One in four people getting tested in Arlington are positive for Covid

Covid positivity rate in Arlington as of 1/4/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Exactly one month ago, the average Covid test positivity rate in Arlington was 3.5%. Today that rate is 26.1%.

The positivity rate has been soaring amid a Covid wave fueled by the highly-contagious Omicron variant. The wave has produced sky-high case totals, but has yet to correspond to a surge in serious illness.

Yesterday Arlington reported its highest seven-day moving average of new cases, 491 cases per day, before dropping today as the New Year’s holiday and the winter storm tamp down on testing. On Friday, before the holiday, Arlington set a fresh single-day case record, with 784 new Covid cases reported.

Covid cases in Arlington as of 1/4/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

The average daily rate of hospitalizations for Covid among Arlington’s highly-vaccinated population has risen slightly, to just over one per day, but that’s a far cry from the levels of serious illness earlier in the pandemic.

No new deaths have been reported over the past week, per Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Covid hospitalizations in Arlington as of 1/4/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

While the hospitalization numbers in Arlington are relatively low, that’s not necessarily the case statewide. Hospitals across the Commonwealth “are becoming overwhelmed” amid rising illness, the Virginia Dept. of Health said last week.

“The VDH urges everyone to reserve hospitals for emergencies,” the state health department said. “If you have mild coronavirus symptoms or a non-serious illness, avoid unnecessary hospital trips.”

Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman wrote in his weekly update this past Friday that the hospital is also seeing an increase in cases.

Although Omicron appears less dangerous than Delta, last week our hospital inpatient COVID volume was 40% of our prior peak number. This week, it’s over 70%. Although the overall morbidity and mortality rates may be lower with Omicron across the population, the actual numbers of patients getting sick with COVID may exceed any hospital’s capacity to care for those requiring it. In the ER, we’ve set records when it comes to the numbers of patients we’ve diagnosed with COVID. COVID isolation orders have doubled in the past week and represents about half of our daily volume. Fortunately, the admission rate on these patients is about 15%. In previous surges, this number was 40%.

Consistent with all the other places you’ve seen case counts, we’ve had a 10-fold increase in the number of positive covid tests in our ER compared to 2 weeks ago. About 41% of our patients are testing positive -this is about a 60% positivity rate when looking at symptomatic patients (was 13% one month ago) and 25% positivity when screening patients (admissions, transfers, non-covid symptoms). This number was <1% a month ago. The number of tests we perform weekly has doubled from a month ago while the positive numbers have increased 30-fold (this was tricky math for me, but I think it’s right).

Despite the continued rise in cases, the high positivity rate and challenges with testing suggest that there are potentially a lot more people getting infected than are getting tested and submitted to the VDH database as positive cases.

After closures over the weekend for the New Year’s holiday, for instance, county Covid testing booths — which have seen huge lines for the past couple of weeks — are closed again today due to the winter storm.

At-home tests, meanwhile, remain hard to come by. At a CVS on Columbia Pike today, a sign says that due to the winter storm the store will not receive more test kits tomorrow, as originally expected.

Sign about at-home Covid tests at a CVS store on Columbia Pike (staff photo)

By the official VDH numbers, just over 8,000 new Covid cases have been reported in Arlington over the past month. That’s nearly 3.5% of the county’s population.

One prominent expert believes that cases — including those that are asymptomatic — could be so significantly undercounted that actual infections may be closer to 10x the reported numbers.

If there’s a silver lining of the big spike in cases over the past month, beyond the low rates of serious illness in Arlington, it’s that this wave may “burn out” sooner than past waves.

White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci predicted on CNBC last week that the current wave could hit its peak in the U.S. by the end of January.

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