The double COVID-19 surge of winter weather and the highly transmissible Omicron variant show hopeful signs of abating—maybe even for good.
And Inova Loudoun Hospital President Susan Carroll said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic now shows signs that it could finally come to an end.
While the daily number of new cases remains in Loudoun and the state at large remain more than double the highest point of last year’s spread, new infections also appear to have peaked last week and are now on the decline in Loudoun.
The county’s rolling seven-day average of new daily cases peaked at 884.9 on Jan. 12. That was almost three times the virus’s peak last winter. And, although case numbers remain higher than at any other time in during the pandemic, they have been trending rapidly downward for the past week. The latest reporting, on Jan. 20, showed 531.1 average new cases a day.
While the virus can remain dangerous, especially for people who are elderly or have underlying conditions, and can have long-term effects, healthcare workers and public health officials have noted that the Omicron variant seems more contagious but causing a milder illness. State Health Department reporting reflects that; despite the high rates of infection, the pandemic is killing far fewer people than during the previous cold weather surge or in the first summer of the pandemic.
“If you look in history, it’s pretty much what we always have seen when we look at various pandemics,” Carroll said. “So when it was the Spanish Flu, even the plague, it starts to get more contagious but less virulent. COVID, I would say, is really mirroring the most massive pandemics and viruses.”
Those mutations, she said, are how most pandemics end.
Loudoun Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend on Jan. 11, as the pandemic was approaching its peak, told the Loudoun County School Board what life will look like in the future is hard to predict.
“If we don’t get any new significant variants, then easily COVID will turn into something along the lines of the flu, because it is a cold weather virus,” Goodfriend said. “So we may just have winter outbreaks like the flu, where people can get an annual vaccination or booster to help get you through the season.”
The danger, he said, is if a new variant emerges that gets around vaccine protection. He urged people to continue practicing COVID-19 safety.
“We put in so much work over the last year to get so much of our community vaccinated so that even if the vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s keeping them out of the hospital,” Goodfriend said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where there’s a variant where you’re starting all over again.”
Even as most people in Loudoun are current on their vaccinations and the Omicron variant is causing less serious illness and shorter hospital stays, hospitals are still stretched by the sheer number of infections.
“Even if the hospitalization rates have dropped in half [for example], the raw numbers are still high, and so that’s what we were seeing for the past three weeks,” Carroll said. “It’s just a math equation at this point.”
With two years of experience fighting COVID-19, new therapies available and a fully-vaccinated staff, there is now good news for healthcare workers. But it has been a long, grueling pandemic for many.
“I think that you’re not going to find a healthcare provider in the country who would say they’re not facing some sort of burnout,” she said. “It’s just the reality of the last two years.”