COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations decline

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations decline
Hermitage Northern Virginia resident Peg Bixler received the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 14. (Courtesy photo)

By Will Schick |

The number of COVID-19 cases in Alexandria has declined sharply since cresting on Jan. 12, while the positivity rate and hospitalizations have also significantly dropped from their peaks.

After reaching their zenith at a seven-day average of 95 COVID-19 cases on Jan. 12, the seven-day average number of new cases in Alexandria has dropped by almost two-thirds, to 37 as of Tuesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The decline in Alexandria’s overall positivity rate mirrored that of case totals, as it fell by more than half in the last six weeks: to 6.4% on Tuesday from a high of 13.3% on Jan. 2.

Though greatly reduced, the positivity rate, which measures the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19, is still almost double what it was on Nov. 3, 2020, when it hit a low of 3.5% before climbing to 8% by the end of the month and to 9.8% by Dec. 7, 2020, according to the VDH.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have also declined significantly during the past three weeks. The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations per 100,000 residents had dropped to .3 as of Tuesday. The rate was 10 times higher a little more than two months ago, cresting at 3.3 average daily hospitalizations per 100,000 residents on Dec. 6, 2020. The rate stayed in that range for six weeks until steeply dropping the last week of January.

Natalie Talis, the population health manager at the Alexandria Health Department, said the holiday season likely contributed to the rise in the number of cases, hospitalizations and positives in January.

A picture of a graph showing a decline after a peak in holiday cases.
The most recent data point is the seven-day moving average of cases taken from the VDH website as of Tuesday. Graph/Lyvi Sieg

“What we’re really worried about during the holiday surge is that, you know, when you have increased cases, the hospitalizations and deaths usually follow a few weeks later,” Talis said.

Talis also said it is prudent to exercise cautious optimism when reviewing the latest data, which shows that the number of cases and hospitalizations are declining.

“It’s important to note that just because the numbers are down right now, it doesn’t mean that it’ll stay that way forever. … These things are really malleable,” Talis said.

Talis added that Alexandria recently passed a “grim milestone,” surpassing 10,000 cases in the community.

“I think the key is that all these numbers have to be in context together. … We have our seven-day moving average, our percent positivity as well as our vaccination numbers. … They all have to hold in together to tell the story of what’s going on,” Talis said.

In Alexandria, 10%, or 15,832 of Alexandria’s population of approximately 160,000, had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Feb. 16, while an additional 4,480 people, or 3% of the city’s overall residents, had been administered both doses. In all, 20,312 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered as of Feb. 16 according to the VDH.

Testing data lags behind that of cases on the VDH website; Feb. 12 was the most recent data available. Graph/Lyvi Sieg

However, the demand for vaccines in the city continues to outpace the supply. The AHD has received more than 40,000 pre-registration forms from residents who are eager to receive the vaccine, but not all the registrations have been examined and some may be duplicates.

According to City Manager Mark Jinks, while the city is optimistic about the positive impact the vaccine has had, it is still wrestling with the issue of having a limited supply.

“Unfortunately, the availability of the vaccine has tremendously slowed down our ability to get people protected,” Jinks said.

Jinks also added that the city has a waiting list of more than 30,000 people who are in the 1b category that have signed up to receive the vaccine.

Still, Jinks pointed out that the recent drop in the number of cases and hospitalizations comes only after a sharp spike in cases in January. And while the cases are much lower now than they were a month ago, they are still much higher than they were last fall.

For example, on Sept. 16, 2020, the seven-day moving average of cases was 12, or less than one-third the cur-rent average of 37, according to the VDH.

“It’s great … but we’re not down to where we started, and so we need to see a continued decline,” Jinks said.

After the spike in cases caused by the holidays, Jinks said Alexandria residents have been taking more serious precautions.

“Given the spike up, people started being more careful about wearing masks. … If you walk in the streets of Del Ray or Old Town, I think you find more mask-wearing than [you] did see in November,” Jinks said.

Both Jinks and Talis said that the new variants of COVID-19, which are more contagious, are all the more reason to continue exercising caution.

“The new variants that are active around the world are in Virginia,” Talis said, “And that just makes it even more important to maintain our [protective measures].”

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, except it seems like it’s a long tunnel,” Jinks said.