Still here: Public health experts urge caution as holidays approach

With cold weather and the flu season upon us, the Charlottesville community should brace itself for a serious uptick in COVID-19 cases. PC: Thomas Jefferson Health District With cold weather and the flu season upon us, the Charlottesville community should brace itself for a serious uptick in COVID-19 cases. PC: Thomas Jefferson Health District

Nationwide, nearly 100,000 new COVID cases were reported last Friday—the most in a single day to this point. And with COVID-19 spreading across the country faster than ever, that number will almost certainly rise.

Locally, positivity rate has remained low, currently at just 2.4 percent, said Thomas Jefferson Health District medical director Denise Bonds at Monday’s City Council meeting. Bonds attributes that rate to the “very large number of tests that UVA is doing on an almost daily basis.”

Even so, the health district urges caution as the winter months and holiday season approach.

“The more people gathering—whether it’s at work sites or community events—it’s more of a risk for people to get exposed to COVID-19, and spread it to others,” says TJHD spokesperson Kathryn Goodman.

The return of students to UVA Grounds contributed to case spikes in Charlottesville and Albemarle in September and early October. Since the fall semester began in late August, students have been spotted crowding into bars on the Corner, and attending off-Grounds parties—typically standing close to each other and not wearing masks.

As of November 3, the university has reported 1,108 cases among students, faculty, staff, and contract employees since August 17. The spike receded in the later part of October, and 26 cases are currently active.

“A majority of what we’ve seen [with] UVA cases is that it’s been spread amongst UVA, and not far out into the community,” says Goodman. “It’s hard to know that always though—we can’t say for sure there hasn’t been [any] community spread from UVA cases.”

The health district continues to focus on educating area residents about proper safety precautions through social media, testing events, and other outreach measures.

“We know that everybody is tired of hearing about it…[but] COVID is still here unfortunately,” adds Goodman. “We have to continue to be extra cautious by wearing face masks, washing our hands, keeping six feet apart, [and] staying home when sick to help prevent further spread.”

The health district will offer free testing every day the week before Thanksgiving, and set up additional testing sites the week afterward.

Families should celebrate Thanksgiving—along with other upcoming holidays—with their own household, and include family and friends virtually, says Goodman.

“One of the highest-risk decisions people can make for Thanksgiving is having multiple households gather indoors together,” she adds. “It’s important people recognize that this year, we have to do things differently.”

People who do visit family or friends for the holidays should quarantine for two weeks before their trip, gather outside, and make sure each household is seated at separate tables, spaced at least six feet apart.

The health district is also worried about chilly fall weather—the beginning of cold and flu season—and its potential impact on cases.

“A lot of our concern is around people not being able to get together outdoors. The cold weather brings people inside,” says Goodman. “We [also] don’t know what the effects could be if someone gets the flu and COVID-19 together.”

To prevent the spread of the flu in the community, the TJHD is currently offering free flu shots. Its next drive-through clinic will be November 7 from 2 to 5pm at Charlottesville High School.

Correction 11/5: TJHD will be offering free COVID testing every day the week before Thanksgiving, not every day before Thanksgiving.

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