MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — WVU Medicine Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Connie Smith has been on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19 for two years now. For the first time in a long time, she sounds hopeful.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve started to see the overall number of cases start to decline a bit,” Dr. Smith said.
Dr. Smith sees patients at both Berkeley and Jefferson Medical Centers in the Panhandle. In the past month, case numbers got to the point that the hospital was straining to make room for some seriously ill patients. Smith talked about the progression of the disease and its variants.
“We had somewhat of an overlap. Several weeks ago, we were seeing the tail end of the Delta variant as we were starting to see some of the Omicron, so there for a while we were still seeing a very high degree of severity of cases as we were also seeing an influx of people that were not so sick with the Omicron variant,” Dr. Smith explained.
Although Omicron has developed a reputation as a milder variant, Dr. Smith says it still can be dangerous to some people.
“We’re still seeing people admitted with Omicron, so the two things to remember about it is Omicron is much more contagious, much more easily spread than the Delta variant. But it still can have severe consequences in individuals that are of high risk.”
That’s especially true of those in poor health to begin with, according to Dr. Smith. “Those high risk conditions are diabetes, obesity, hypertension, anything that’s rendering someone immunocompromised, certainly even with a less virulent strain, those individuals may have a far more difficult course in terms of handling the virus.”
As of Thursday morning, there were fewer than 400 active COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Panhandle. A week ago, that number was close to 700.
Dr. Smith said in the coming months they’ll be able to better reflect on the pandemic and how treatment has changed. “You know, as the pandemic started, it was a new virus so the whole focus was on prevention up front with a vaccine and trying to quickly get people vaccinated in hopes that we would slow the spread and slow the emergence of strains. And then we had to shift into the therapeutic – well, once you have it, if you’ve done all these other things and you still get COVID, then how do we treat it?”
In the coming months, “I’m hopeful we’ll have more therapeutics available,” she said.
Dr. Smith said monoclonal antibody clinics are still available in the Panhandle. Treatment with the antibodies requires orders from a medical professional.