D.C.-area health officials recommend precautions as covid cases rise

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With coronavirus cases in the DC region on a gradual trend and vaccine immunity waning, some public health officials are recommending that residents consider wearing high-quality masks, but have no plans to reinstate the mandates as people learn to live and work among the virus.

Most counties and cities in the region reported a moderate level of community spread of the coronavirus this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracer. Some counties in the region are moving from low to medium with the occasional day at a high level, reflecting the fluctuating nature of the pandemic.

The jump of cases mainly flows from highly transmissible omicron branch, BA.5, which, in recent weeks, has become dominant strain in the United States causing a wave of cases across the country.

In D.C., State Epidemiologist Anil Mangla said officials saw an uptick in cases last week, moving the city between low and medium levels of transmission.

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DC public health officials have not mandated this people are again wearing masks, rather than deferring to CDC guidance, which says that immunocompromised and at-risk people may want to talk to their health care provider about indoor masking when community spread reaches a medium level.

“Two years have passed and I still wear my mask, I keep my distance. And touch wood, I don’t have Covid. It works,” Mangla said in an interview Friday, calling the practice “epidemiology 101.”

Virginia and Maryland health departments continue to update their Covid data daily and DC Health updates weekly on Wednesday, officials said — although public health officials believe the number of cases is underreported as more people do home coronavirus tests.

“We do not believe that the level of Covid in the community has decreased,” said David Goodfriend, director of health at the Loudoun County.

Health officials in Montgomery County acknowledged the increase in cases, urging residents to take precautions and recommending masking indoors for everyone regardless of vaccination status – but not requiring them.

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“The good news is that those with shots in most cases do not have to deal with severe periods of illness,” County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said at a press conference Wednesday. “The bad news is that many people have let their guard down and are not taking this seriously as devastating as Covid is. may still be in some cases, or the effects of prolonged Covid.”

The acting circuit Health official James Bridgers said there was no public health recommendation to reinstate a mask mandate, but the county will continue to monitor case numbers and make adjustments as needed.

“If we fall below that 200 cases per 1,000 threshold, we will change our narrative information accordingly. This is an additional process,” Bridgers said. “Covid is here and we must continue to shape our behavior accordingly as our community levels change from low, medium to high.”

Prince George’s County, which was among the most hit jurisdictions in the region continued to record a moderate level of community transmission this week. Officials said they will continue to monitor cases and urged residents to stay up-to-date on vaccinations and continue to follow CDC guidelines.

“Covid-19 will most likely be with us for a while and so we have to learn to live with it,” Prince George’s County Health Department spokesman George Lettis said in an email. “While the government’s COVID mandates are no longer in place – because residents have multiple tools to stay safe and healthy – the Department of Health and County Government had always taken a more cautious approach to our pandemic decision-making.”

Since mid-June, Virginia public health officials have tracked a gradual increase in cases of the coronavirus, driven by BA.5 — the “fittest variant” according to Lilian Peake, Virginia Department of Health epidemiologist.

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“It has more ability to evade immunity from both past infection and vaccination, so it’s leading to an increase in cases,” Peake said in a phone interview Friday, adding that hospitalizations are also gradually increasing. .

Peake encouraged everyone eligible to get second booster shots, although public health officials are still studying their effectiveness against dominant variants.

Hospitalizations for Covid-19 in Northern Virginia have risen steadily since late June to a weekly average of 180 as of Friday. according to the Virginia Department of Health. Generally, an increase in hospitalizations follows an increase in cases.

Gabor Kelen, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said the hospital has seen a recent surge in admissions of coronavirus cases, bringing the number to about 160 systemwide from a low of about 40 in mid-April.

Although many people in the community have some protection from serious illness and death due to infection and previous vaccination, he pointed out that “people with co-morbidities and other conditions continue to get into trouble”.

Death is a lagging indicator, but Kelen said, “We haven’t lost a Covid patient in the ER in, like, forever,” compared to the frequent deaths in earlier stages of the pandemic. Nationally, the data show, hundreds of people still are being delivered daily to the virus.

Kristen K. Coleman, a research assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, studies the viral load emitted by people infected with the coronavirus and has found that people with the omicron variant are more likely to shed large amounts of the virus. , compared to those with previous strains.

Using Gesundheit ll, a machine developed to measure flu transmission, she and her colleagues measure the amount of virus in exhaled breath, and their findings help explain why new variants are more contagious in addition to their availability to evade immunity, she said.

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“All the things we’ve done are even more important now,” Coleman said in an interview Thursday. “Infections are increasing and hospitalizations are increasing. So not only is the actual efficacy of the vaccine declining with these variants, but they are more transmissible. If you really want to avoid emission, you need to wear a high-quality mask.”

Some places around the country are responding to the increase in cases by increasing precautions; Los Angeles County, which considered reinstating an indoor mask mandate, abandoned the idea Thursday with the decline of cases.

But closer to home, some public health officials are easing precautions. Virginia Department of Health last month quarantine released guidelines for people who are exposed to the coronavirus. Individuals who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months should not be quarantined, according to state guidelines, even as the CDC says, immunity after infection lasts half as long as state guidelines reflect.

Arlington County Local declaration of emergency for the coronavirus will expire on August 15, formally lifting a measure that had allowed virtual government meetings for more than two years and given restaurants a fast track to setting up temporary outdoor seating areas.

Emergency declarations like the one in Arlington had allowed local government bodies to seamlessly transition from in-person to virtual operations at the start of the pandemic. In Arlington, he allowed County Board members to meet via Zoom and gave residents the opportunity to offer public comment virtually — even after lawmakers returned to their chambers in person last year.

Alexandria City Pandemic Emergency Declaration expired on June 30.

“It has definitely been an important tool. It gave us a lot of that flexibility,” Arlington County spokesman Ryan Hudson said. “At this point, we’ve learned to live with this pandemic. It’s definitely going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”

Teo Armus and Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.

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