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Health

COVID UPDATE: Masks, Tests, Vaccines, Distancing Best Tools

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chef reporter
New Journal and Guide

Last summer Dr. Parham Jaberi had two jobs. He was Acting District Health Director, Virginia Beach and Norfolk Health Departments. He also was Chief Deputy Commissioner, Community Health Services for the Virginia Department of Health.

He was tasked with helping the state’s regional health units coordinate their reaction to COVID-19 and its Delta variant which caused the highest rate of infection last summer.

Now Dr. Jaberi has only one title: Chief Deputy Commissioner, Community Health Services for the Virginia Department of Health.

But now he has a new variant, Omicron, to contend with which is contributing to the growth of infections and hospitalizations across the state and in Hampton Roads proper.

Jaberi said in the last week of 2021 the Eastern Health Districts which includes Hampton Roads, the number of infections stood at 7,769; then it dropped a tad to 5,084.

Many hospitals in rural areas of the state which are under-resourced are facing the greatest pressure as cases pile up in their emergency departments.

The rate of Omicron infections has spurred not only testing among Virginians but efforts to secure initial vaccinations and boosters.

Recently, the White House finalized details with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 500 million coronavirus test kits to households across the country, according to four people familiar with the plans, kick-starting a key part of President Biden’s response to the raging Omicron variant.

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The administration will launch a website allowing individuals to request the rapid tests, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning sessions. Officials aim to begin shipping the kits by mid-January.

The Norfolk Health Department recently opened a Community Testing Center (CTC) at the Military Circle to provide free Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing for COVID-19 to increase availability in response to public demand. The testing is by appointment only and is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday thru Thursday. To find an appointment, visit vase.vdh.virginia.gov/testingappointment. Enter zip code 23502.

Results from the PCR test, Jabari pointed out, will take several days and have a high rate of assessment.

“As we face a national shortage of rapid COIVD-19 tests, this expanded capability to use PCR testing will be critical for residents looking for free, reliable testing if they have been exposed to someone ill or maybe feeling the symptoms of COVID,” notes Dr. Jaberi.

This appointment-only COVID-19 testing will be held outside the mall structure in a tent to minimize potential exposure of those who are symptomatic and need testing versus those coming in for vaccinations.

School Divisions

According to Dr. Jaberi, school divisions have been issued state and Centers For Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines “but are doing their best and their policies vary according to resources and policies of their school boards.”

Most of the public school students in Hampton Roads are attending classes, using various safety protocols, in person. A percentage of students are isolated at home quarantined for 5 days or more , in accordance with CDC protocols based on the level of infection.

Virginia’s new Governor Glenn Youngkin was not in office 24 hours before he shifted the state’s gears on its policy related to fighting the COVID epidemic.

Youngkin issued 11 specific Executive Orders on January 5, 2022, his first day in office. The second makes mask-wearing optional in schools – empowering parents to decide whether children should wear masks. This also orders the superintendent of Virginia’s public schools to issue new COVID-19 guidance consistent with the order.

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Late Monday January 17, the Superintedent Dr. Sharon I. Byrdsong, of the Norfolk Public Schools, issued a statement indicating that NPS will continue to adhere to its current health and safety protocols.

“As you may be aware, Governor Youngkin issued several executive orders on his inauguration date of January 15, 2022, that will impact PreK-12 schools throughout the Commonwealth,” Byrdsong wrote.

“Please know that we will continue to keep you updated on these executive orders and specifically how they may affect the existing daily operations of our schools. At this time, Norfolk Public Schools will continue to adhere to our existing health and safety protocols as outlined in the NPS Health Mitigation Plan, which includes a requirement for the wearing of masks while on school buses and within our schools and division-wide facilities.”

“The NPS administration will continue to collaborate with and follow the expert guidance of our local health professionals of the Norfolk Department of Public Health as well as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” she continued. “Moreover, we will continue to work closely with the City of Norfolk School Board to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff.”

Jabari and other health professionals noted that masking, distancing, and vaccinations, whether mandated or otherwise, are the most potent safeguards toward slowing the COVID-19 injection rate.

Dr. Keith Newby, who is a Cardiologist and Medical Director of Health Equity for Sentara, questioned the new executive order on masking for school children.

“I wonder what data they used to develop that executive order. It makes absolutely no sense at all and it may contribute to the increase in the rate of infections. Children may not have severe symptoms of the virus, but they will go home and impact their parents and elderly relatives especially. There is no doubt that masking is a viable means to slowing the transmission.”

Most of the region’s public schools divisions have created elaborate posting and information dashboards on their websites, along with the daily lunch menu and other information for parents and the general public.

School divisions are applying protocols and rules based on the level of infections in their respective locales.

Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach have the highest rates of infections in the region.

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Most staff and faculty were given a deadline to be inoculated and the level of response to that edict varies depending on the school divisions.

Three schools in the Chesapeake System have hit the “red” level of Impact. This means the entire school will transition to virtual instruction and follow the “Continuity of Learning Plan.” The school building will be closed to students. Faculty/staff should report to the building as usual. Principals may approve requests to work from

home due to extenuating circumstances.

Omicron Mimics The Flu

Dr. Jabari another state health official noted that Omicron infection rates mimic the seasonal flu, with “it’s up and down infections rates.”

“It is too early to see when the infection rate will peak and continue lowering,” said Jaberi. “Many of the symptoms of the newest variant are like the flu so it may be confusing. Omicron is infectious but not as lethal as the Delta variant.

Some of the COVID 19 symptoms may mimic the flu. But the loss of taste and smell, presence of fever and fatigue are sure signs that you may have COVID.

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