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Prince William County reporting 25% of July COVID cases were breakthroughs; very few severe

An epidemiologist with the county said almost all of the people with breakthrough cases were asymptomatic or mildly ill.

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — As COVID cases rise throughout the D.C. metropolitan region, some counties are seeing more breakthrough cases -- fully vaccinated people contracting COVID-19 -- like in Prince William County in Virginia.

Epidemiologist for the health district, Sean Morris, said of the positive COVID-19 cases the county saw from July 1 to July 17, 25% to 30% are breakthroughs. He said that's close to double the number of breakthroughs the health district saw in June.

That may sound like a lot, especially when the Virginia Department of Health is reporting that only 0.03% of the Commonwealth's cases have been breakthroughs.

Morris said the health district saw 223 total cases in that time span, so 56 to 66 fully vaccinated people contracted COVID-19.

"So we have seen an increase in the percentage of cases that are breakthrough cases, you know, into July. But luckily, the trend of them being relatively mild and certainly not resulted in hospitalization or death, except for very rare occasions has held true," he said.

Morris said other areas across the country are starting to report similar stats as well. Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, recently reported that 42% of their COVID cases in July were breakthroughs.

RELATED: COVID cases increasing in unvaccinated as more breakthroughs pop up

Morris also said there are multiple factors that could be contributing to the breakthroughs, like a lag in data from other health districts and the state, vaccination rates, and the spread of the delta variant.

Prince William has one of the higher vaccination rates in Virginia, however, according to state data, 51% of the population is fully vaccinated. The Commonwealth is reporting close to 65% of people are fully vaccinated.

Morris said the breakthroughs are actually proof that you should get vaccinated. 

"I think the easiest way to kind of digest it is just to think about how your body reacts to COVID. If you have not had the vaccine, your body's not going to know when this virus enters you what it is, it's got to figure out what COVID is, it's got to figure out how to find it and then it's got to find it," Morris said. "That's part of what it does especially with Delta, which does transmit faster, which does have much higher viral loads, it can replicate a lot faster. That kind of puts your body a little bit a step behind. When you've had the vaccine, your body will recognize that. Your body will say, 'Hey, I know what this is.' And you kind of skip the whole step of figuring out what it is, figuring out how to fight it."

He calls it training your body to know how to fight the virus.

When it comes to which vaccine trains better, he said they're not seeing a correlation between a particular vaccine and breakthroughs -- all are showing similar efficacy.

That's why health officials' focus continues to be on getting doses into the arms of the unvaccinated. 

Morris said Prince William meets with community organizations, hosts mobile vaccination clinics, and does individual outreach to address concerns.

"How can we, you know, get you past this and get you vaccinated? Because a lot of the big concerns people have are it's misinformation at the end of the day, and we need to work with them on that," Morris said. "So it's really on outreach at the individual level addressing people one on one rather than kind of just putting it out there."