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BREAKING: Covid cases rocket upward, shattering record, with hospitalizations low but growing

Covid cases in Arlington on 12/20/21 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

(Updated at noon) It’s a tale of two Covids: the rate of new cases has shattered the previous record in Arlington, but so far there has been no significant increase in reported hospitalizations.

The Virginia Dept. of Health reported 286, 193, and 232 new daily cases over the past three days, respectively. Arlington’s previous single-day case record was 193 on Jan. 9.

The seven-day moving average of new daily cases currently stands at 172, well above the previous high point of just over 120 cases per day in January. The average was below 100 cases per day just three days ago.

Covid cases in Arlington on 12/20/21 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Arlington’s test positivity rate, meanwhile, is rapidly increasing and currently stands at 6.5%, more than triple the positivity rate at the beginning of November, though lower than the current 9.3% rate statewide.

Long line outside a private Covid testing location in Ballston on Sunday morning (staff photo)

Testing shortages and long lines at testing sites are being reported in Arlington and around the region. Only one county-sponsored testing kiosk is open today “due to unexpected shipping delays of COVID-19 test kits,” Arlington County said today. A huge line could be seen this morning outside the lone county test site that remains open, in Courthouse.

Arlington Public Library, meanwhile, says it is out of at-home tests and has not received new shipments from the state.

“When VDH makes a delivery, we will update the status on our web site and post to our social media channels,” a library spokesperson told ARLnow this morning. “Please check back tomorrow.”

Similar testing shortages and lines have been reported in D.C. and in Alexandria.

The World Health Organization said over the weekend that it’s seeing rapid growth in cases due to the new, more contagious Omicron variant.

“COVID-19 cases detected with the newest variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in areas where there is community spread, WHO said,” according to Axios. “Coronavirus cases are surging across Europe, largely driven by the Omicron variant… Cases in the U.S. are rising rapidly, with both New York and Washington, D.C., reporting record daily numbers Friday — and there’s no reason to think they’ve peaked yet.”

Arlington Public Schools, meanwhile, is reporting 105 positive tests among public schools countywide over the past seven days, according to its online Covid dashboard. The school with the most positive cases during that time period is Washington-Liberty High School, with 19.

On Saturday, the school sent an email to families saying that 15 new cases had been reported.

“Three Grade 9 students, five Grade 10 students, and two Grade 11 students, and five Grade 12 students at Washington-Liberty have tested positive for COVID-19,” said the email, obtained by ARLnow. The email added that close contacts of each of those students may need to quarantine, depending on several factors including mask usage.

“We want to assure you that the health and safety of our students, staff and families is a top priority for APS,” the email said.

Late last week, Northern Virginia health districts urged “vigilance” in the face of a “surge” of cases. From a press release:

As disease transmission increases, Public Health leaders in the Northern Virginia region (Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington Counties, including all towns and municipalities- and the City of Alexandria) are encouraging residents to maintain their vigilance in curbing the spread of COVID-19 to minimize hospitalizations and deaths during this winter surge.

Since the start of this pandemic almost two years ago, there have been more than 2,600 COVID-19 deaths, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 230,000 cases in northern Virginia. Many of the hospitalizations and deaths occurred during last winter’s surge.

Hospitalizations in Arlington have risen modestly over the past week, but remain relatively low. Two additional hospitalizations were reported today, bringing the seven-day moving average to just over one per day for the first time since the start of October.

At the height of the initial pandemic wave, in the spring of 2020, reported Covid hospitalizations peaked at more than a dozen per day.

The last reported Covid-related death in Arlington was on Dec. 3, more than two weeks ago.

Covid hospitalizations in Arlington on 12/20/21 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

One expert said over the weekend that Omicron does not appear to cause more serious illness, despite its greater transmissibility.

“What we’ve seen in South Africa in particular, is a decoupling between the cases and hospitalizations,” former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation. High levels of vaccination and immunity from prior infection may be helping to tamp down on serious illness from Covid, he added.

Mike Silverman, chief of the emergency department at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, wrote in his weekly public Facebook post on Friday that the hospital is seeing more people falling ill from Covid.

“I can honestly say that I personally saw more patients with COVID this week than I have in the last 4 to 6 weeks combined,” Silverman wrote. “The first patient I saw this week was critically ill and was admitted to the ICU. He had been diagnosed a couple of days before coming to the hospital.”

Silverman noted that most of the more seriously ill Covid patients are not vaccinated. In Arlington, 92.6% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, according to VDH.

More from Silverman:

One way we account for these patients is by tracking the number of our times we use our “COVID isolation” order set. We also track the disposition (admit, discharge, etc) for patients who require this order set. We’ve seen a definite increase in the number of times we use this order set over the past 2 weeks. We’re also seeing an increasing number of patients requiring hospitalization who are covid positive, though the actual percentage of patients in “covid isolation” has not climbed. Looking at our hospital census, it’s grown a lot since last week. Most of the patients who get admitted are not vaccinated.

[…]

The very sick patients we’re seeing are generally not vaccinated. Most of the patients I am discharging, are vaccinated. It continues to be very simple, if you are not vaccinated, you need to get vaccinated. If it has been 6 months since your second dose of mRNA vaccine, get your booster. Also, if you haven’t already, please buy a pulse ox. They cost about $15-25 and can be used to assess your oxygen level. If your level is below 92%, seek medical attention.

Thus far Arlington County and Virginia have announced no new mitigation steps in the face of rapidly-rising tests. Just across the Potomac, however, D.C. this morning announced that it will reinstate its mask mandate while expanding testing.

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