Virginia’s coronavirus case numbers shift to growth mode
If you're watching the coronavirus pandemic by the numbers for signs of improvement, you could get whiplash from one week to the next.
Coming off a brief period in which no health district was surging in new infections, Virginia's caseload appeared to be receding while other states across the country were headed down the opposite path.
Now, all but the northern part of the state is having an upward trajectory, based on data collected by the Virginia Department of Health. In Hampton Roads, slow growth was happening in the Hampton, Peninsula and Western Tidewater districts.
Fresh off his mild bout of the coronavirus, Gov. Ralph Northam returned to public business last week, with a reminder to Virginians to stay vigilant. At a press briefing Tuesday, he urged residents to continue wearing masks around other people, washing hands and avoiding crowds where people are closer than 6 feet apart.
“Now is not a time to get complacent,” Northam said.
Public health officials worry that as colder weather takes hold and the days get shorter, outdoor socializing will become more difficult and people will seek activities indoors.
“It's going to feel hard to keep doing the right things, but I know that we can stay strong and get through this winter, continuing to make the right choices,” he said.
If the current trend continues, it could mean a peak in cases the week before Thanksgiving, according to a new analysis by The University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute, which is partnering with the health department to offer data-based COVID-19 projections.
But public health experts caution that these predictions are always changing with new information, and even slight differences in people's behavior could alter the course of the pandemic.
In Hampton Roads, 16 people died last week, a 30% decline from the tally reported the previous week. Of those fatalities, six were in Virginia Beach; Norfolk, Hampton and Isle of Wight had two each; and Portsmouth, Gloucester, Chesapeake and Franklin had one apiece.
As of Friday, there had been 154,126 total confirmed cases in Virginia and 3,408 deaths. Over the previous two weeks, nasal swab tests have come back positive at a rate of 4.8%. About 2.3 million tests have been given statewide.
The United States' case tally rose to eight million last week with 217,800 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Worldwide, nearly 1.1 million have died of the virus, and there have been 39 million cases.
The statewide weekly incidence of the virus rose from 9.8 out of 100,000 people to 12 out of 100,000 people, according to Virginia public health officials, though it remains below the national average, which currently sits at 19.6. The incidence rate is a measure of the frequency that a new illness occurs in a community over a period of time.
During the past week, Virginia Beach had the most new cases, with another 269 confirmed positive, according to the state health department. Chesapeake, with 159, and Norfolk, with 128, also bore the largest caseloads in the region — not unexpected with respect to their population sizes.
But Southampton and Mathews counties and Franklin, three much-less dense localities, continue to have high rates of infection. Outpacing all others, Southampton had a daily new case rate of 60.1 per 100,000 people. Franklin, also in Western Tidewater, saw a rate of 33.9. Mathews, in Three Rivers Health District, had an average of new daily cases at 37.3 last week.
By comparison, the major cities of Hampton Roads were experiencing rates fewer than 10 out of 100,000 over the same period.
A large outbreak in Deerfield Correctional Center has driven the numbers in Southampton. Over 800 inmates at the state prison have tested positive, and 19 people have died.
But in Franklin, there are seemingly no specific outbreaks boosting its infections. Dr. Todd Wagner, director of the Western Tidewater Health District, said small communities can experience big swings with just a handful of new cases. Often he's seeing clusters after family and neighborhood get-togethers or backyard barbecues. It's a reminder, he says, that people can contract the illness, even if they think they're safe among familiar people.
The department, partnering with local police, firefighters and volunteers from the medical reserve corps, went door to door in Franklin handing out masks, hand sanitizer and educational flyers three weeks ago to try to stem new cases.
Wagner said he hopes that with Halloween coming up, residents will take precautions to avoid high-risk situations, such as trick-or-treating and cul-desac parties.
In other parts of the region:
◼Chesapeake was averaging about 23 cases a day, the same as a week ago.
◼Norfolk's seven-day daily case average Friday was 18, up from 17 a week ago.
◼Newport News reported 117 new cases for the week, with a seven-day daily average of 17 reported Friday, up from 15 a week ago.
In Portsmouth, 55 new cases were reported in the week. Portsmouth averaged 8 cases a day, the same as a week ago.
◼Hampton had 78 new cases reported for the week. The city was averaging about 11 cases a day, a 38% increase from eight cases a day a week earlier.
◼In James City County, 23 new cases were reported for the week. The average was three new cases a day, down from last week's rate of four.
Accomack, James City County, Mathews, Middlesex, Newport News, Poquoson, Suffolk, Williamsburg and York reported no deaths for the week.