Jump on a moon bounce, grab an empanada from a food truck and get a Covid vaccine. That's right. The Fairfax County community is scrambling on multiple fronts in a war against Covid's Delta variant as the County recorded 124 new Covid cases Sunday, Aug. 1. The County is doing whatever it takes to increase the number of vaccinated to reach the gold medal of herd immunity. Fairfax Health District reported on Aug. 1, 58 percent of all Fairfax County Health District residents were fully vaccinated; 64 percent received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Some local agencies are easing the way for people to receive on-site vaccinations at places like their apartment complexes and holding vaccine and family fun days. Some individuals are masking up indoors to protect others and themselves. New data released on July 30 in the UVA COVID-19 Model provided by the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute and released by the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC's data made public the same day on the spread of the Delta variant are causing concern.
According to the UVA model, the key takeaways are that the Delta variant poses a "significant public health concern" based on the current course of the pandemic. The Delta variant is dominant in Virginia, seeing case growth with 10 of 35 Health Districts experiencing surges. One reason for the surge is that the Delta variant has room to run primarily among unvaccinated people. Vaccination rates are still below herd immunity levels, and many Virginians are returning to normal.
ON FRIDAY, the CDC released evidence that the Delta variant was easily contagious and those vaccinated less protected than they may think. Vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant carry similar viral loads in their noses and throats as the unvaccinated. While they can spread the disease, they are rarely hospitalized.
Delta is here, though, in Fairfax County. The UVA model reports over 70 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth as the Delta variant and predicts this figure will reach 90 percent by mid-August.
The Delta variant is considerably more transmissible and causes more severe cases than prior variants. Studies suggest that it may be nearly "twice as likely to cause illness requiring hospitalization compared to earlier variants...Delta is also more likely to cause reinfections in those who have previously had COVID-19 and recovered," according to the UVA COVID-19 Model Weekly update.
Vaccines remain the best defense against the Delta variant to reduce the risk of infection and severe disease. While the Delta variant is "more capable of causing breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated individuals than prior strains… confidence in the efficacy of these vaccines remains high," according to the UVA model. People who do get infected are less likely to experience severe illness requiring hospitalization. "The vaccinated individual may feel few or no symptoms of illness, but still be infectious to others," according to the UVA model.
On July 27, the CDC issued guidance if a person is fully vaccinated, "to reduce the risk of being infected with the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission." According to the CDC, new data shows that unlike other Covid variants, people vaccinated and infected with the Delta variant can still get high viral loads and could spread the virus.
"Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated, you could transmit further, this is different now with a Delta variant," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Jessica Gutierrez-Lugo is a Community Organizer with Opportunity Neighborhoods. On Saturday, July 31, Gutierrez-Lugo helped manage a Healthy Family Fun Day with a moon bounce, games, food trucks, and raffles at the Berkdale Apartments in the Town of Herndon. However, the event's purpose was an enticement, an intentional outreach to the community enabling adults and children 12 years and older with parental permission to get vaccinated. No barriers, no travel, no child care needed.
"We are providing the Pfizer vaccine. This is a collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County Health Department, and Health Works for Northern Virginia," Gutierrez-Lugo said. “In this area of Herndon, the numbers for adults to be vaccinated are very low. So, we are trying a more intentional outreach in these communities.”
According to Gutierrez-Lugo, what they did before didn't work, registering people to send them to sites on a particular day and time. Many of the people in this part of town worked two jobs while balancing childcare, eldercare, food-sourcing, and life. If something happened, that became their priority, not the vaccine.
"It's just not our culture. We are in survival mode," Gutierrez-Lugo said.
In her role with Opportunity Neighborhood, Gutierrez-Lugo recalled that she had asked people if they were vaccinated in June. For most, the answer was no, but they were thinking about it. "I asked them if the vaccine was available to them at their apartment complex would they get it, their answer changed to yes," Gutierrez-Lugo said. "That's when we decided something had to change…This is what we have to do so that we can get out of this pandemic."
GUTIEREZ-LUGO said that the day before, a twelve-year-old agreed to get the vaccine. On Saturday, she stood in line, without her mother, paper in hand, excited to get immunized because she was going to middle school. However, when told she needed her mother there for permission, she felt overwhelmed and ran back to Gutierrez-Lugo, saying, "It's too much. I can't do it. Mom needs to be with Grandma." Gutierrez-Lugo arranged for one of the Opportunity Neighborhood ambassadors to stay with the grandmother. The mother arrived, and the young girl received her vaccination.
"It's barriers like that for our people, even little barriers. It's just overwhelming, and she's twelve. Maybe for you, maybe for me, we can overcome the barriers. But not for these people who have been through trauma more than once in their lives, and they are survivors. Little things like that, it's just overwhelming," Gutierrez-Lopez said. "We have to carry these communities until they are self-sufficient until they are empowered. Just a little push, that's all they need."
On the day after the event, Gutierrez-Lopez said, "Only 42 people vaccinated. We ran out of vaccines, sadly. At least 20 people didn't get the vaccine; they were referred to CVS."
Town of Herndon Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila stopped by the Berkdale Apartments. According to del Aguila, the event's intentional outreach to a community primarily under-served and struggling appeared a success. "Vaccinations are critical, and this population is at greater risk and therefore in much need of these services. Schools open in three weeks, and we must vaccinate as many residents as possible," del Aguila said. "We need to bridge the cultural, economic, and income divide in our town," he said.
A little over a mile in the sought-after historic district of the Town of Herndon, vehicles lined up throughout the morning, waiting for COVID-19 testing.