MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) – The return of Virginia Tech and Radford University students brought a sharp rise to the number of coronavirus cases in the New River Valley – including landing Radford and Montgomery County on the New York Times Top 100 Hotspot List.
But local epidemiologists weren’t surprised by the numbers.
“It’s actually unfolded almost exactly how we expected several months ago.” Jason Deese, the district deputy epidemiologist for the New River Health District said. “We expected we were going to see an increase in cases and in fact we did see very large increases in cases.”
He told WDBJ7 that between the local VDH office and the two major universities, the plan to bring college students back included plans to keep students fairly isolated in their own circles to limit spread of COVID-19 to permanent residents.
And so far, that plan has held up.
“The age demographic that we’re looking at that the largest increases were in is that 18-23 age group,” Deese said.
Again those numbers didn’t shock health officials as they work to prevent the spread of COVID to the rest of the community.
“We haven’t seen much, if any, spill over into the permanent residents of Blacksburg and Radford City,” Deese said.
While new numbers are reported regularly on both Virginia Tech’s and Radford University’s dashboards, they’re not the most important numbers that health officials are watching closely.
“We haven’t seen an increase in hospitalizations,” Deese said. “We haven’t seen an increase in death. And we haven’t seen this moving into places where our most vulnerable population is.”
Those vulnerable groups being nursing homes, jails and other congregate type settings.
“What we’ve seen with the nursing homes is pretty much a study state,” Deese explained. “We haven’t had any new cases in residents for over a month in the nursing homes which is good. That’s our goal.”
As of Sept. 15, Montgomery County’s death total is 4 and Radford City has 0.
Between contact tracing, community education and effective physical distancing, health officials say the New River Valley is on the right course.
“It’s hard work, but we’re keeping up,” Deese said. “It’s a 7 days a week, 12-hour a day at least type of operation, but we are keeping up.”
Widespread COVID testing and extensive contact tracing are two of the biggest tools to stopping the spread of COVID-19. And as the numbers continue to track the way local epidemiologists anticipated, Deese is willing to claim that we’ll soon see start to see a downward shift.
“Most epidemiologists don’t like trying to predict the future,” he laughed. “But as we go through this increase in cases, we’re eventually actually going to slow down. And I think it’s going to happen within the next two weeks in the New River Valley. We’re going to see a significant drop in new cases and we’ve already seen that with Radford.”
He added that even with more college students testing positive for COVID 19, most of them had very minor to no symptoms at all.
The current total of hospitalizations in the New River Valley as of Sept. 15 is 49.
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