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Roanoke-area rise in COVID-19 is accompanied by increase in breakthrough cases
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Roanoke-area rise in COVID-19 is accompanied by increase in breakthrough cases

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Reported breakthrough cases of COVID-19 have taken an alarming leap within the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, officials said Tuesday.

Health director Dr. Cynthia Morrow said that of the past week’s increase of 371 new cases, and 31 patients hospitalized, 19% of those two groups are cases in which people believed to be vaccinated became sick from the virus.

That is a significant increase over the past two weeks, when breakthrough cases represented between 1% and 3% of the total new cases in the region.

Those numbers underscore the seriousness of the ongoing threat, Morrow said during her weekly briefing, and she argued that they still pale in comparison to the numbers of COVID-19 victims who were not vaccinated — about 81% of them.

“The bottom line is that our COVID-19 activity has continued to steeply increase,” she said. “Because our numbers are so high, the pandemic of COVID-19 in our unvaccinated population is really impacting our vaccinated population as well.

“We have a really challenging virus that continues to adapt and take advantage of vulnerable populations,” she said, and pointed to the unvaccinated as those most at risk.

“Even those people who were vaccinated and are getting COVID, they are still having much better outcomes than people who are not vaccinated,” she cautioned. The average age of hospitalized individuals is 67.5, she said.

“Our hospitalization rates and our death rates are far lower than we would have seen last year, and that’s in large part because of the vaccination effort.

“Are they as effective as we would ideally like them to be? No. But it is so much better to be vaccinated than to not be,” she said.

Health department spokeswoman Christie Wills said she did not have information about whether underlying health conditions contributed to the breakthrough cases but also said her office is not aware of any fatalities resulting from breakthrough infections.

Morrow again advocated for the continued use of masks and social distancing, particularly as schools plan to resume classes and children under the age of 12 are unable to receive the vaccine.

“From a public health perspective, this is pretty clear to me that there should be universal masking in schools where there’s disease activity. And we have disease activity,” she said.

This week’s increase of 371 new cases has pushed the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts to a cumulative total of 25,165 cases since the pandemic started. Within the two districts, the virus has now claimed 506 lives.

Over the past seven days, Roanoke County has reported 136 new cases; Roanoke, 128; Bedford County, 113; Lynchburg, 104; Montgomery County, 59; Franklin County, 54; Salem, 41; and Pulaski County, 40.

Within the past month, Virginia as a whole has likewise seen significant increases in reported cases of COVID-19.

Across the seven days leading up to July 3, statewide case totals averaged about 175 per day. During the seven days that ended Aug. 3, the daily average was 1,189, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

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