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What to watch for this fall – NBC4 Washington

What to watch for this fall – NBC4 Washington

COVID-19 cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia are as high now as last winter — when vaccines were not freely available and the spread of coronavirus reached a sensational peak.

Now the DC range appears to be at a bend point.

Cases are high because the highly transmissible delta variant has taken hold, especially among unvaccinated people. Delta accounts for more than 97% of cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia, the CDC says.

There are some promising signs that the current wave of COVID-19 infections is starting to subside, said Melissa Hawkins, director of undergraduate programs at the American University Department of Health Studies.

But there are other factors that could set the region back, increase numbers and challenge the health care system, Hawkins says.

“It’s just important to remember, right now we’re still trying to get ahead of it,” Hawkins said. “The situation in the United States is starting to look better.”

Here’s where the DC area stands in the fight against COVID-19, plus what to look for in the fall when it comes to COVID-19 case number, hospital capacity, children in school and vaccines and boosters.

COVID-19 case numbers

COVID-19 cases have been rising since July, but that growth has slowed in the first half of September. The rise in COVID-19 cases documented between July and late August is not over, but it is slowing, most markedly in DC and Maryland.

The seven-day average of new cases rose 28% in DC and 31% in Maryland over the past month. Compare that with the previous month, when cases rose to around 600%.

In Virginia, cases rose 87% over the past month, compared to 500% between mid-July and mid-August.

The dropout rate in cases is a pattern that has been identified elsewhere. Many states that led the delta wave, such as Florida and Louisiana, have seen major improvements, Hawkins said.

Almost two weeks after the weekend on Labor Day, however, things are going up a bit in the DC area. Compared to last week, the seven-day average has increased by about 23% in DC, 18% in Virginia and 9% in Maryland.

Hospitalizations and hospital capacity

The flu season is coming and the number of COVID-19s is still high, which is why Hawkins says she wants to take a closer look at hospital capacity.

As people go back to work and school, we could see more flu cases this year, Hawkins said. Hospitals are already treating lots of COVID-19 patients.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 patients admitted to Virginia has more than doubled in the past month, rising from 978 admissions per week to 2,146.

Maryland’s hospital admissions have risen 43% over the past month, slower growth compared to earlier in the summer. Throughout the month, the number of patients has exceeded 85% of the manned beds.

Only 8% of the people who received COVID-19 and had been hospitalized since January were vaccinated according to state data.

DC’s hospital admissions have grown 75% over the past month, and hospital capacity has hovered a few percentage points behind the “inadequate” brand in recent weeks.

People who are not fully vaccinated have accounted for 86% of admissions.

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Schools and children

Thousands of students around the DC area have had to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure in the first weeks of school, including 1,000 children and staff in Montgomery County’s first week alone.

As vaccines are only approved for people 12 years and older, many children go back to school without that layer of protection, and cases among children increase.

“What we are seeing is the number of cases that is rising really exponentially in recent weeks among children,” Hawkins said.

Masking is one of the best ways children can protect themselves in school — not just against COVID-19, but other diseases like the flu and RSV, Hawkins said.

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Vaccines and booster shots

Public health officials are still calling for vaccinations and hope to limit the virus’ ability to spread.

About 58% of DC residents and 58% of Virginians are fully vaccinated. Maryland says 82% of adults have received at least one shot, according to state data.

However, people who are not fully vaccinated — for example, if they missed their second dose — are up to 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, Hawkins said.

But there are also signs that vaccines may become less effective over time, prompting a conversation about who gets booster shots and when.

“The data are strongly suggestive in this country and more than just suggestive in Israel that you have a declining immunity among people across age groups, not just the much, much older ones,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci and noted that it is important to have a plan so that boosters can be managed when data suggests they are needed.

Food and Drug Administration officials are set to meet Friday to discuss whether there is enough evidence that a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a first step toward approving a booster.

“I think what we’re probably going to see are some recommendations for certain groups of individuals rather than the entire population in general, but I think that’s something to keep an eye on,” Hawkins said.

Northern Virginia Bureau chief Julie Carey reports on parents struggling to get their children tested for COVID-19 after possible exposure.

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