RICHMOND, Va. -- The data from holidays during the pandemic are clear, according to health officials: local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike following holidays where families and friends gather in large numbers.
With the expected rise in cases, health professionals are urging anyone who traveled or extended their immediate social circle during Christmas and into New Years to get a COVID test as soon as possible.
"The virus is still here. Nothing has changed as far as the virus is concerned. There’s nothing different from, unfortunately, ten months ago.” said Tracey Avery-Geter, Nurse Practitioner Supervisor and COVID Testing Leader for the Richmond-Henrico Health District.
“You were negative at that point that you went on vacation, but you may be back now and have the virus. The only way you’ll know that is if you get tested,” she said. “It’s extremely important for you to know your status. That’s the key because if you’ve been exposed or if you’re positive and you don’t know it, you’re easily spreading that around. You can’t just assume because you feel okay that you don’t have that virus.”
Richmond-Henrico health officials are hosting a free, large-scale testing event at the Diamond Tuesday, December 29th. The event runs from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and there is capacity for 400 tests.
Walk-ups will be accepted, but officials said it makes the process much easier if you call and set up an appointment first.
Those who want to take advantage of the testing event should call the Richmond-Henrico COVID Hotline at (804) 205-3501.
Avery-Geter said even if you cannot make it to Tuesday’s event, those who traveled for the holiday should try to find a way to get a test ASAP. She fully expects the number of cases to spike in the next two weeks and says many people might not realize they have been exposed.
“Then when you come home, you’re starting to feel a little funny. Then you realize, maybe because this other person was doing the same thing: going to work every day or trying to stay in and just going out for groceries or whatever. But just that one little time can get you exposed and unfortunately be harmful to someone.” Avery-Geter said. “Initially, everything seems fine, but then two weeks from now is when you’ll see the effects of all of that activity at Christmas time, New Years Eve, all that. You’ll see all of that come to a head.”
While COVID-fatigue at this point is understandable, especially with vaccine distribution underway, Avery-Geter said mitigation strategies like mask-wearing and social distancing are not going away with the New Year.
“Until you’re actually fully vaccinated and then even after that, you need to continue to wear your mask because not everyone around you will be,” she said. “ You have to be really careful that you’re keeping everyone in your circle safe as well as keeping yourself safe.”
You can find more COVID resources through the Richmond-Henrico Health District here.