Vaccines Expected To Arrive This Week

Another Death, Another Outbreak Reported Here

With the first COVID-19 vaccines expected to arrive in the Rockbridge area this week, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise sharply, another death has been reported, and a third long-term care facility is reporting an outbreak.

The Virginia Department of Health listed eight deaths for the area on Tuesday, up from seven last week. The latest reported death was in Buena Vista, the second since the pandemic began. There have been three deaths in Rockbridge County and three in Lexington.

As of Tuesday, there have been 1,252 COVID-19 cases in the area since the pandemic began, up from 1,098 cases last Tuesday, an increase of 154 cases. The VDH listed 40 hospitalizations on Tuesday, up from 34 last Tuesday.

The biggest spike in cases in the area was in Rockbridge County, where cases rose from 333 last Tuesday to 405 on Tuesday, an increase of 72 cases. There were 16 hospitalizations, up from 13 last Tuesday. Buena Vista’s case number rose from 357 last Tuesday to 409 on Tuesday, an increase of 52 cases. There were 13 hospitalizations in Buena Vista, up from 11. In Lexington, the case number rose from 408 last Tuesday to 438 on Tuesday, an increase of 30 cases. There were 11 hospitalizations, up from 10.

Hannah Curtis, who handles media relations for Carilion Clinic, said that Carilion, which operates six hospitals, expected to receive its first vaccine shipment yesterday. Administering the vaccine to frontline staff will start as early as today at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Vaccinations of health care workers at community hospitals, such as Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital, will likely start on Thursday, she said.

When interviewed last Wednesday, Dr. Paul Skolnik, chair of medicine for Carilion Clinic, said, “I feel very comfortable getting the vaccine for several reasons. Both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine have been through large clinical trials.

“We know well that the vaccines work and about their safety process,” Skolnik added, noting they are 95 percent effective.

He said that, after health care workers and those at long-term care facilities are vaccinated, the plan is to vaccinate other priority groups in the early months of 2021. He urged the public to continue to wear masks, socially distance and wash hands, even after the vaccine has been distributed.

At Augusta Health, a statement sent out yesterday said the vaccine was expected to arrive yesterday and will immediately be taken to the storage area to be unpacked and placed directly in the ultra-low freezer according to the manufacturer’s receiving process. The freezers have a continuous temperature monitoring function to ensure storage temperature is maintained. A perpetual inventory system is used so pharmacists always know how much vaccine is in house and the exact location of the vaccine.

In accordance with the Virginia Prioritization Schedule developed by the Virginia Department of Health, the first to be vaccinated with this shipment of vaccine are health care personnel in hospitals and health systems who “directly engage in the care of or interact with patients known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.”

“Once we have a firm count of how much vaccine we need and when exactly we need it, that amount will be thawed according to the instructions in the Emergency Use Authorization,” said John Mack, chief operations officer of Augusta Medical Group and member of Augusta Health’s Vaccine Task Force.

“Once the vial of vaccine leaves the subzero freezer, it is good for five days under refrigeration,” he continued. “This allows us to transport it, under refrigeration and with a temperature monitor, to the administration site that is located near the storage site. Each vial contains five doses of vaccine, and once the dose is mixed, it’s good for six hours. We will be mixing the vaccine immediately before its needed, and drawing it as the recipient is seated and ready. We want to be good stewards of every drop of vaccine we receive.”

Another Outbreak

Kendal at Lexington is now the third long-term care facility in the area to report an outbreak of coronavirus cases, although the case number there is not nearly as high as at the other two facilities.

At Kendal, as of Tuesday morning, nine residents of the Borden Health Center have tested positive for the virus, along with five staff members.

The affected residents have been moved to the facility’s COVID isolation area and are being treated according to the recommended protocol. Positive residents are showing mild to moderate symptoms and are being observed very closely, according to a statement from Kendal. All other Borden residents have been tested as of yesterday. Mandatory testing for all staff, vendors and contractors will be held today and again next Monday.

Construction and visitation has been suspended in the Borden Center until further notice.

At Shenandoah Valley Health and Rehab, there were 63 COVID-19 cases, as of Monday of last week, 46 residents and 17 staff members. The outbreak started on Thanksgiving when a staff member tested positive, said Shenandoah Valley Health and Rehab senior vice president Alan Cosby last week. Cosby could not be reached for comment this week.

The VDH had reported 42 COVID-19 cases at the Manor of Natural Bridge on Nov. 14, but all who tested positive have recovered, said facility manager Agatha King on Tuesday. King said she is pleased things are improving, and she and others at the Manor look forward to getting the vaccine from CVS after it is distributed to health care workers.

The Central Shenandoah Health District continues to hold free COVID-19 drivethru testing for those showing symptoms of the virus or those who have been in close contact with positive cases. The next local testing event is scheduled for this Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Rockbridge Regional Dispatch Center at 100 Baner Lane in Buena Vista, for ages 16 and older. No appointment is needed.

Vaccine Distribution

Two national pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens, will be distributing the COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities.

Joe Goode, senior director of corporate communications for CVS, shared a statement from CVS last Wednesday, prior to the final approval of the Pfizer vaccine late last week.

“We’ll be ready to administer COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care facilities based on anticipated emergency use authorization for one or more vaccine candidates; more than 40,000 facilities have selected CVS as their vaccination partner,” according to the statement.

“When vaccines are available for wider distribution we’ll offer them at all of our CVS Pharmacy locations, and will have the capacity to administer 20–25 million shots every month,” the statement continued.

All 10,000 CVS Pharmacy locations already have standard refrigeration and freezing capabilities for five of the six vaccine candidates, including Moderna’s. Pfizer has an ultra-cold requirement, which the company has addressed – special shippers that utilize dry ice will be used to transport vaccines. “After five days at our pharmacies the dry ice can be replenished, and again five days later and five days after that,” according to the statement. “After 15 days the vaccines can be refrigerated for another five, meaning CVS can store them in its pharmacies for up to 20 days.”

CVS will use a “hub and spoke” model to transport vaccines to the long-term care facilities - roughly 1,100 CVS Pharmacy locations will store vaccines based on geographic need, and pharmacy teams will go to these locations to pick up the necessary doses on their way to long-term care facilities.

CVS will make three stops at each facility, three weeks apart if using the Pfizer vaccine, four weeks apart if using Moderna’s. The first visit will be for the initial shot, and the second for the booster. The third visit will be to provide a booster for anyone - residents and staff - who received their first shot on CVS’s second visit.

New State Measures

On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced new, targeted measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 as new cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in all areas of the commonwealth.

Executive Order 72 directs Virginians to stay at home between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., implements a universal mask requirement, and lowers the limit on social gatherings from 25 people to 10 people. The order took effect on Monday and remains in place through Jan. 31, unless rescinded or amended.

The modified stay at home order for midnight through 5 a.m. includes exceptions for obtaining food and goods, traveling to and from work, and seeking medical attention.

Under the universal mask requirement, all Virginians aged 5 and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor settings shared with others and when outdoors within 6 feet of another person.

The restriction on social gatherings applies to parties, celebrations, or other social events, regardless of whether they occur indoors or outdoors. This does not apply to religious services, employment settings, or educational settings. Restaurants and retail stores are already governed by strict social distancing requirements, and are not included in this limit.

While Virginia’s new cases per capita remained lower than 43 other states, all of the commonwealth’s five health regions are experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations. Virginia is currently averaging more than 3,700 new COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. As of last Thursday, statewide test positivity rate was at 11 percent, an increase from 7 percent approximately one month ago. More than 2,000 Virginians are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 statewide, an increase of over 80 percent in the last four weeks.

At The Schools

Nearly all of the students at the three local colleges returned home for the rest of the semester during Thanksgiving break, but some still remain.

At Southern Virginia University, as of Tuesday, there were four COVID-19 cases in isolation, down from 11 last Tuesday: three off-campus students and one staff member.

At Virginia Military Institute, as of Tuesday, there were seven positive cases, up from three last Tuesday. They were all faculty members, and no cadets are currently in quarantine.

Washington and Lee University had no new numbers to report, as W&L’s semester ended Thanksgiving break.

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