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As sickness spreads across Richmond, here's the 'most important thing' you should do

Posted at 6:09 PM, Dec 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-18 09:01:53-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Richmonders crossed off items on their holiday shopping list Friday, folks around Carytown said they were staying health-conscious due to increasing cases of respiratory illnesses.

"There's been a lot of people coughing and sneezing around lately, and respiratory viruses spread through the air," said Lauren Dias who works in Carytown.

Dias said she masks up while out in public, especially since she recently became infected with two different viruses.

“I actually had RSV last month, and then I just had the flu two weeks ago, so I am just trying to keep myself from spreading any other germs while I still have an ongoing cough," Dias said.

Santia Ramos, who lives near Carytown, said while she has remained healthy over the past several months, she's noticing a growing number of family and friends getting sick.

“My boyfriend was just sick. My mom just had COVID, and it doesn't help that everyone's gathering right now," Ramos said. "I'm very aware of the influx of respiratory diseases and everything that's going around."

Ramos said the spreading sicknesses have led her to take precautions when she's around others.

“It makes you more open to washing your hands, always having your hand sanitizer, mask when you can," she said.

Dias' and Ramos' concerns align with what health experts are seeing on their end.

"We are seeing an increase of many different respiratory diseases right now," said Dr. Elaine Perry, Director of the Richmond-Henrico Health Districts.

In the past week, the Virginia Department of Health reported more than 11,700 cases of COVID-19, the highest number since September. Perry said many cases will go unreported due to a decrease in testing for mild symptoms.

Much of Central Virginia has moved into a "medium" COVID-19 community level, and Perry said there's growing concern over the severity of recent cases.

“COVID-19 hospitalizations are also increasing, and so when we look at the CDC COVID-19 community levels, which take not only cases into account, but also hospitalization rates and the percent of hospital beds that are filled by people with COVID-19, all of those are up in our region," Perry said.

Perry said she continues to encourage vaccination and that health officials haven't seen as much uptake in boosters as they'd like.

"This is not one of those viruses that you get once, and you never have to worry about it again," Perry said. "We all are going to be susceptible to the virus, particularly as new variants emerge."

While data on influenza cases are not as trackable as COVID-19, Perry said cases of the flu are also rising.

One piece of positive news, she added, is that cases of RSV, which mostly impact the very young and very old, have been consistently declining for weeks.

As families plan to gather for the holidays, Perry advises getting tested for COVID-19. Unlike the holiday season last year amid an omicron surge, she said testing is widely available. Families can also order free at-home kits through the government.

In addition to knowing one's COVID status, she said masking up is a good option depending on the circumstance.

"People have to consider where they're going, who they're going to spend time with. It still is probably not a bad idea if you're going to be in a closed environment with a lot of people that you don't know, if you don't know what viruses they're carrying, to go ahead and wear that mask," Perry said. "Or if you are visiting someone, a friend or family member, who has problems with their immune system or who is more likely to be infected."

She added, “The most important thing to think about, no matter what virus it is that you have, is to stay home when you're sick.”

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