RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC): Central Virginia is poised to experience another increase in COVID infections, with the CDC upgrading its community-level COVID-19 levels to several mid-level locations.
The community level measures “case rates, hospitalization rates, and hospital capacity” and replaces a previous CDC measure that relied solely on transmission.
The Richmond and Henrico Health District (RHHD) issued a statement Friday saying “an increasing number of cases have been observed across the region,” including localities whose community levels have not yet been updated.
“We understand that moving to an intermediate level can make people feel frustrated or tired,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, acting director of RHHD. “However, that’s what we’ve been preparing for.”
The district said they were increasing the availability of free PCR trials at community clinics in anticipation of an increase in cases. However, the list of community test sites that the district linked to in its statement has not been updated since April 25, and the last scheduled test event took place on May 5.
Residents can also pick up free tests at home at various branches of the Richmond Public Library, which are listed here. Free trials are also available at HR centers throughout the city, whose addresses are listed on the same page.
The number of cases across the state has risen again in recent weeks, following an increase in cases earlier this year that peaked in mid-January.
However, another early warning may have come from an unexpected place: the Richmond sewers.
Dr. Rekha Singh manages the CDC’s wastewater monitoring program in Virginia and told 8News that viral loads on the sewer system, the measure of dead COVID-19 viruses released by defecation, could be a “key indicator “an increase in infections in one area.
The program is currently running on a site in central Virginia, which monitors viral loads on the Richmond sewer system. An increase in viral loads in wastewater is often followed in a week or two by an increase in clinical cases, making it a potentially useful tool for predicting outbreaks.
Dr Singh said they had seen an increase in viral loads since mid-April within the Richmond lookout point, pointing to a likely increase in cases in the future.
The program also hopes to expand to other locations in the near future, which will help officials cross reference levels between different locations.
What residents can do
The health district advised residents of affected counties to “keep up with COVID-19 vaccines, improve indoor ventilation, and follow the CDC’s recommendations for isolation or quarantine if they are sick or exposed. “.
The district added that while the city of Richmond was not yet at an average community level, the increase in the number of cases across the region meant that they were also likely to move soon.
“If we keep up with COVID vaccines and implement more preventative measures during increased transmission times, we will be able to protect our most vulnerable,” Dr. Viray said.
During the peak of the rise of the Omicron earlier this year, about 600 Virginians died in the week of COVID.