A recent bump in positive COVID-19 cases in the New River Valley is an indication that the newest strain of the coronavirus, the Delta variant, is circulating in the region.

This is why it’s more important than ever for people to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, said Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Health District, during a July 26 meeting with news media.

“For those who aren’t vaccinated, I’m asking that you put aside anything that you’ve seen on social media or heard from friends about COVID and the vaccine,” she said. “Our society’s pretty divided right now and misinformation is rampant. Getting more people vaccinated is the way to keep things from escalating in our community.”

About 42 percent of the district is fully vaccinated for COVID-19, Bissell said. Once people are vaccinated, it is extremely rare to be infected with the coronavirus. If someone who is vaccinated gets the virus, symptoms are mild, Bissell said.

The majority of hospitalizations and severe illnesses from COVID-19 in the region are among those who are not vaccinated.

Also, significant, adverse reactions to the vaccines are rare, at 0.5 percent, and happen within the first few months of vaccination, she said.

“It’s much safer to get the vaccine than it is to get COVID itself,” Bissell said. “In public health, we’re going to advocate for vaccination. Vaccination saves millions of lives every year, and that was before COVID.”

The district continues to make vaccines available to the community, including offering doses at community events. This week, representatives will offer vaccines at the New River Valley Fair. Information about where and when vaccines are available can be found at the health district’s website.

Though federal guidance on wearing masks while indoors has been lifted for those who are fully vaccinated, Bissell said people should continue to use their own judgement depending on the situation. For instance, if vaccinated people are indoors in a crowded space and surrounded by those who have not been vaccinated, wearing a mask is a good practice.

Otherwise, when outdoors or indoors surrounded by vaccinated individuals, people who are vaccinated likely don’t need a mask, she said.

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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