Belying the national-media and social-media hysteria, and despite muddled messaging at nearly all levels of government, the local COVID situation is in relatively good shape, according to a July 20 assessment by Arlington’s public-health chief.
Despite a recent uptick, “we are still at the lowest level of cases since June 2020,” Dr. Reuben Varghese told County Board members, with weekly reported cases among county residents running at approximately 5 percent of the level recorded at the height of the pandemic.
Part of the reason? Increasing vaccination rates, which for county residents age 12 and older stand at at least 63 percent and perhaps significantly higher. (Why the lack of a firm percentage? Arlington is in the process of determining the status of about 14,000 county residents who may have been vaccinated in Maryland or the District of Columbia and are not yet counted in the Virginia totals. “If it was all [of them], we’d be at 76 percent,” Varghese said.)
But there are pockets of resistance, and contrary to media whispers, it’s not all right-wingers and Trump supporters. County officials say the toughest nuts to crack have been residents between ages 20 and 29, with only a little more than half being fully vaccinated. The vaccination rate in the 30-to-39 age group is only about 60 percent.
These are the groups that are “more resistant to get vaccinations in general,” said Varghese, who noted the urban hotbeds of Courthouse and Crystal City have the lowest rates of vaccination in the county.
(On the other side of the equation, the group with the highest vaccination rate, by far, is the 60-to-69 cohort, followed by the 70-to-79 group, the 80-plus group and the 12-to-19 group.)
Trying to pin down any public-health professional on specific guidance can be a challenge, and upon questioning, Varghese merely opined that vaccinated residents should live their lives at the comfort level that most fits them. He noted that there’s no way to live in “a 100-percent risk-free situation.”
“We can’t live locked up in our homes forever,” he said.
But that may be the direction things are returning to, as national media (perhaps attempting to regain ratings lost since the Donald Trump show departed town) has been hyping COVID hysteria incessantly, even as data offer a less dire picture.
One of those concerned enough to return to 2020-era behavior appears to be County Board member Libby Garvey. “I’m finding myself wearing a mask more outside,” she said – while, ironically, sitting (inside and unmasked) within a few feet of (equally unmasked) colleagues.
Varghese attempted to tamp down the hysteria just a bit. He noted that among the county residents vaccinated who nonetheless ended up with COVID, just three – or 0.07 percent – became so sick they needed hospitalization.
“It happens, but it is extremely rare,” he said.