West Virginia DHHR replaces COVID-19 dashboard with pan respiratory dashboard
The Department of Health and Human Resources has updated the COVID-19 dashboard to be a pan respiratory dashboard. (dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19 | Screenshot)
The state health department has replaced its weekly COVID-19 dashboard with one that tracks all three respiratory diseases that typically have increased activity during the colder months — COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
The COVID-19 dashboard ended Oct. 11 as a part of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ transition from the emergency phase of COVID-19 response to sustainable public health practice, a note on the website reads.
“The dashboard will include regular updates to the respiratory illness season and will focus on data that gives us the most accurate picture of the three major respiratory viruses that cause severe respiratory illness including COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and Influenza (flu),” the note said.
The respiratory illness season runs from October through May, state Epidemiologist Shannon McBee said.
“Typically the primary virus that causes the most severe morbidity and mortality is influenza, but RSV is also something that we track on a routine basis that is also severe,” she said. “And now COVID.”
The federal government has shifted its focus to all three viruses, McBee said.
“[And it’s] something that we’ve been tracking here at the state for several years,” she said. “We’ve always had a huge public health interest in RSV and flu.”
According to the dashboard and McBee, flu activity in the state has been low so far this year.
“We are seeing some sporadic [flu] activity in terms of outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which is pretty common that account for the majority of the outbreaks that we see here in West Virginia’s long-term care facilities,” she said. “But really, influenza activity as a whole statewide is relatively low.”
This year’s “moderately severe” flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, which runs from May to October, could be an indication of how severe the flu season will be in the United States, McBee said.
“But the good thing that I always say about influenza is that the only thing that you can predict is that it’s totally unpredictable,” McBee said.
The state saw a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations when school went back into session in late summer, McBee said, but the activity has died off since then.
Much of the state’s population has some level of immunity to COVID after being infected one or more times, or from being vaccinated, she said.
“The more individuals that have antibodies to the virus, the less severe that we’ll see future waves in terms of COVID-19,” she said. “And also, I think, you see a lot less testing going on. So people have kind of gotten accustomed to being exposed to COVID-19, and they know the steps to take to keep themselves safe and their family safe and healthy as well.”
Health officials do expect to see another COVID-19 spike at some point, but the timing depends on several factors, she said.
According to the dashboard, flu symptoms accounted for 2.48% of emergency room visits in the state this week, and COVID symptoms accounted for 3.19% as of Friday, Oct. 20.
RSV accounted for .10% of the state’s emergency room visits as of Oct. 14, the dashboard says.
“We are seeing a little bit of RSV activity, not much compared to what we saw last year and that’s what we would expect following a severe RSV season like we saw last year,” McBee said. “But it is RSV season right now, so it is common that we would see an increase in some cases, primarily among young children and the elderly.”
New this year, RSV vaccines are available to protect people over 60 and young children from getting seriously ill from the virus.
“That is a phenomenal therapeutic that’s available because we know that our long-term care settings have a heavy burden associated with RSV,” McBee said.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a updated COVID-19 shot this fall, as well as a flu vaccine. Health officials recommend getting a flu vaccine before Halloween, but if not, people can get them as long as the flu is circulating in their community, McBee said.
“Looking forward to the fall, it’s important that everyone receives their updated COVID shot as well as their flu vaccine. And if they’re eligible, one of the RSV vaccines,” McBee said.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.