By Carol Vaughn —
The number of COVID-19 cases on the Eastern Shore is currently lower than the state average, according to Jon Richardson, chief operating officer of the Eastern Shore Health District.
The overall number of “breakthrough” cases — cases of the virus in people who have been fully vaccinated — remains low on the Shore. Just 1.5% of fully vaccinated people have experienced a breakthrough infection.
Still, those numbers have been rising in recent weeks, which is a concern.
About one-third of cases detected each week over the past month were breakthrough cases and that number has been rising since August, when only 15% to 20% of cases each week were breakthroughs, according to Richardson.
“The increase in breakthroughs is due to a variety of factors including waning immunity from vaccination, a more transmissible variant in delta, and relaxed mitigation practices,” he said.
Around 90% of deaths from COVID-19 on the Shore and a little over 90% of hospitalizations have been people who were not fully vaccinated.
The omicron variant has been detected in Virginia, but not yet on the Eastern Shore.
“The omicron variant can typically be identified using PCR tests without sequencing. Sequencing is also being done for confirmatory purposes. It is too early to predict with certainty that omicron will become the dominant strain but it is suspected that will be the case,” Richardson said.
The delta variant continues to be the dominant strain on the Shore as well as statewide.
“Any new variant has the potential to cause a spike in cases. We anticipate a spike following the holidays due to increased exposures,” he said.
Richardson spoke about steps people should take to protect themselves over the holidays, when family and friends tend to gather inside more.
“If you are feeling ill stay home to avoid getting others sick. Take advantage of testing opportunities available before heading to events. If you are eligible for a booster, get one,” he said.
Around 18% of Shore residents have gotten a booster shot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone 16 and older who was vaccinated six or more months ago, or two or more months ago for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should get a booster shot.
Teens 16 to 17 years old can get a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster. Adults 18 years and older can get any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States.
Six months ago, around 44% of Shore residents were fully vaccinated, “so there are many more eligible and many opportunities out there to receive a booster,” according to Richardson.
Additionally, children ages 5 to 11 can now get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC recommendations.
So far, 5.8% of Accomack County children and 11.8% of Northampton County children ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Among 12 to 15 year olds, 41.7% in Accomack County and 55% in Northampton County have been fully vaccinated.
Among 16 and 17 year olds, 47.9% in Accomack County and 72.9% in Northampton County have been fully vaccinated.
Home tests for COVID-19 are reliable and can be obtained through the Eastern Shore Public Library system. People need to call ahead to reserve a test.
Tests also are readily available at local pharmacies.
The Eastern Shore Health District does a weekly comparison of local rapid test versus PCR test results, according to Richardson.
Typically, PCR and rapid tests done on the same person at the same time have the same result 97% to 100% of the time, with very few false negatives or positives reported, he said.
Quarantine recommendations for people exposed to COVID-19 remain unchanged, according to Richardson.
There are no quarantine requirements for vaccinated people. Unvaccinated people should quarantine for two weeks after being exposed; the time can be reduced to seven days if the person received a negative test result between five and seven days after being exposed.
To date, 4,312 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Accomack County and 1,204 cases have been reported in Northampton County since the pandemic began, according to the VDH.
331 Accomack residents and 105 Northampton residents have been hospitalized and 83 Accomack residents and 48 Northampton residents have died of COVID-19.
As of Dec. 13, the transmission rate in Accomack was high, with a 9.5% test seven-day positivity rate. The percent positivity in Northampton County was 5.9%.