RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Central Virginia is expected to see a further increase in COVID infections, with the CDC updating its community COVID-19 levels in several localities to the medium level.
The community level measures “case rates, hospitalization rates, and hospital capacity” and replaces an earlier CDC measure that was based solely on transmission.
The Richmond and Henrico Health District (RHHD) released a statement Friday saying the increase in cases has been “seen across the region,” including locations with community levels that have yet to be reported. update.
“We understand that going down to a medium level can leave people feeling frustrated or tired,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, acting director of RHHD. “However, that’s what we prepared for.”
The district said it was increasing the availability of free PCR tests at community clinics in anticipation of an increase in cases. However, the list of community testing sites the district links to in its statement has not been updated since April 25, and the last scheduled testing event was on May 5.
Residents can also take free home tests at several branches of the Richmond Public Library, listed here. The free tests are also available at RHHD resource centers in the city, the addresses of which are listed on the same page.
The main indicators
Statewide case counts have risen again in recent weeks, following a surge in cases earlier this year that peaked in mid-January.
However, another early warning may come from an unexpected place: the sewers of Richmond.
Dr. Rekha Singh manages the CDC’s sewage monitoring program in Virginia, and she told 8News that viral loads in the sewer system — the measure of dead COVID-19 viruses released through defecation — can be a “primary indicator” of an increase in infections in an area.
The program currently operates at a site in central Virginia, which observes viral loads in the Richmond sewer system. An increase in viral loads in sewage is often followed within a week or two by an increase in clinical cases, making it a potentially useful tool for predicting outbreaks.
Dr Singh said he has seen an increase in viral loads since mid-April at the Richmond observation point, indicating a likely increase in cases in the future.
The program also hopes to expand to other locations in the near future, which will help managers cross-level between different sites.
What residents can do
The health district recommended that residents of affected counties “stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, improve ventilation in indoor spaces, and follow CDC recommendations for isolation or quarantine when ill or of exposure”.
The district added that although the city of Richmond is not yet at an average community level, the increase in the number of cases in the area meant that it was likely that they too would soon be moved.
“If we stay up to date on COVID vaccinations and implement more prevention measures during times of increased transmission, we can protect our most vulnerable,” Dr. Viray said.
At the height of Omicron’s surge earlier this year, nearly 600 Virginians a week died from COVID.