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Weekly COVID-19 update: Virginia breaks case record at 2021's end

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Virginia marked the last days of 2021 with record-breaking COVID-19 case numbers. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all reported to be the highest single-day case totals since the pandemic began.

The state reported 17,618 new COVID-19 cases on Friday — sailing past Wednesday and Thursday’s records of more than 12,000 and 13,500 respectively.

Virginia reported 69,182 new COVID-19 infections over the past week, bringing the cumulative total during the pandemic to more than 1.1 million, the Virginia Department of Health reported Friday.

The newest COVID-19 variant, omicron, is more transmissible than previous variants. Coupled with the holiday season bringing more people together, case counts have surged across the country.

Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts Director Cynthia Morrow said the region can reasonably assume that many of the newly identified cases of COVID-19 in the district are due to the omicron variant.

She said case totals may also be underreported because people who take at-home tests often do not report the results to the health department.

But she said it’s important to use at-home test kits or attend local testing events instead of turning to hospitals or emergency rooms.

“As COVID continues to spread in our communities, it is critical that we reserve our hospital emergency rooms, urgent care centers and rescue squads for medical emergencies only,” Morrow said. “Using these resources unnecessarily can prevent people who are ill or injured from getting the medical care they need.”

The health department will operate free drive-thru testing events from 3 to 5 p.m. every Tuesday at the Salem Civic Center through January.

Virginia’s near southwest region, which includes hospitals from Lynchburg to the Roanoke Valley, had 348 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Friday, including 101 in intensive care.

The state reported 1,516 more hospitalizations over the past seven days, increasing the total number of people hospitalized during the pandemic to 41,862, although the VDH website notes that hospitalizations are underrepresented.

Virginia reported 293 new virus-related deaths over the past seven days, for a total of 15,587 since the start of the pandemic.

Morrow said vaccination is still the best defense against infection, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. She said the department is still seeing people come in for their first doses, but the majority are receiving second doses and boosters.

“The vast majority of our new cases, our hospitalizations and our deaths occur in people who are not yet vaccinated,” Morrow said. “Looking at the last week, people who were unvaccinated developed COVID at about 9.5x the rate as people who were vaccinated.”

As of Friday, 78.1% of Virginia’s adult population had been fully vaccinated.

Children ages 5-11 have been approved to receive a vaccine, which are available at the community vaccination center in the former Sears store at Valley View Mall, located at 4812 Valley View Blvd. People can make appointments at vaccinate.virgina.gov or by calling 877-829-4682. Walk-ins are also open for adults and children.

The Roanoke Times contributed to this report.

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