RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — As of Sunday, May 17, Virginia has had 30,388 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
That’s a rise of 705 cases since Saturday.
On Friday, most parts of Virginia (excluding Northern Virginia, as well as Richmond and Accomack County after their local leaders requested delays approved by the governor) entered Phase 1 of the ‘Forward Virginia’ plan for reopening, allowing restaurants to open up outdoor seating at 50% capacity, personal grooming services to open up with many safety restrictions in place, houses of worship to operate at 50% capacity, and more business changes outlined here.
All decisions made by the governor and state officials about reopening, for Phase 1 and all future phases, are based on overall trends in the data over week and 2-week spans.
This week, there were 989 cases reported from Sunday to Monday, 730 from Monday to Tuesday, 946 from Tuesday to Wednesday, 1,076 from Wednesday to Thursday, and then 859 from Thursday to Friday. Most of those days came with increased testing and lower ‘percent positive’ rates, but Thursday had a spike.
So far in May, though, on an overall “trend” level, daily increases in COVID-19 cases confirmed in Virginia had dropped from highs over 1,000 around the start of the month.
That drop has happened at the same time as a significant ramp-up in testing reflected on most days, so the moving 7-day average, which tracks the number of cases confirmed as a ratio of the amount of testing, has fallen, showing what appears to be the top of “the curve” behind us.
Because of that, Governor Ralph Northam and his administration determined the data metrics were met for Phase 1 of reopening, in addition to the most recent data on PPE supplies, hospital capacity, and testing capacity.
Virginia had been ranked among states with the lowest per capita testing throughout the pandemic, but state health officials say their goal isn’t to compete with cumulative testing numbers but to focus on getting tests to the people and areas in most need of them.
Virginia has been meeting the benchmark of steady PPE supplies and open hospital capacity for around two weeks now, with more than 4,000 hospital beds available and no Virginia hospitals reporting any supply problems.
The commonwealth increased from around 2,000 tests a day to between 3,000 and 5,000 last week, and now seems to be more steadily hitting anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000. The governor has said the goal for Phase 1 is around 10,000 tests a day.
As testing increases, the rate of tested Virginians who received positive results is slowly but surely dropping.
Statewide case totals and testing numbers as of May 17
By May 17, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 28,901 confirmed and 1,487 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
“Probable” cases are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test – also known as clinical diagnoses.
Those positive test results are out of 210,825 total tests administered in Virginia. (The Dept. of Health announced on Thursday that they would separate out they would start breaking testing data down by diagnostic and antibody tests.)
From Monday to Tuesday, 3,481 tests were reported in the day. Then, from Tuesday to Wednesday, 8,845 new tests were reported. From Wednesday to Thursday, 5,467 new tests were reported to the department, falling short of the benchmarks the state administration has called for, but from Thursday to Friday, tests jumped back up, with 10,131.
Overall, considering testing numbers and positive results, about 13.3% of Virginians who have been tested have received positive results. The recent increase in testing brought that percentage point down from over 17%, where it stood a week and a half ago.
That number is a key to reopening on schedule, Gov. Northam has said.
At this point, 3,775 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 1,009 have died of causes related to the disease.
The hospitalization and death numbers are the totals confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, which are always delayed by several days due to the logistics of medical facilities reporting information to local health districts, when then report it to the state health department.
The state website shows a lot of detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county, and are broken down by zip code elsewhere on the health department website.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the pandemic and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats, the VHHA offers more helpful data.
Where are our local cases?
The department’s breakdown and location map, available to the public here, shows the number of cases confirmed each day, number of people tested, total hospitalizations, total deaths, and demographic breakdowns, as well as breakdowns by health district.
Here’s a breakdown of cases for our region as of 9 a.m. on May 17. You can find the breakdown for the entire state in the chart at the bottom of this article.
• Augusta County – 84
• Buena Vista – 8
• Harrisonburg – 632
• Highland County – 2
• Lexington – 6
• Rockbridge County – 11
• Rockingham County – 389
• Staunton – 34
• Waynesboro – 22
Outbreaks: 11, with 2 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, 6 in congregate settings, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in an educational setting
Total tests: 4,771
Local percent positive: 8.2%
• Clarke County – 19
• Frederick County – 211
• Page County – 161
• Shenandoah County – 303
• Warren County – 99
• Winchester – 80
Outbreaks: 15, with 7 in long-term care facilities, 3 in healthcare settings, and 5 in congregate settings
Total tests: 1,957
Local percent positive: 43.9%
As numbers have climbed in parts of the Shenandoah Valley, much of the increase has been attributable to outbreaks. By May 17, the Central Shenandoah Health District had identified 11 outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District had 15.
Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of our outbreaks, given that Virginia state code requires permission to be granted by a facility for their information to be released to the media. That’s because Virginia code treats facilities the same as “persons,” meaning their anonymity has to be protected.
Of the outbreaks in our area, several have been confirmed at long-term care centers, including at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, where 22 patients died of COVID-19; here” target=”_blank”>Skyview Springs, where there have been 16 confirmed deaths; and three outbreaks in Shenandoah County, including one at an unnamed nursing home and two at unnamed assisted living facilities.
Outbreaks have also been confirmed at New Market Poultry, the Harrisonburg Men’s Diversion Center, and LSC Communications.
Many of the other local outbreaks have been identified in congregate settings, which could include workplaces, apartment complexes, churches, gyms, or any setting with a group of people in one place.
Of the state’s 3,775 total hospitalizations, at least 88 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 3 have been in Augusta County, 45 in Harrisonburg, 36 in Rockingham County, 3 in Staunton, and 1 in Waynesboro.
In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 75 hospitalizations. Twenty-four of those have been in Shenandoah County and 19 in Page County.
As far as deaths, there have been 11 reported in Shenandoah County, 16 in Page County, one in Augusta County, 21 in Harrisonburg, and two in Rockingham County.
Deaths, like all health department data, are reported by a person’s listed residence.
WHSV confirmed with Cargill, in Rockingham County, that an employee of their Dayton plant died of COVID-19. The company did not provide further details on if any outbreaks are investigation, though the situation at poultry facilities across Virginia has been a major focus of the governor’s.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state’s health commissioner, has said that it often takes several days before local health districts are able to enter death information into the state database. Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, told WHSV that deaths first have to be reported to them by medical facilities, which is a major cause for the delay on the numbers reported for our area.
Dr. Kornegay also explained that if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, that’s what goes on their death certificate. Those death certificates have a space to list secondary causes of death, and that’s where ongoing health issues like heart disease and cancer are listed – the same process is how flu deaths are reported.
West Virginia updates
In the part of West Virginia we cover, there have been 6 confirmed cases in Grant County, 25 confirmed cases in Hardy County, and 5 confirmed cases in Pendleton County.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case.
But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their online dashboard indicates that, as of May 17, at least 3,993 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from the hospital.
Unlike the VDH data that reports cumulative hospitalizations, their data on hospitalizations reflects people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 (whether with confirmed or pending cases), and that number is at 1,524.
The data used by the VDH to report cumulative hospitalizations is based on information reported in hospital claims. On the other hand, the numbers reported by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set.
Timing of VDH data
The Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 website is updating with the latest statewide numbers somewhere between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day. In recent days, that has steadily creeped closer to 10 a.m.
The numbers that appear on that list are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department’s numbers reflect those new results.
Reporting by local health districts
Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.
The statewide situation in Virginia
Most of Virginia has officially entered Phase 1 of Gov. Northam’s plan to gradually reopen the state on May 15, but the commonwealth remains under a series of public health orders and executive orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential businesses across Virginia and established Virginia’s 10-person gathering limit, no longer applies in its original form as businesses originally deemed non-essential begin gradually reopening, but the 10-person gathering limit is still in place and still enforceable.
Executive Order 55, the ‘Stay at Home’ order signed by Northam on March 30, is now a ‘Safer at Home’ order, instructing all Virginians to continue staying home as the safest way to prevent COVID-19 spread and specifically telling Virginians vulnerable to the virus to stay home except for essential needs.
Virginia’s state of emergency runs until June 10.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, will expire on May 17 and court hearings across most of Virginia will resume on Monday, May 18.
DMV offices in Virginia remain closed until Monday, when they will begin gradually reopening by starting with 9 customer service centers across the state open by appointment only for specific reasons. During the closure, Virginia State Police have not been enforcing inspections and extensions have been granted to people with expiring credentials for themselves or their vehicles.
Elective procedures and related offices, like dentists, were able to resume on May 1 after Gov. Northam lifted the public health order that initially closed them.
Of the orders in place, Executive Order 53 is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. You can learn more about what police enforcement of Northam’s executive orders looks like here.
Virginia’s local elections in May and the primaries in June have each been postponed by two weeks. Virginia officials are encouraging all voters to request absentee ballots.
What to know about preventing the virus
Most people don’t suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.
It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Avoid non-essential travel.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.
For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you’re encouraged to check both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.