Loudoun County is seeing more than twice as many new COVID-19 cases per day compared to this time last year, according to numbers from the Virginia Department of Health, although those infections are seldom putting people in the hospital or killing them.
The rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases as of Aug. 24 was 63.3 new cases per day, compared to 29.6 on Aug. 24, 2020, in the depths of pandemic-era closures and lockdowns.
That is still well short of Loudoun’s high of 324 average new cases per day, seen on Jan. 29, 2021. It also comes not long after the pandemic hit its lowest ebb in Loudoun, when from July 3-5 the county averaged less than one new case a day.
And with vaccines usually protecting even breakthrough cases from the most serious effects of the virus, hospitalizations remain similar to last summer. On both Aug. 24, 2021, and Aug. 24, 2020, Loudoun’s seven-day rolling average showed less than one new hospitalization a day. And Loudoun recently went well over a month without the virus killing anyone, from June 23 to Aug. 14.
But the rising case counts raise questions as cooler weather approaches and Loudoun’s largest unvaccinated population—people under 12 years old—get ready to climb back on buses and return to the classrooms.
Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend said he will be watching three factors.
One, in some countries, he said, the Delta variant surge was self-limiting, burning out after about eight weeks. It remains to be seen whether that will be the case here.
Secondly, in jurisdictions where schools have already reopened, the Delta variant has shown itself to be transmitted much more easily among students and staff. The Health Department is working with administrators to minimize those new cases, and on how to get the vaccine to children aged 5-11 years old, once vaccines are approved for that age group. That will particularly focus on the children of families who might not easily be able to get their kids vaccinated otherwise, continuing a focus on equal access and equity that has marked Loudoun’s pandemic response.
And third, health officials will be on the lookout for any new variants—especially one that, unlike Delta, evades the current COVID-19 vaccines.
“Then we have a whole population that’s susceptible again,” Goodfriend said. “A real challenge to that is, while our case numbers are going up, our population at risk has done a really good job of getting vaccinated, and so our hospitalizations and our deaths have not gone up.” That is in part, he said, because seniors, some of the people most vulnerable to the vaccine, are also the age group that with the highest vaccination rate.
Loudoun’s pandemic response is helped because the county has the third-highest adult vaccination rate in the state, with 73.2% of the adult population fully vaccinated. That follows close behind Albemarle County, which surrounds Charlottesville and is 73.8% fully vaccinated among adults. The highest vaccination rate in the commonwealth belongs to tiny Northampton County on the Eastern Shore, where 80.9% of the adult population is fully vaccinated—7,306 people who got the jab.
But the work remains to get vaccine into the arm of everyone who is eligible. Goodfriend said the Health Department has shifted its approach, addressing peoples’ reasons for not getting vaccinated, and trying to reach vaccine-hesitant people where they are—such as an advertising campaigned partnered with WAVA-FM, a Christian talk radio station.
Booster Shots, New Vaccine Clinic Coming
On Monday, the Pfizer vaccine was the first to attain full FDA approval, with all three COVID-19 vaccines previously working under an emergency use authorization. However, all three had been tested for safety before that authorization, and now are also part of the biggest safety study possible—widespread usage to try to curb the pandemic and save lives. Serious side effects have been rare.
With that information, local, state and federal health officials are recommending a booster shot for people who have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Federal officials last week announced a plan to provide those booster shots eight months after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Details are still to come and could change pending a formal recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but federal officials have said the doses could begin the week of Sept. 20. Officials say they also expect to recommend a booster for those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine after they analyze more data.
COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be available from providers throughout the community currently providing COVID-19 vaccine, including medical offices and pharmacies. It’s expected that the first people to receive the boosters will be those in high-priority groups such as nursing home residents, health workers and those with underlying health conditions, since they were the first groups eligible to receive vaccination last winter.
The county government also recently announced that on noon Friday, Sept. 3, the county’s mass vaccination site at Dulles Town Center will close permanently. The county’s vaccination site will move to Sterling Elementary School, with plans to open a vaccine clinic every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Goodfriend said.
Facing slower demand, the Dulles Town Center vaccination site has already shifted to limited hours of operation. The complete schedule is posted on the county’s website at loudoun.gov/covid19vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccines also remain available from providers throughout the county like medical offices and pharmacies, and is available to everyone 12 years and older for free.
To date, the virus has killed 285 people in Loudoun, according to the latest figures from the Virginia Department of Health, or more than twice the population of Loudoun’s smallest town Hillsboro.
This article was updated Aug. 25 at 12:19 p.m.