DC area health officials recommend precautions as covid cases increase

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With coronavirus cases in the Washington region gradually declining and vaccine immunity waning, some public health officials are recommending residents to consider wearing high-quality face masks, but they have no plans to restore the mandates as people learn to live and work in the midst of the virus.

Most of the counties and cities in the area reported an average level of coronavirus spread in the community this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker. Some counties in the region are going from low to medium with the occasional day at a high level, reflecting the variable nature of the pandemic.

The leap in cases comes mainly from the highly transmissible branch of omicron, BA.5, which has become the dominant strain in the United States in recent weeks, leading a wave of cases across the country.

In Washington, state epidemiologist Anil Mangla said officials have noticed an increase in cases over the past week, shifting the city between low and medium transmission levels.

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DC public health officials did not enforce it people put on their masks again, referring instead to the guidance of the CDC, which says immunocompromised and at-risk people may want to talk to their doctor about indoor masking when community spread reaches an average level.

“It’s been two years and I’m still wearing the mask, I keep my distance. And touch the wood, I don’t have the covid. It works, “Mangla said in an interview Friday, calling the practice” epidemiology 101 “.

Health departments of Virginia and Maryland continue to update their covid data daily and DC Health updates weekly on Wednesday, officials said, although public health officials believe the number of cases is underestimated as more and more people take the coronavirus testing at home.

“We do not believe that the level of covid in the community has decreased,” said David Goodfriend, health director Loudoun County.

Health officials inside Montgomery County acknowledged the increase in cases, urging residents to take precautions and recommending disguising themselves inside for everyone, regardless of the vaccination status, but without requiring them.

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“The good news is that those affected in most cases do not face severe bouts of the disease,” county executive Marc Elrich (D) said at a news conference Wednesday. “The bad news is that many people have let their guard down and are not taking seriously how devastating covid is. they may still be in some cases, or the effects of a long covid.

Acting County Health Officer James Bridgers said there was no public health recommendation to restore a mask mandate, but the county will continue to monitor case data and make necessary changes.

“If we go below that threshold of 200 cases per 1,000, we will change our narrative information accordingly. This is an additive process, “Bridgers said.” Covid is here and we must continue to shape our behavior accordingly as our community levels change from low, medium to high. “

Prince George County, which was among the worst affected jurisdictions in the region, continued to experience an average level of community broadcast this week. Officials said they will continue to monitor cases and urged residents to stay up to date on vaccines and continue to follow CDC guidelines.

“COVID-19 will most likely be with us for a while and then we have to learn to live with it,” Prince George County Health Department spokesman George Letis said in an email. “While COVID government mandates are no longer in effect, because residents have numerous tools to stay safe and healthy, the health department and county government have always taken a more cautious approach to our pandemic decision making.” .

Since about mid-June, Virginia public health officials have been monitoring a gradual increase in coronavirus cases, fueled by BA.5, the “most suitable variant” according to Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

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“It has a greater ability to evade immunity from both past infections and vaccinations, so this is leading to an increase in cases,” Peake said in a telephone interview on Friday, adding that hospitalizations are also gradually increasing.

Peake encouraged all eligible to get a second booster dose, although public health officials are still studying their effectiveness against the dominant variants.

Covid-19 hospitalizations in Northern Virginia have steadily increased since late June to a weekly average of 180 as of Friday, according to the Virginia Health Department. Generally, an increase in hospitalizations follows an increase in cases.

Gabor Kelen, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said the hospital has seen a recent surge in hospitalizations for coronavirus cases, bringing the number to around 160 across the system from a low of around 40 in mid-April.

Although many people in the community they have some protection from serious illness and death from previous infections and vaccinations, he stressed that “people with comorbidities and other conditions continue to get into trouble.”

Death is a lagging indicator, but Kelen said, “We haven’t lost a covid patient to the emergency room, like forever,” compared to the frequent deaths in the early stages of the pandemic. Nationally, data shows that hundreds of people are still succumbing to the virus every day.

Kristen K. Coleman, assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, studies the viral load emitted by people infected with the coronavirus and found that people with the omcron variant are more likely to eliminate large amounts of the virus. , compared to those with previous strains.

Using Gesundheit ll, a machine developed to measure influenza transmission, she and her colleagues measure the amount of virus in exhaled breath, and their findings help explain why the new variants are more contagious in addition to their willingness to evade immunity, she said.

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“All the things we’ve done now are even more important,” Coleman said in an interview Thursday. “Infections are on the rise and hospitalizations are on the rise. So not only is the current vaccine efficacy declining with these variants, but they are more transmissible. If you really want to evade emissions, you really have to wear a high quality mask. “

Some places nationwide are responding to the rise in cases by increasing precautions; Los Angeles County, which considered restoring an indoor mask warrant, dropped the idea on Thursday as cases dwindled.

But closer to home, some public health officials are easing precautions. Last month, the Virginia Department of Health eased quarantine guidelines for people exposed to the coronavirus. Individuals vaccinated or cured of covid-19 in the past six months should not go into quarantine, according to state guidelines, although the CDC says post-infection immunity lasts half as long as state guidelines reflect.

The Arlington County Local Coronavirus Emergency Statement will expire on August 15, formally lifting a measure that has allowed virtual government meetings for more than two years and has given restaurants a fast track to set up temporary seating areas at the open.

Distress declarations like the Arlington one had allowed local government agencies to seamlessly transition from face-to-face to virtual operations at the start of the pandemic. In Arlington, it allowed county council members to meet on Zoom and gave residents a chance to offer public comment virtually, even after lawmakers returned to their room in person last year.

The Alexandria city pandemic emergency declaration expired on June 30th.

“It was certainly an important tool. It gave us a lot of flexibility, “Arlington County spokesman Ryan Hudson said.” At this point, we have learned to live with this pandemic. Obviously it will be with us for the foreseeable future. “

Teo Armus and Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.

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