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Risky business / July 14, 2021
The Associated Press moved an ominous new report over the wires Tuesday:

The COVID-19 curve in the U.S. is rising again after months of decline, with the number of new cases per day doubling over the past three weeks, driven by the fast-spreading delta variant, lagging vaccination rates and Fourth of July gatherings.

Confirmed infections climbed to an average of about 23,600 a day on Monday, up from 11,300 on June 23, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And all but two states — Maine and South Dakota — reported that case numbers have gone up over the past two weeks.

“It is certainly no coincidence that we are looking at exactly the time that we would expect cases to be occurring after the July Fourth weekend,” said Dr. Bill Powderly, co-director of the infectious-disease division at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis.

At the same time, parts of the country are running up against deep vaccine resistance, while the highly contagious mutant version of the coronavirus that was first detected in India is accounting for an ever-larger share of infections ....

The COVID-19 delta variant is quite likely in the months ahead to tear through the unvaccinated population of the United States, causing sickness and death that could be easily avoided simply by people getting their shots. Personal disclosure, I got vaccinated in March and have not, as far as I can tell, sprouted two heads or otherwise suffered any ill health consequences. Vaccine skeptics insist that we’ll only be able to measure the downsides of COVID-19 shots after a period of years, which is utter nonsense, and not only because of the blatant disregard such attitudes reveal toward established medical science.

It’s notably a bunch of nonsense because this denialism completely ignores the risk of contracting serious illness in the here and now, while elevating and sanctifying the fraudulence of the anti-vaxx movement. I feel genuinely sorry for people who have gotten caught up in the lies of these denialists, especially those with the biggest bullhorns, several of whom host primetime shows on Fox News. They’ve twisted people into buying into an imaginary threat when the real thing is lurking out there, all too ready to strike.

Verifiable information is king, or should be, anyway. Mecklenburg County’s vaccination rate is currently around 44-53 percent, depending on which measurement you care to use (the share of fully vaccinated adults is slightly under 48 percent.) However you slice it, the numbers are too low. Especially as we return to more or less normal life. The progress achieved this far has been possible only because of the superb efficacy of FDA-authorized vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and it would be an unspeakable shame if the obstinacy of a significant share of the American public led to the eventual failure of these medical marvels — an outcome that could occur if the virus persists and mutates, overwhelming the immunizing effects of these medicines. That’s what’s at stake. We need to be blunt about the risks of letting down our guard and allowing the worst scenarios (which researchers keep warning us about) to happen.

The following is adapted from the Virginia Department of Health’s advisory on COVID-19 variants. Consider this a public service as we head into Lakefest weekend. Here’s to everyone having a great time over the next few days, and no one looking back and kicking themselves for the experience.

Top 5 Things You Should Know about Variants (from

» Current COVID-19 variants of concern spread more rapidly and some cause more severe illness. Rapid spread could lead to more cases, more deaths, and could overwhelm hospitals and healthcare resources.

» The more the COVID-19 virus circulates, the greater the chances that new mutations or variants can develop.

» Variants of concern have been identified in Virginia and are likely more common in our communities than the number of reported cases suggest.

» COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States are effective at protecting the American public from circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus.

» Public health recommendations to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 will also work to protect us from these new variants. Until you are fully vaccinated, you should keep yourself and others safer by:

• Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you are around people not in your own household, both indoors and in crowded outdoor settings

• Staying at least 6 feet apart from other people when possible

• Keeping away from large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces

• Washing your hands often

• Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

(Find your free COVID-19 vaccine and learn more at or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682)

What are variants?

Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of a virus, that arise from these mutations, are expected to occur over time. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Occasionally, new variants emerge that can pass more easily from one person (or host) to another.

As more people have been infected during the COVID-19 pandemic, more variants have been documented. Scientists continually monitor the virus that causes COVID-19 to look for changes to the virus over time. This helps us better understand how the virus is changing and if these changes might affect how the virus spreads (transmissibility), how sick you could get (disease severity), and how well viral tests, treatments, and vaccines might work on different versions (variants) of the virus.

The best way to stop variants from developing in the first place is to stop the spread of the virus.

Why should you care about variants?

Everyone should care about variants of concern because they could threaten the progress we have made in the past few months. If they continue to spread in the United States, there could be another surge (large growth) in cases that could overwhelm our health care systems. This also means that the pandemic could go on longer and might require stronger public health measures, like stay-at-home orders, to slow the spread. With more COVID-19 cases, there would also be more people who get severely ill and die. Severe infections caused by variants might also be harder for healthcare providers to treat.

At this time, the evidence shows that FDA-authorized vaccines remain effective in protecting the American public against currently circulating variant strains of the virus that causes COVID-19. Every time a person is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, there is a chance that the virus can mutate and a new variant can develop. There is a concern that with another variant, the COVID-19 vaccines might not work as well to prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19. To prepare for this possibility, vaccine manufacturers are working to create booster shots to improve protection against emerging variants, in case these are needed.

How can you protect yourself and others?

With these new variants spreading, it is important now more than ever to continue to follow all the standard COVID-19 prevention measures when around other people who do not live with you in your household, especially in the presence of people who have not been vaccinated or ar e at increased risk of severe illness. Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all variants. This includes getting vaccinated for COVID-19, wearing a mask correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and washing your hands often. Also, remember to stay home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. If you are fully vaccinated you can safely resume many activities that you did before the pandemic. However, if you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you should talk to your provider about precautions you should continue to take.

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