VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – If you have big plans for the weekend, health officials say with COVID-19 variants spreading rapidly it would be a good to have a face mask on hand.

Two local health officials offer differing views, but they do agree on one thing: protect yourself. 

“A lot of people are really blowing this thing off, thinking that we’re out of this pandemic. We’re not out of this pandemic,” said Doctor Keith Newby, a cardiologist with Fort Norfolk Medical, and Sentara Healthcare.

On the other hand, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Virginia Beach Health Department Director said, “We have new tools and new ways that we can protect ourselves.”

Both health professionals are responsible for helping protect thousands of lives. And, in a city with a population approaching a half million, Dr. Pedati says the vaccine is working to keep an untold number of residents out of hospitals.  

When checking state and local health department information, it’s hard to tell though, just how many people are currently infected with COVID-19.  

“We had that really, really high case level back in January,” said Dr. Pedati. Virginia Beach averaged about 1,200 cases a day. “So that (number) started to come down. We probably reached a low point, around March, where we were closer to about 14 or 15 cases, which was good.”

That sounds good, but is not believable, said Dr. Newby. His practice in Norfolk serves about 12,000 patients. “With the advent of home testing, people are doing the tests. They’re either quarantining at home, or not. And (when) they’re finding [out they are] positive, they’re not reporting to the CDC. So, the numbers inappropriately seem like they’re dropping. But they’re really not.”

Both urge people who are not vaccinated, to get the free shot and boosters. And, take other precautions, such as masking up and avoiding crowds.

Among the symptoms to look out for: fever, dry cough, tiredness, loss of taste or smell, difficulty breathing, and a sore throat. If it’s COVID-19, those symptoms could grow in severity.

“We are still seeing people die from this; don’t misunderstand,” said Dr. Newby, who adds that nearly 100 patients in his practice have died of COVID-19 complications since the pandemic began 2 1/2 years ago.

“We know that this is hard and it’s been a long time,” said Dr. Pedati.  “But really, the public health advice of staying home when you’re sick is never going to change.”

If you’d like to get the vaccine, or get tested for COVID-19, Celebrate Health Care is hosting a clinic on Friday July 15 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Temple, 3100 Butternut Drive, Hampton. For more information, call 757-287-0277 or go to their Facebook page.