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District COVID-19 cases surpass 1,000

By Stephen Faleski
The Tidewater News

The Western Tidewater Health District has reported 460 new COVID-19 cases in the 39 days since Virginia entered Phase 2 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan, and more than two-thirds of them have been reported within the past two weeks.

With Virginia now in Phase 3, the district crossed a grim milestone on July 11 — its 1,000th case of the virus. As of Tuesday, Western Tidewater’s rolling seven-day average for new cases stood at 31, the highest it’s been since the pandemic began.

On Tuesday, Suffolk reported its highest one-day total yet — 39 new cases reported. The previous high was 34 on May 15.

District-wide, 65 people have died, with Suffolk’s 42 accounting for the majority of that figure.
Statewide, Virginia saw its record number of COVID-19 deaths reported in a single day — 57 — on May 27, followed by a steep decline in fatalities through mid-June. Now, deaths are once again trending upward, as are new diagnoses.

Where are Western Tidewater’s cases occurring?

Nine of the 13 outbreaks the VDH is currently tracking in its Western Tidewater Health District are tied to long-term care facilities.

There are also two outbreaks tied to correctional facilities. One of these — Deerfield in Southampton County — has 81 confirmed cases, 78 among inmates and three among staff. It remains unknown where the second correctional outbreak is or how many cases are tied to it, as all three lockup facilities in the health district say it isn’t them. The remaining two outbreaks are reported to be at congregate settings, which can refer to apartment complexes, places of employment, churches, event venues and other group settings — including houses and neighborhoods.

Of the 1,113 district-wide cases reported July 14, 439 are tied to one of these outbreaks. According to data from the VDH and the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, around 300 of these outbreak-associated cases are among residents or staff members at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

This indicates most of the district’s total results from person-to-person spread among individuals who don’t live or work at the site of one of these outbreaks.

“We certainly see clustering of cases involving families and other close family contacts,” said Dr. Todd Wagner, director of the Western Tidewater Health District. “We can assume there is closer contact in those family settings, but we have no way of knowing exactly what they are doing in other settings or what precautions, if any, they are taking.”

He added that VDH investigations have also shown cases tied to people who have traveled recently to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and to Florida, the latter of which set a single-day nationwide record on July 12 with more than 15,000 new cases.

Of Western Tidewater’s cases, 454 are Black, 243 are white, 44 are other or mixed race and 372 have no race reported. But so far, the VDH has no evidence linking Western Tidewater’s uptick to the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place throughout the district since late May.

“Keep in mind that a large number of our residents that are tested are African American, so we would expect to see a higher percentage of positives from the overall number tested,” Wagner said. “In our testing venues, the difference in the percentage of positive cases between whites, African Americans and Latinos has not been statistically different.”

There likewise isn’t any direct evidence at present linking the spike in new infections to a particular gathering, such as at a beach or party.

“But certainly, larger gatherings do increase the risk of transmission, especially if social distancing isn’t performed,” Wagner warned.