Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virus in Va.

Surge of deaths seen in recent months.

- BY SABRINA MORENO smoreno@timesdispa­tch.com (804) 649-6103 Twitter: @sabrinaamo­renoo

On a day in September, a lag in the Virginia Department of Health’s reporting resulted in a one-day toll of 96.

Currently, the state is averaging almost 41 daily deaths. Of the state’s 5,477 deaths, 445 have been reported since New Year’s.

Almost 40% of Virginia’s COVID19 deaths have been reported in the last three months, indicating the potential start of an upward trend public health officials worried would occur in the winter months and post-holiday travel.

Back in December, Dr. Danny Avula, director of Richmond and Henrico Health districts, said that reported deaths are a “lagging indicator” due to the complicate­d process of reviewing death certificat­es from previous months.

The Virginia Department of Health released a statement Monday to clarify its process in counting deaths associated with the virus, which can include medical record or death certificat­e review, discussion with the patient’s healthcare provider and speaking with the family.

It specifies that if the patient dies from another cause of death, such as suicide, car crash, overdose or a gunshot wound, the VDH does not count it as a COVID-19 death even if the patient is found to have had COVID-19.

VDH wrote that it does, however, count deaths where someone’s underlying condition was accelerate­d by COVID-19 and the virus infection worsened the person’s health.

But if a person’s death certificat­e lists diseases such as cancer, and the healthcare provider does not say the death was related to COVID-19, the VDH doesn’t count the death.

“There can be a delay between a peak in cases and a peak in deaths. This is partly due to the progressio­n of the disease — on average, death occurs a week or more after illness onset,” the statement read. “Each death is reviewed by a subject matter expert which takes additional time.”

Virginia is averaging more than 5,140 new cases per day, the highest recorded. Tuesday saw 4,561 additional infections reported, which is 1,237 fewer than Saturday, when state records were shattered with a single-day increase of nearly 5,800.

The state’s total caseload is at 407,947.

On Tuesday, COVID-19 hospitaliz­ations in Virginia stood at 3,185 patients, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Associatio­n’s online dashboard. More than 33,500 total COVID-19 patients have been hospitaliz­ed and discharged, though hospitaliz­ations continue to trend upward.

The number of COVID-19 tests is also on the rise following steep drops after the holidays. The state exceeded 4.6 million total tests administer­ed on Tuesday and the percentage of people testing positive has decreased slightly to 16.4%.

This is still closer to the highest positivity rate recorded— 20.2% in April — than the lowest rate of 3.7%.

Vaccine data

Virginia is one of the top states in the country when it comes to most vaccines distribute­d with 773,825, but only a quarter of those shots have been given. This is below the national average of 35%.

Hospitals and local health department have administer­ed about 73%, according to VDH data on Tuesday. About 15% of vaccines were given through medical practices, community health providers and pharmacies— three avenues that the second phase of front-line essential workers and people 75 and over will rely on.

At least 19,086 people in Virginia have been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, meaning they’ve received a second dose. This is nearly three times the number recorded Friday. The site notes administer­ed vaccines could take up to three days to report.

Gov. Ralph Northam has set a goal of 25,000 shots per day. The closest the state has gotten to that was on Jan. 7 with 17,379.

Currently, health care workers and long-term care residents and staff are regarded as the priority for vaccinatio­n. Next in line are front-line essential workers who are not health care personnel and people over the age of 75.

Next Monday, Richmond and Henrico County will enter that second phase of vaccinatio­ns.

It’s unclear how many people in the two localities qualify for the next phase— which also includes people living in correction­al facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps— but statewide, at least 760,000 people are deemed to be in the state’s essential industries.

Under guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Health, police officers, firefighte­rs and K-12 teachers are among the first in line to be prioritize­d among essential workers. These groups alone account for about 10,000 people total, according to government and school system websites.

The Richmond and Henrico health districts are planning eight vaccinatio­n events next week that could inoculate 1,000 people each, Avula said. Four of them will take place at the Richmond Raceway on East Laburnum.

Typically, Henrico and Richmond do three to five mass events weekly, VDH spokespers­on Cat Long said in a statement Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, about 35,000 people in Richmond and the surroundin­g counties of Chesterfie­ld, Henrico and Hanover had been vaccinated, Avula said. An estimated 60,000 qualify under the first phase.

Richmond-area figures

Since Friday, Richmond and the counties of Chesterfie­ld, Hanover and Henrico saw increases of 2,277 COVID-19 cases, 30 hospitaliz­ations and 19 deaths.

The area now has a total of 46,760 cases, 2,214 hospitaliz­ations and 715 deaths.

Richmond has had a total of 10,558 total cases, 590 hospitaliz­ations and 108 deaths.

The Chesterfie­ld Health District, which consists of Chesterfie­ld, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights, has had 16,634 cases, 709 hospitaliz­ations and 221 deaths.

Henrico has had 14,738 cases,

711 hospitaliz­ations and 306 deaths. Hanover has had 4,830 cases, 204 hospitaliz­ations and 80 deaths.

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