For those who've seen news reports about COVID-19 cases climbing again in other parts of the country, here's what's happening in the Fredericksburg region.
The number of people seeking treatment for the virus in local hospitals has gone up in recent weeks — just as it's done across the state and nation. But patients with COVID cases make up only 1% of total emergency departments visits in Virginia, according to state and local health officials.
They also noted that it's difficult to know exactly how many people are getting sick with the virus in summer 2023 because more people test at home and don't report the results to state agencies. They may feel bad for a few days, but not sick enough to seek treatment.
COVID-19 has evolved from being a pandemic, and causing widespread infections and death worldwide, to endemic status, meaning it's one of the things that won't ever totally go away, like the flu.
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In that new world, there are peaks and valleys of cases, said Dr. Stephen Mandell, senior medical director for Mary Washington Healthcare.
"It's likely we'll see an uptick in cases as we approach the fall," he said.
With vaccines, treatment and immunity people have gotten from being exposed to the virus, COVID doesn't pose the deadly threat it once did — at least to most people.
It's a different story for those with compromised immune systems. Mary Washington Hospital has treated the bulk of virus patients since the pandemic began in March 2020 and currently has between five and eight people, a relatively low number of patients, Mandell said.
"These patients are all significantly immunosuppressed," Mandell said.
They have other conditions, called comorbidities, that place them at high risk for an infection, he said. The typical conditions include high blood pressure, diabetes and lung-related issues.
Age is another factor. In Virginia, two of every three patients hospitalized with COVID illnesses in the last three months have been age 70 or older, according to the Virginia Department of Health's website.
Vickie O'Donnell is 59 and doesn't fit the age requirement, but she has one heck of a pre-existing condition. She was infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 two years ago this month, along with her brother, son and nephew, and she has not recovered.
"It's just been one nightmare after another," she said.
O'Donnell smoked for 35 years, was overweight and had occasional trouble breathing before she got COVID. She spent several weeks in a local hospital, then needed other procedures when additional problems developed and she was categorized as a COVID long-hauler.
Two years after getting sick, she still needs oxygen 24 hours a day. She calls it her 50-foot lifeline.
"If I go out of the house, I wear a mask to avoid any viruses, not just COVID," she said. "I could care less what anybody else does or what they think about it. I can’t afford a common cold."
For those with similar health conditions — and at increased risk for severe cases — masking and social distancing can provide an extra level of protection, said Allison Balmes–John, RAHD's population health manager.
"We are not saying that everyone needs to begin masking in public again, but there may be people who choose to do so because of their risk level or because they have been exposed to COVID," she said.
In June, the Food and Drug Administration selected a vaccine to use in the fall that's designed to target the most recent subvariant of omicron, according to the FDA website. Flu shots are developed the same way.
Typical symptoms of the current COVID strain that's starting to make the rounds are runny nose, sore throat, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, shortness of breath and cough.
While Balmes–John said there's no urgency for most people to get out their masks, she reminded them of the easiest way to protect themselves from COVID and any others germs out there.
"Wash your hands frequently," she said, adding that those who are sick should stay home and consider an at-home test kit if experiencing COVID symptoms.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425