As COVID-19 transmission begins to pick up, Lynchburg General Hospital is again starting to see the number of infected patients in the double digits, while more than half of adults in the greater Lynchburg area still are unvaccinated.
With the more contagious delta variant rapidly spreading the coronavirus and causing more severe disease, particularly in undervaccinated areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reupped masking requirements and refreshed calls for vaccinations in recent weeks.
As a whole, Virginia has been experiencing moderate transmission of the disease — especially compared to other states — and Gov. Ralph Northam recommended, but did not require, residents to wear masks while indoors in high-risk areas Thursday.
The Central Virginia Health District, made up of Lynchburg and the surrounding counties, is one of several areas in the state that’s experienced consistently high levels of community transmission of the disease for more than a week, according to data from the CDC, making it one of those high-risk areas.
As of Friday, Lynchburg General Hospital was treating 16 COVID-19 patients, five of them in the ICU and four of those five on a ventilator.
That number was steadily increasing through the latter part of July, according to spokesperson Diane Ludwig, up from a short period in June when there were no COVID-19 patients in the hospital. At its peak, the hospital had 133 COVID-19 patients around the middle of January.
With more people vaccinated now, Ludwig said the hospital is seeing patient ages trending younger. A majority of patients are unvaccinated and the hospital has seen 37 COVID-19 patients die since March 1.
Immunization rates in the district have been low, with about 38.5% of people fully vaccinated and most localities in Central Virginia reporting anywhere from 42% to 49% of adults fully vaccinated. Lynchburg is one of the least vaccinated cities in Virginia, with 35.7% of residents fully immunized.
Lindsey Lockewood, population health manager and public information officer with CVHD, said local vaccination strategy has focused on learning about why people remain unvaccinated and “provide support and education to inform decision making.”
The health district is starting to plan out vaccination tactics for using $1.6 million in grant funding it recently was awarded over the next three years as part of the Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, Lockewood said. Among the tactics that will be considered are continued mobile clinics, advertising and vaccine incentives.