Source: The Virginia Pilot
It may take two to three weeks to know whether Gov. Ralph Northam’s pandemic restrictions imposed before the holiday are working to stem Virginia’s rise in cases.
At a news conference Wednesday, Northam said local health departments already are getting troubling signs: For instance, reports that whole families in Mount Rogers Health District, which includes Bristol, Galax and neighboring Southwest Virginia counties, are quarantining after exposure at Thanksgiving gatherings, he said.
The governor, usually delicate with words, used a somewhat firmer tone to deliver his message.
“Virginia, you know the truth,” he said. “If you don’t wear a mask, and you don’t social distance, and you think your right to ignore public health advice trumps your neighbor’s right to not get infected by you, these cases will just continue to go up. It’s just selfish.”
Public health officials say it will take time to know the impact of Thanksgiving.
During the holiday, there was a sharp drop off in the number of COVID-19 nasal swab tests reported. Testing in Virginia peaked Nov. 18, at just over 34,000 a day, then plunged below 20,000 in the days following Thanksgiving, according to an analysis by The University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute. The center is partnering with the Virginia Department of Health to offer data-based COVID-19 projections.
This may be due to fewer people seeking tests and typical testing sites being closed, causing a lag in detection. The drop is probably short-lived, analysts said, because positive test results continued to rise.
About 9.5% of standard tests for the coronavirus came back positive over the past week in Virginia, a steep climb from 7.3%.
And Virginia reported 3,793 new cases of the coronavirus Saturday morning, the largest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic. Public health officials said the large caseload was partially due to a data entry backlog.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Northam put in place new restrictions to curb new cases. He capped public and private gathering sizes at 25 people, down from 250, and forced earlier restaurant serving times and closures. Children ages 5 and up are now required to wear masks.
If indeed Virginia experiences a jump in case growth, the state could see a peak of 77,000 cases a week by mid-February, according to the UVA report.
But health experts caution these predictions are always changing with new information, and slight differences in people’s behavior can alter the course of the pandemic, not to mention the imminent arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. If Virginians wear masks, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people who aren’t part of their household and wash hands, cases could peak early this month, at just under 27,000 cases per week.
As of Friday, there had been a total of 217,588 confirmed cases statewide and 4,160 suspected deaths. About 3.4 million tests have been given statewide.
The United States’ case tally rose to 14.2 million last week with about 277,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been 65.4 million cases, and 1.5 million have died worldwide.
The statewide weekly incidence of the virus was 28 out of 100,000 people, Virginia public health officials said. But it continues to be much lower than the national incidence of 53, which has slowed a little over the past two weeks.
The incidence rate is the frequency that a new illness occurs in a community over a period of time. That’s not to be confused with a measure of prevalence, the proportion of people who have an illness in a set time frame, regardless of when they first developed the infection.
In Hampton Roads, 11 people died last week, nearly double the previous week’s total. Of those fatalities, three each occurred in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and two were in Gloucester County. Chesapeake, Franklin and Hampton each had one.
While the Eastern region is faring better than the western reaches of the state, trends in general are worsening. As of Friday, emergency room visits for coronavirus-like symptoms had been growing for over a month, and intensive care unit hospitalizations had been increasing for the past three weeks, according to health department data.
During the past week, Virginia Beach’s case counts continued to be high, with another 791 confirmed positive. The tally was consistent with the prior week’s 811, according to the state health department. The next highest totals were found in Chesapeake, with 456, and Norfolk, with 320.
Case counts are expected to be higher in bigger cities, but for some, caseloads are also high relative to their population sizes. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake each had top rates for the region, with 25.1 and 26.8 per 100,000 people, respectively.
But Gloucester County far surpassed both cities and all other localities in Hampton Roads with its rate of 40.9 per 100,000 people. The county reported 107 new cases in the past week.
Dr. Richard Williams, director of the Three Rivers Health District, confirmed that the upsurge in Gloucester is linked to a recent outbreak at a long-term care facility. Some 40 cases and two deaths are tied to the incident, he said.
“You’re always two beats behind the virus in these settings,” he said. “But you try to protect as many people as you can.”
Williams said Gloucester has a host of testing sites, so it’s likely the district is capturing a lot of data because of that. Residents who live there also tend to work in Richmond and South Hampton Roads, and as transmission rates increase in dense areas, it’s not surprising to see a locality like Gloucester feel the ripple effects.
He also suspected Thanksgiving cases are starting to creep in.
“It can’t be emphasized enough that we’re entering a time when we could very easily have a compromised health care system,” he said, referring to the possibility of overloaded hospitals.
When intensive care units begin to fill with coronavirus patients, he said, it leaves fewer beds and resources available for everyday health emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes.
“It really potentiates the lethal effect of COVID-19,” Williams said.
Here’s a look at the pandemic around the region:
Chesapeake’s seven-day daily case average was 65 on Friday, a 23% drop from 84 a week ago.
Norfolk’s daily case average was 46, up from 38 a week ago.
Virginia Beach’s daily case average was 113, fairly flat with 116 a week ago.
Newport News reported 261 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 37, up from 33 a week ago.
Portsmouth reported 86 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 12, down from 17 a week ago.
Hampton reported 155 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 22, down more than 30% from 32 a week ago.
James City County reported 76 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 11, flat with the rate last week.
York County reported 91 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 13, up from 10 a week ago.
Suffolk reported 121 new cases for the week, with a daily case average of 17, down from 19 a week ago.
Newport News, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Williamsburg and Accomack, Isle of Wight, James City, Mathews, Middlesex, York and Poquoson counties reported no deaths.
For other pandemic data, go to www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.
Elisha Sauers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-222-3864
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