Case Load Spikes Anticipated With Omicron, Holidays

A bleak beginning of the year seems to be in store for Greenbrier County healthcare workers in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

During the Tuesday, Dec. 21, meeting of the Greenbrier County COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Bridgett Morrsion, the county’s lead health officer, explained the current situation.

“I wish I had great news to report but I don’t,” said Morrison. “Greenbrier and Monroe have just been inundated with cases, over 60%. … Our percent positivity in Greenbrier is 9.76 as of [Monday], and 8.3 for Monroe. We’re in the red.”

The stark news follows the emergence of a second COVID-19 variant.

“The Omicron variant is now confirmed as being the biggest variant throughout the United States,” Morrison said. “Omicron is easier to catch than the Delta variant, … so they just keep getting easier and easier to catch.”

Omicron now overtakes the Delta variant, the reason for the fall 2021 case and death surge, as the lead cause of cases. What does this mean for the healthcare workers fighting the virus and the people that could contract it?

“Essentially, we’re in the same place as last year,” Morrison said. “[The only difference is] we have the vaccines. … If you’ve had both vaccines and your booster, it’s still giving you over 70% protection, [according to the] preliminary data. … The vaccines still continue to be the best way to ward off getting the virus and ward off getting a severe illness. Anybody five and older, should definitely consider and give strong consideration to getting the vaccine. If you got it earlier on, almost everybody at this point is eligible for the booster.”

Over the next two weeks, holiday gatherings are expected to rapidly increase the number of cases in Greenbrier County.

“Every time there’s a holiday and potential for significant gatherings, our numbers go up,” Morrison said. “I anticipate this fallout will [continue] until the middle or end of January, at least. … They are predicting that we will be even worse than any of the other surges that we’ve had previously. As far as family gatherings and such, it’s still extremely risky, unless everybody’s been vaccinated.”

However, even before the holidays, the local cases have already risen again.

“[As of Monday, December 20], we have … 194 current active infections, seven hospitalized, and 112 deaths,” Morrison said. “We’ve had a few deaths in the last four or five days that were what I definitely consider younger. … If you look at the state dashboard, 10 to 11% of people that have been fully vaccinated and have had breakthrough infections. The good news is almost all of these patients, not all but almost, have very mild forms of the virus and recuperate without any complications. … Multiple schools have closed down due to the significant infection rates and infections in the schools.”

Superintendent of Schools Jeff Bryant confirmed this later in the meeting.

“We do have two schools that we had to [close, although] employees are still working,” Bryant explained. “That’s [Western Greenbrier Middle School] and, for only one day, Lewisburg Elementary. [What we face is a] combination of a number of positive cases, students who are in quarantine, and also faculty that have children at home that they need to take care of. We got to a point where we just couldn’t provide enough substitutes. Those are the determinations we made – we have to have adequate supervision, adequate teaching personnel in school.”

Head School Nurse Paula McCoy explained the numbers.

“I have it broken down by school,” said McCoy. “Right now, for Western Greenbrier Middle School, we have 7.8% of students that have tested positive, and an additional 12.6% that are in quarantine due to exposure. Some of that is school exposure, but quite a bit of that is household contact where a family member has tested positive. … We post those [numbers] every Tuesday to the greenbriercountyschools.org.”

After the meeting, Bryant emphasized to The West Virginia Daily News that Greenbrier County Schools would “continue to monitor the WVDHHR Alert Map [currently daily] and make the appropriate masking decision in reference to the map color.”

“[We make] the announcement once per week on Friday afternoons, [letting students and parents know] what the mask protocol will be the following week,” Bryant said. “We will monitor this closely over the holiday break, which begins for our students and teachers [on Wednesday].”

After a question about local sports leagues, both in and out of school, Morrison warned of the dangers of going unmasked.

“Right now, a lot of our outbreaks are associated with kids in sports, in both counties [Greenbrier and Monroe],” Morrison explained. “I can’t, and won’t, go against the state or CDC, but anybody that’s unvaccinated is at a huge risk. … We don’t have a very good percentage of our school-aged children that are vaccinated to begin with – it’s kind of a perfect storm. If there’s significant exposure indoors [with a lot of people], you should be masking.”

This also applies to holiday-related church events.

“There’s an inherent risk [for] he elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, even if they’re vaccinated,” Morrison said. “It’s still a risk, but obviously [more so] if they’re unvaccinated. I think that they’re safe ways to do something, but large gatherings are definitely risky.”

Morrison emphasized that the best protection are vaccines and boosters, followed by mask wearing.

“I can tell you from experience that the majority of people, not all, but the majority, that have been getting very sick have not been wearing their masks and are not vaccinated. … We know [that] the people who are getting it are those that … weren’t very good about wearing the masks. Unfortunately, people are resistant. … It’s one of our layers. Vaccinations are our number one, but [masks] do help.”

As the call finished off, Baldwin thanked everyone for their help.

“I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays,” said Baldwin at the end of the meeting. “I hope you at least get a little bit of down time because I know you’ve been run ragged for two years now and you certainly deserve it. I know you care very much about what you do. … We’re in another situation now where numbers are surging, so you’re probably feeling pressure again. Thank you for all that you do.”

Shortly after the meeting, Baldwin released the Task Force roundup on his social media:

– GREENBRIER COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT. We are in the red as we’ve been inundated with new cases recently. Our infection rate has climbed into the high 60s. Our neighbors in Monroe County are dealing with a very similar situation. Many of our outbreaks are associated with indoor gatherings such as athletic events, especially where vaccination rates are low. Detailed case counts are available on the Health Department Facebook page. We experienced several deaths in the last week, including young people. While we are seeing some breakthrough cases (vaccinated), that only accounts for about 10% of all cases. We will continue to experience the fallout of the current surge through at least the end of January. Vaccinations are the best means to mitigate COVID. Everyone ages 5 and over is eligible for a vaccination now. Layers of mitigation such as vaccinations, masks, distancing, and hygiene all work together to protect public health.

– GREENBRIER COUNTY SCHOOLS. We monitor the alert map daily and then announce protocols for the coming week to the community. Two schools were closed this week due to high case counts–Western Middle and Lewisburg Elementary–though the employees continue to report to work. The Christmas break begins tomorrow and our students will return after the New Year.

– ROBERT C BYRD CLINIC. We continue to do COVID-19 testing and treatment in our mobile clinic on weekdays. We have ample supplies of all COVID-19 vaccines. Call 304-645-3220 for an appointment to receive a vaccination or booster. We can also provide COVID-19 vaccines during routine clinic visits; just ask your nurse or provider. We still have flu vaccines available and encourage everyone to get theirs soon. We still offer the Monoclonal Antibody treatments when ordered by a provider. We also recently gained a large, new mobile clinic to take to rural areas for health care services.

– RAINELLE MEDICAL CENTER. All of our locations will be closed Thursday and Friday. Free testing all day on Tuesday, 10-12 and tomorrow 10-1. Available on other days by appointment. Antibodies daily depending on staffing ( IV & subcutaneous injections) also by appointment. All vaccines available by appointment–Moderna, Pfizer, J & J. We also have 3rd doses and booster available according to CDC guidelines. Also we have plenty of flu vaccine available daily.

– COMMITTEE ON AGING. Our centers remain closed for activities and meals (Fairlea and Rupert), but we continue to offer in-home/delivery services. We are also continuing to provide all regular services. Masks are required at our facilities.

– THE HUB. Our café is open! Meals are served: Wed-Thurs: 10 am – 6 pm, Fri: 10 am – 8 pm. Come on by! Grab and Go Dinner Specials are available W-Fri, $5 for community members and free for 18 and under. Order by noon. Now hiring young people in our Café and Tech Express youth training businesses, and hiring AmeriCorps volunteers. Call us if you’re looking for a fun and rewarding job: 304-647-4994.

– WV SENATE. The WV Hospital Association contacted legislators yesterday to sound the alarm bell. Rates of hospitalization for COVID patients are again high…and rising quickly. That affects the ability of hospitals to care for patients in emergency and elective surgery situations, for example. They urge the citizens of West Virginia to take proven precautions including vaccination, masks, social distancing, limiting time at indoor gatherings, and personal hygiene. The more precautions we take now, the less pressure we put on our hospitals and health care systems, and the more they can meet the needs of our citizens.

– NEXT MEETING. The Task Force will meet again on Jan 4 at 11 a.m. Submitted by Senator Stephen Baldwin, chair of the Task Force.

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