all are of the holiday gatherings coming up. It’s going to be really important for everybody to be smart, keep their distance and wear your mask whenever possible.”

Prince Edward County, according to the VDH, saw 26 new cases of COVID-19 from Monday, Oct. 9, to Monday, Oct. 16, for a total of 825 cases cumulatively. Cumberland County had four new cases on Oct. 16 for a total of 137.

Charlotte rose 16 cases this week for a total of 256. Buckingham rose four cases to 817, and Lunenburg rose two cases to 159.

Longwood University was reporting six active cases of the virus in its campus community Monday, Oct. 16, with 116 cumulative cases since the beginning of the fall semester. Hampden-Sydney College had two active cases of COVID-19 on Monday with three individuals quarantining. The college has seen a total of 99 student cases of the virus and four staff cases.

The Virginia Department of Corrections was reporting 36 cases of the virus in the inmate population of Buckingham Correctional Center Monday afternoon, with one inmate hospitalized and four staff members infected.