Vir­ginia’s coro­n­avirus case num­bers shift to growth mode

Daily Press (Sunday) - - News - By Elisha Sauers Elisha Sauers, elisha. sauers@pi­lo­ton­line.com, 757-222-3864

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.

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