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COVID-19 cases trending down in state, level in region

While statewide COVID-19 cases are trending down, the Western Tidewater Health District continues to have one of the highest rates of positive cases in the region and state.

Statewide, the seven-day positivity rate is 6.4%, while in Western Tidewater, which includes Suffolk, it is 12.4% as of Aug. 24, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“It is starting to level off a little bit, which is good news, but as you can see, we’re still a fair amount higher than the rest of the state, and that continues to be the case, although it is improving,” said Dr. Todd Wagner, district health director, during City Council’s Aug. 19 meeting.

Wagner said the number of positive cases has trended down in the city and region for about two weeks. He said cases among those in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups have leveled off.

“I think some of the measures we’re putting in place are working,” Wagner said.

However, he said the number of positive COVID-19 cases among the 0-19 age group is going up, adding he is unsure of a specific reason why.

He said he is concerned about a rising number of emergency department visits, though it is not reaching the hospitals’ capacities to handle it. He noted that hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators of the spread of coronavirus.

In the Eastern Region, which also includes Suffolk, hospitals have 359 beds occupied with COVID-19 patients, which is down from a high of 575 on Aug. 7. There are 58 on ventilators and 78 in intensive care. Of the 3,348 total staffed beds available at the region’s hospitals, 2,236 are occupied, which includes the COVID-19 patients.

Wagner said he had visited Sentara Obici Hospital and talked with its president, Coleen Santa Ana.

“They are seeing a pretty high demand there … as are the other hospitals in the region,” Wagner said.

The statewide seven-day positivity rate has trended down since early June, when it was above 8%. In Western Tidewater, it had reached as high as 14.2% Aug. 4.

Testing has continued in the district during August, and Wagner said it is in the process of setting up additional testing dates for September. He also noted that more than 350,000 people have downloaded the health department’s COVIDWISE app, but said at least 60% of state residents — more than 5 million people — need to download it for it to be effective.

He also urged people to get their flu vaccine, which is now becoming available, he said.

“(It’s) always important, but now more important than ever,” Wagner said. “It deconvolutes the situation between having COVID or flu. It certainly protects you from the flu. It’s just a great idea to get vaccinated now more than ever.”

Responding to a question from Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett about the status of school openings, Wagner said school divisions in Western Tidewater have taken a prudent approach to it by delaying reopenings for at least the first nine weeks.

“I’m hopeful that buffer of time will give them a better picture of where we’re at,” Wagner said. “I feel much more comfortable with that recommendation, and I think it’s supported, also, by some of the things you’re seeing nationally right now with some of the schools reopening and running into a few roadblocks, having to close. We don’t want to yo-yo our kids, either — start, stop, start, stop. We want to have a good, solid picture of how things are looking before we fully open the doors, or even partially reopen the doors to, say, a few days a week or whatever, a hybrid-type model.”

Wagner noted since the state health department added the online complaint portal, there have been 159 complaints associated with restaurants in Western Tidewater — 110 of those in Suffolk. In the last 10 days prior to the Aug. 19 council meeting, there had been 16 restaurant complaints in the district, 10 of those in Suffolk.

He said there have been 127 complaints related to city locations under the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — places such as grocery and convenience stores — but just 28 in the 10 days prior to the meeting. There have been 59 complaints in the city associated with other brick-and-mortar businesses, Wagner said — four of those in the previous 10 days.

“We’ve had no reason to impose any closures on any businesses,” Wagner said. “We’ve had some significant conversations with a couple, but we’ve not had to pull any permits or close any doors.”