By Taylor Boyd
Health officials with the West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) said a leading cause of the increased number of COVID-19 cases is due to people not following quarantine guidelines.
“If you think you came into contact with someone (with the infection), you should quarantine for 14 days. Even if you get a negative test result back and you feel fine, you should stay quarantined for the remainder of your two weeks in case your test results are false because the virus doesn’t manifest in people the same way,” Nancy Bell, public information officer for the health district, said.
“I had a call from a lady whose daughter couldn’t taste for two days, then she was suddenly better. They had a test, and it was negative, and then she couldn’t taste again and then she came down with the symptoms,” Bell said.
When people test positive, it’s all about the hours, she said.
“It could be two days after your exposure to someone, or it could be eight days. You might test and be negative when you’re actually positive,” Bell said, adding tests give health officials a good handle on what’s going on, but they’re not 100 percent accurate.
“The tests that you take at Dr. Cole’s office and the urgent care are accurate because they come straight from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Some of the tests, the rapid tests have at least a 15 percent less accuracy rate compared to other tests,” she said.
Bell said the virus has a 14-day incubation period in which symptoms can show up.
“If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, you should stay away from others for 14 days,” she said, adding that people should also let the health department know who they were in close contact with to warn them of their potential exposure.
“In the past 10 days, a lot of our cases have been from Trunk-or-Treat events because it takes a while for the infection to manifest in your body and then you’ve already shared it. So, by the time we recognize a cluster of cases it’s too late,” Bell said, adding that a Trunk-or-Treat event in Henry County infected between one and two dozen adults and children.
“I know people are getting tired of hearing it and following the restrictions, and I’m tired of saying it too, but it’s the only way to ensure you don’t get sick or spread it to your loved ones,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how healthy you are, even healthy people are having three and four months of after-symptoms, like headaches, blurred visions, and memory problems,” she said, adding heart fluttering, extreme muscle ache and weakness, loss of balance, and extreme fatigue are also after-symptoms of the virus.
Bell said the after-symptoms can last for months.
“You can test negative and still be walking around with residual symptoms. The Commissioner of Health explained that your immune symptom builds up to fight the virus, but there’s something in the mechanism in the virus that doesn’t let it shut off when it’s won. So, it continues to attack your body, fighting for something that’s not there, so it attacks your organs,” she said.
“Your immune symptom kills the virus, dead, it’s gone. But your immune system doesn’t shut off and is in overdrive, so your own immune system starts attacking your body,” Bell said, adding people between the ages of 24 and 42 are more likely to have residual symptoms.
Children under the age of 18 are having heart attacks because “your immune system will attack your heart valves, kidneys,” anything it thinks could be the virus, Bell said. Health officials are “trying to put tick marks in columns, and they have to keep making columns” because after-symptoms manifest differently for everyone like regular symptoms, she added.
If people do not follow the COVID-19 guidelines or the state mandates, Bell said Gov. Ralph Northam could issue a state-wide shutdown.
“The more people refuse to follow the rules, the longer and stricter the mandates for the state are going to be,” she said, and added that anonymously reporting individuals and businesses on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website is one way to ensure guidelines are followed.
“For people it’s all voluntary and not punitive. We can only tell them they’re not in compliance and they’re putting other people at risk, and some people just don’t care,” she said. If it’s a business that is not following and enforcing the regulations, Bell said health officials can take more action.
“We first go in and try to educate them and work with them to make changes to follow the regulations, and if they don’t, we take progressive actions. If it’s a business that serves food, we can take their food license away, and sometimes ABC (Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority) will go in and take their alcohol license. Whatever hurts the most to get them to comply,” she said.
Bell said the WPHD is also preparing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We could start the first round as soon as December, and that round would include medical personal, first-responders, and long-term care homes in the district,” Bell said, and added that she believes that the second round of vaccinations could be given “sometime in the spring to the elderly and the children.
“Based on the timeline, it could take one year to 18 months to get everyone in the WPHD vaccinated who will have a vaccination,” Bell said, adding that people who are “not at risk in anyway, other than just living in the world,” will be vaccinated in the last round of distribution.
She estimated it would take at least a year to get the district fully vaccinated because “we’re not a top priority,” in part because of the district’s population and population density. “In D.C. they have military bases there, those people are residual. It’s going to go down through the hierarchy with essential people everywhere getting the vaccine first.”
Bell said the COVID-19 vaccine is “a two-part vaccine that requires a booster to be administered exactly 21 days after the initial vaccine is given. The vaccine has to be kept at such sub-zero temperatures that we’re having to order black ice and deep freeze storage areas,” she added.
Bell said she thinks the health department is going to approach vaccinations “by having six people come together and get their vaccinations. Then, they get an appointment card for the same time in 21 days. I don’t think you’ll see us vaccinating people in the parking lots.”
The vaccination process, she said, is “going to be costly and a lot of trouble, but it’s what’s going to save us.”
As of Tuesday, Nov. 24, data from the Virginia Department of Health suggested there are 435 cases in the county, with 63 hospitalized, and 28 dead.
For more tips on how to stay safe, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronoavirus/2019-ncov.