COVID-19 case counts are rising once again in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, after dropping to almost nothing in June.
In the city, about five people have tested positive for the virus each day in the last week. In Albemarle, that number is around 10.
This recent spike falls far below the rates seen over the winter when daily cases in the two municipalities reached more than 100. However, it still has local health officials concerned.
“Any time that we see a rise in cases, we’re going to pay attention to it,” said Jason Elliott, a spokesman for the local Blue Ridge Health District.
The local increase comes as coronavirus cases across the nation are spiking.
The troubling trend has the Joe Biden administration considering issuing a universal mask mandate. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday updated its masking guidelines advising even fully vaccinated people who live in areas with high spread to once again wear masks indoors.
That guidance does not yet apply to Albemarle, which has “moderate” spread, according to CDC data. However, in the nearby counties of Greene and Orange, the spread is “high.”
Virginia’s state health department has yet to weigh in with any updated masking guidance. Because of that, Elliott stopped short of recommending people here wear masks. He did, however, encourage anyone who wants to wear a mask to wear one.
State law requiring universal mask wearing in public was lifted in May — which likely contributed to the recent increase in cases, Elliott said.
“When people are not wearing their masks, and now that we feel a little more adventurous with how we’re interacting with people and our contacts become closer, that means that spread is more likely to happen,” Elliott said.
The other factor is the arrival of the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than the original virus, Elliott said.
Even with that variant circulating, the majority of new cases are occurring in unvaccinated people. Since January, less than 1% of the positive cases in the state have been among fully vaccinated individuals, according to state data.
Vaccinated people who do become ill tend to have less severe disease, fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths, Elliott said.
That means that vaccinations are still the most effective way to curb coronavirus spread, he said.
In Albemarle and Charlottesville, nearly 60% of people are fully vaccinated.
“It does sound like a broken record, I know, but the first thing that all of us should be ready to do is get vaccinated,” Elliott said. “That is truly saving lives. And we have to remember that not everybody has embraced the opportunity to get vaccinated yet. And if people are deciding today, months after the offerings began, that they’re ready for the vaccine, then today is the right day to get that vaccine.”