Crozet Suffers, Adapts and Manages During Pandemic

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The Blue Ridge Health District tests for Covid in White Hall in July 2020. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

There’s a U.Va. projection of Covid-19 activity now showing an abrupt drop in the Delta-variant surge that spiked mid-October, until the jagged line flattens near the bottom of the chart sometime in March 2022, about the same place it was early last summer when everyone rejoiced at the approaching end of the pandemic. 

Another model, said Ryan McKay of the Blue Ridge Health District––this one maintained by Johns Hopkins––shows an earlier bottoming out, sometime in January. The charts give us a snapshot of the pandemic’s history and projected future but only a hint of the corresponding impact on those who care for the community’s health.

McKay is director of policy and planning for the health district, which includes Albemarle, Charlottesville, Greene, Nelson, Fluvanna and Louisa Counties. He remembers the early days. “We were happy that our initial testing went pretty well,” he said. Testing began in late winter of 2020 and, with the vaccine as yet unavailable, it was the only way to monitor the pandemic and, through contact tracing, help limit its spread. For the staff at the health district office, the hardest part came a year later, when vaccines were available, but limited.

There was a strict protocol determining who got the shots first. The inability to administer the vaccine to everyone who wanted it then was demoralizing for the staff. “We would get emails and calls from people who were desperate to get their shot,” he said. “Some of their stories were extremely sad.” McKay said staff members had a tendency to take the stories to heart and feel terrible about the limited supply. Other circumstances didn’t help: shortage of all supplies, glitches in scheduling, and a switch to a new system in the middle of registration. “We also were searching for sites that were easier for everyone to reach.”

Once vaccines were more widely available, the staff knew one of the keys to widespread immunity was to make it easier for those isolated, or without knowledge or possession of technological tools, to get their shots. This is an ongoing effort, he said, and it’s accomplished by enlisting respected members of rural communities, going directly to homes in underserved areas, and working in cooperation with employers. For instance, he said, the health department worked with Chiles Family Orchards to give orchard workers the chance to be vaccinated onsite.

The Albemarle Advantage

The hard work of the health district has had an effect, and there have been some advantages for those who live in Albemarle County, McKay said: “Albemarle always has the highest vaccination rate in the state, or the second highest, depending on the list.” According to “Covid ACT NOW,” a non-profit partnership between Georgetown University Medical Center, Stanford Medical, and Harvard Global Health, the county has a vaccination rate of 73%, and a positivity rate of less than 4% when tested. Still, at the end of October, there were 18 new confirmed cases each day and about 2 deaths each week. This compares with Augusta County, with a vaccination rate of 55%, a positivity rate of more than 10% when tested, and a death rate of about one per day. The encouraging news: Augusta Health reports that hospitalizations are dropping sharply, which means that death rates will follow. According to an October 25 news release, the hospital was able to return to one intensive care unit (it had added an extra one when the Covid census was at its highest), and its testing showed a 14% positivity rate, down from 20% the week before. The release estimated that about 20% of those hospitalized (40 to 50 each day) with Covid were in the ICU.

Brad Diggans founded Crozet Delivery during the pandemic. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

In Waynesboro, a city of 23,000, there were about six new confirmed cases each day at the end of October. The city has a vaccination rate of 60%, and a positive test rate of 4.9%. The city has not reported recent deaths, but it’s considered a “vulnerable area” because of a number of health challenges computed by Covid ACT NOW. 

Nelson County, with 15,000 souls, has a 66% vaccination rate, and reports that 10.6% of those tested are positive. 

Sickness and death rates in all three of these localities are projected to continue to plunge by all available models, and area hospitals––worried about becoming overwhelmed in mid-October––now report an adequate number of ICU beds.

All of the above statistics are for the last week of October and will continue to change. Cumulatively, Albemarle County reports 101 deaths; Nelson County, 17; Augusta County, 126; and Waynesboro, 45. McKay said natural immunity from Covid as well as vaccinations have contributed to the plunge, but some studies show that those who recover but remain unvaccinated vaccines may have a shorter protective window. “We’ve seen that those vaccinated are protected for quite a bit longer.” 

Covid’s Impact on Crozet Area

There are no statistics available for deaths or hospitalization by zip code. The Virginia Department of Health notes that zip codes are not good markers for communities in any case, since they represent post offices rather than traditional neighborhoods and boundaries, but they provide one way to judge how many of us have reported having Covid throughout the past 18 months. In Crozet (22932) there were 677 total at the end of October; in Afton (22920), 338; in Greenwood, 37; in Waynesboro, 4,469; in North Garden, 138.

Millions of dollars flowed into the area from the two different rounds of paycheck protection, saving hundreds of jobs. Awards of more than $1 million went to MusicToday, the Willis Organization, Pippin Hill, Blue Mountain Brewery, OTPR Management, and Historic Charleston Development. Restaurants, caterers, artists, musicians, churches, beauticians, accountants, tutors, craftsmen and taxi drivers received more modest amounts.

Music Today was the biggest Crozet borrower from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of Crozet’s most beloved institutions were able to make it through the pandemic, thanks to the government programs and their willingness to adapt and change. Restaurants quickly arranged outdoor spaces, offered delivery or pickup, revised their menus for family-style meals and were rewarded with continued patronage by loyal customers. Grocery stores ramped up their customer service options. Sadly, other beloved businesses could not endure and Crozet lost Over the Moon Bookstore and Wayland’s Crossing Tavern.

Church congregations spread out inside, wore masks, met outside, held services online or took all four precautions. They stepped up heroically to continue to serve the needy while protecting their loyal volunteers, and all the local food pantry services continued, recognizing the increased need caused by pandemic unemployment. 

Medical doctors, nurses and dentists eventually found ways to assist clients safely, whether through virtual exams or limiting patients to one at a time. Area public schools struggled to teach through online education and, later, to bring children safely back to in-person school.

What’s Ahead

As more people are vaccinated, Blue Ridge Health District’s McKay hopes that some of the staff diverted to Covid assistance can go back to performing some of the other important work of public health professionals. Covid boosters are offered by pharmacies and private medical practices as well as the health district. While expecting a very limited amount of pediatric doses for children 5-11 years old, assuming approval for that program goes through, Denise Bonds, the director of the health district, said the supply will increase over time, just as the supply of adult vaccines did last year. She said appointments will be scheduled beginning Nov. 9. At a virtual town hall, she asked for a little patience at the start.

Ryan McKay of the Blue Ridge Health District, getting his first Covid vaccine. Submitted photo.

Sources and resources

  • UVA model for disease progression: www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/see-the-numbers/covid-19-data-insights/uva-covid-19-model/
  • Virginia cases by health district and county: www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/see-the-numbers/covid-19-in-virginia/covid-19-in-virginia-locality/
  • Testing and disease by zip code: www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/see-the-numbers/covid-19-data-insights/covid-19-case-and-testing-data-by-zip-code/
  • Vaccination and positivity rates by county and city: covid actnow.org.
  • Vaccine sites and schedules: www.vdh.virginia.gov/blue-ridge/covid-19-vaccination/
  • Blue Ridge Health district town hall on children’s vaccines: www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v =1845534165654129
  • Virginia paycheck protection borrowers: www.federalpay.org/paycheck-protection-program/va

Hear from a doctor about facing Covid in November’s Religion News.

Do you have a story about your experience with Covid? Email Theresa Curry, [email protected]

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