For several weeks, cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 have increased in Fairfax County and across Northern Virginia.
Several jurisdictions in the region have transitioned from low to medium COVID-19 Community Level, as defined by CDC, including Fairfax County and Falls Church City. Fairfax City remains at a low level.
Outbreaks in schools, primarily the elementary grades, have increased rapidly. Last week, there were 74 classrooms that reported outbreaks of COVID-19 cases and this week there were 139. These figures include outbreaks that occurred in both public and private schools, as well as at childcare facilities. An outbreak is defined as a cluster of three or more cases of COVID-19 illness in a group within a 14-day period.
Disease increases are likely related to the emergence of new Omicron sub-variants (BA.2, BA.2.12.1) and fewer people using mitigation measures such as masking or distancing from others. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Fairfax County remain low though the rate of hospitalizations has more than doubled in the past month.
Approaches such as wearing a well-fitting facemask, distancing from others, avoiding crowded settings, and improved ventilation all remain effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, given “pandemic fatigue” and widespread reluctance to use these measures, the two most effective strategies to prevent disease and outbreaks are:
- If you are ill with symptoms that might be COVID-19, stay away from others and get tested; and
- Make sure you are up to date on vaccination, including receiving all the booster doses for which you’re eligible. Last weekend, a COVID-19 testing clinic was stood up at an elementary school that had a larger outbreak. A total of 129 people were tested, about half children and half family members. Of these, 22 tested positive, and knowing their status enabled them to isolate and reduce the chance of spreading disease to others.
“Testing remains a key intervention strategy,” said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, Director of Epidemiology and Population Health. “The more we know, the more we can prevent transmission. Anyone testing positive should stay home and away from others for five days, followed with five days of masking,” he said.
“We all want COVID-19 to be over; but unfortunately, we are not seeing that. Even if you think your symptoms may be due to allergies, getting tested is important to make sure it’s not really COVID-19. We must take action to prevent disease spread, protecting ourselves and our families, as well as our most vulnerable residents: children under 5 not yet eligible for vaccine, older adults, and people with medical conditions that increase their risk of severe COVID-19.”
With springtime gatherings, including Mother’s Day, athletic events, graduations, weddings, and travel, all are urged to gather safely (preferably outside), and to keep COVID-19 transmission in mind.
The Fairfax Health District recommends the following:
- Everyone should stay up-to-date with their vaccines, including boosters, and anyone living in areas where the community level is medium or high should consider getting a second booster dose now.
- Vaccines are proven highly safe and effective; anyone who is not vaccinated and is eligible should seek vaccination.
- People choosing to mask to protect themselves should select one that is well fitting and has better ability to filter out COVID-19 particles; these include N-95, KN-95 and KF-94 masks.
- Anyone at high risk for illness should talk to their healthcare provider about masking and other precautions.
- outdoor social gatherings
- social distancing, and
- stay home if you’re not feeling well.
- Continue to monitor COVID-19 as the virus continues to evolve and mutate. This is expected.
- Staying informed, in addition to vaccination, testing when symptomatic, staying home when ill, and following your provider’s treatment recommendations, is important as the virus continues to change.