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Despite virus, Culpeper-area health official urges, ponder what makes us fortunate
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Despite virus, Culpeper-area health official urges, ponder what makes us fortunate

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Amid COVID-19 angst, the director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District is trying to shore up people’s spirits.

But first, he released a set of charts showing recent weeks’ rapid rise in incidence of the disease.

“As you can see, we are logging more cases now than the district has seen since the onset of the pandemic,” Dr. Wade Kartchner wrote late Friday. “This can be disheartening for all of us, and I recognize my last few messages have been in that negative vein. In the midst of this pandemic, it is easy to lose sight of the positive.

“The great vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna needs to be highlighted,” Kartchner continued. “The early data is better than most predictions could have hoped for.”

Next, the Food and Drug Administration will issue an emergency use authorization for the vaccines, which should take a few weeks, he said.

Then they must be approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of medical and public health experts. Once approved, a vaccine can be given to people “in a planned, tiered rollout,” the Warrenton-based physician said.

In anticipation of the committee’s approval, a vaccine will be pre-positioned so it can be readily delivered, he said.

Kartchner then nodded to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and to Americans’ woes during the global pandemic.

“My hope is that everyone might reflect this next week on the things that give us a sense of gratitude,” he wrote. “We have so much to be thankful for in this nation, especially in this part of the country we call Virginia.

“We have suffered much during the pandemic, including loss of loved ones, jobs, education, and some civility,” Kartchner wrote. “Take some time to ponder those things that we do have, that make us fortunate and even blessed. In that spirit, once again, thanks for all you do.”

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Early last week, Kartchner said COVID-19 cases continue to rise at a rate never seen before in the regional Health District, especially in Fauquier and Culpeper counties. The district encompasses five counties—Culpeper, Orange, Madison, Fauquier and Rappahannock.

While most of the new Culpeper cases are due to the continuing COVID-19 outbreak at Coffeewood Correctional Center in Mitchells, the remainder in the district don’t appear related to any particular event, he said.

Last week, Virginia averaged more than 1,700 new cases per day and the state’s positivity rate—the share of positive cases among everyone tested—exceeded the 7% mark.

Over the past week, Virginia has averaged 2,010 new COVID-19 cases per day, more than double the number the state reported this time last month. More than 7% of everyone tested for COVID-19 in Virginia over the last week carried the virus, up from 5% a month ago.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam urged Virginians to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday, saying it would be “an act of love” to help keep people safe amid steadily rising cases.

If people must get together, Northam said, they should keep gatherings small and celebrate outside. “Let’s not make this winter any worse than it has to be,” said Northam, the nation’s only governor who is also a physician.

A few days earlier, Northam announced new statewide restrictions on gatherings and certain businesses to fight the spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The state reduced its cap on gatherings from 250 people to 25, applied its face-mask requirement to younger children, reduced the number of spectators allowed at athletic events, and prohibited alcohol sales at dining and drinking establishments after 10 p.m.

The new restrictions ban gatherings of more than 25 people and the selling of alcohol for on-premises consumption past 10 p.m. The tighter rules went into effect Monday, and there’s currently no end date.

The 25-person restriction applies to gatherings such as parties and celebrations but not to religious services, employment settings, restaurant capacity, retail stores or school classrooms, the administration said.

Virginia’s changes came as the coronavirus is surging across the U.S. at what experts say is an alarming pace. Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. are shattering records at nearly every turn.

Northam has long recommended children over age 3 also wear masks and follow the state’s public health guidelines. “Science shows the virus spreads less easily when people wear face coverings,” he said earlier this year. Masks “don’t need to be medical grade,” the governor said.

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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