WINCHESTER — The COVID-19 pandemic has been in the Northern Shenandoah Valley for 10 months, but has never posed a greater threat than right now.
Winchester Emergency Management Director Scott Kinsenger told City Council on Tuesday the number of people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley testing positive for the coronavirus “is climbing at an exorbitant rate, as well as the number of deaths to our citizens.”
Kensinger said 15% of all people who were recently tested for the novel coronavirus in the Lord Fairfax Health District came back positive, “which is well above the 10% threshold we would like to stay under.” The district is comprised of Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Warren and Page.
On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported a total of 213 people in the district have died from COVID-19 since March 18, when the department started sharing coronavirus statistics. Among those deaths were 18 people in Winchester, 37 in Frederick County, seven in Clarke County, 80 in Shenandoah County, 36 in Warren County and 35 in Page County.
“The total death numbers to our citizens related to COVID has almost tripled since this time last month,” Kensinger said.
The news is not all grim, though. Kensinger said it has become much easier to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and rubber gloves that, just a few months ago, were in critically short supply.
However, even if everyone properly used PPE and followed every COVID-19 safety precaution advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kensinger said it would not be enough to eradicate the coronavirus.
“The saving grace that we’re now engaged in is an aggressive vaccination campaign with the [state] Health Department and Valley Health System,” he said. “Of the 235,000-plus persons in the [Lord Fairfax] Health District, we have vaccinated over 7,000 people as part of the Phase 1A vaccination plan for critical health-care workers and EMS (emergency medical services) personnel. This group also includes long-term care facility residents that are being vaccinated by CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.”
Virginia has moved into Phase 1B of it distribution program, which includes people over age 75, emergency personnel and teachers. On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the phase would be expanded to include people age 65 and older and younger people with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Kensinger said Shenandoah University, in partnership with Valley Health and health department officials, has set up a point of dispensing (POD) clinic for up to 1,500 COVID-19 vaccines per day at the university’s James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics and Events Center in Winchester. Eligible people can register online for an inoculation at valleyhealthlink.com/c19vaccinations.
Additionally, a vaccination clinic for those age 75 and older is being held from 8 a.m. to noon today at Clarke County High School, 627 Mosby Blvd. in Berryville. Shots will be administered to eligible patients on a first-come, first-served basis beginning.
“Phase 1C will follow shortly after 1B,” Kensinger told council, “and includes the remaining essential workers, the 65- to 74-year-old population, and the 16- to 64-year-old population with underlying health conditions.”
Virginia’s remaining population will be eligible for vaccines in Phase 2, which will begin after the completion of phases 1A, 1B and 1C. According to the CDC, Phase 2 could get underway by April.
Virginia residents can find out when they are eligible to receive a vaccine and how to get a shot by visiting vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-faq. Kensinger said the commonwealth is currently inoculating about 14,000 people per day, but hopes to eventually raise that number to 50,000.
“We can beat this virus, and I urge all people to continue wearing your mask, social distancing and washing your hands frequently,” he told City Council. “If anyone is not sure about taking the vaccine, please consult your doctor for advice or visit the Virginia Department of Health website.”