WINCHESTER — The Lord Fairfax Health District recorded the highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day on Wednesday with 174 new cases, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
As cases in the area increased, Winchester Medical Center expanded the number of units serving COVID-19 patients within the past seven to 10 days, said Dr. Nicolas Restrepo, vice president of medical affairs at WMC and vice president of Valley Health, parent company of WMC. These units have a total of 64 available beds for COVID-19 patients, he added.
"Currently, we are managing the combination of increased COVID-19 patients, the ongoing non-COVID health needs of the community and the impact of COVID on our team and their families," Restrepo told The Star via email. "The pandemic has been challenging for all, but particularly for those on the frontline who cannot get away from it at home or at work."
Since the VDH began tracking local COVID-19 cases in March, there have been a total of 5,329 cases with 407 hospitalizations and 141 deaths related to the virus in the local health district, which includes Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page and Warren. The current seven-day positivity rate is 10.9% in the Lord Fairfax Health District. The positivity rate indicates how many positive cases of the disease there are compared to the number of tests being done.
COVID-19 cases are increasing across the United States and the Northern Hemisphere, said Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene. One reason for the local surge in cases is that the weather has turned colder and people are staying inside more, he said.
Another reason for the increase, Greene speculates, is because people are going through "COVID fatigue" and are tired of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
"It's several months too soon to do that," Greene said. "There really is a light at the end of the tunnel now."
That light of the tunnel he's referring to is a vaccine, which experts have said could be widely available by April. Companies Pfizer and BioNTech submitted on Friday an emergency use authorization to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccines.
Some of the most vulnerable people could get vaccinated as soon as the end of the year, Greene said, should officials approve the emergency authorization. Valley Health and Shenandoah University are already equipped to store the vaccine at the required temperature of minus 75 degrees Celsius.
The surge in cases locally and beyond has also caused Winchester Public Schools to switch from partial in-person instruction to 100% in-person learning at least through Dec. 2, the division announced Friday.
"It's not that there are cases running rampant in the schools," Greene said. "The school is almost like a fortress against COVID, but it's just being attacked from all sides. There's so much disease in the community, people keep getting exposed."
The virus is being spread by private parties and gatherings, he said, such as birthday parties and oversized wedding receptions. Due to the increasing number of cases in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam dropped last week the maximum size of gatherings inside or outside from 250 to 25 people.
Although it's hard to tell people to change their holiday plans on short notice, Greene advises everyone to stay in their households for the holidays, including Thanksgiving. Everyone should continue wearing face coverings, washing their hands frequently and practicing social distancing, he said.
"You can still be thankful with a smaller turkey and a smaller group," he said.