Two more outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported by the Rappahannock Area Health District, but that doesn’t surprise the district’s leader.
“Since COVID-19 is widespread in our community, it’s remarkable we don’t have evidence of more outbreaks,” said Dr. Donald Stern, acting director.
The most recent cases bring to six the number of outbreaks in the local health district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. Two employees and one child tested positive at a day care center, and five workers at a business/manufacturing facility with more than 100 employees have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
The local health district isn’t releasing any more information about the two outbreaks such as where the businesses are located or the conditions of those affected. That’s routine across the state as the Virginia Department of Health cites state code that provides the same patient privacy and confidentiality to businesses as individuals in such situations. Even when COVID-19 has spread like wildfire through long-term care facilities—where 589 of Virginia’s 1,002 virus-related fatalities have occurred—state officials haven’t named the facilities unless the owners have agreed to be identified.
The policy doesn’t make sense to Carla Jordan, a Spotsylvania County resident who was part of a lively discussion on the Facebook group, FXBG TALK, about the area’s fourth outbreak, identified last week only as an “agricultural workplace.” Because that could be so many different places, such as a beef farm, biosolids production plant or agritourism business, she wondered why the affected place wasn’t identified in the interest of public safety.
“This is a tremendous disservice to our local citizens,” Jordan said. “Why not just let people know? It’s not like anybody’s going to be judgmental against the company because we’re all in this together. But instead of leaving a piece of doubt in anybody’s mind right now, why not come forward with it?”
Here’s what the local health district does when anyone is exposed in the workplace or when there’s an outbreak, which the state defines as at least two cases, outside a household, that involve the same person, place or time.
Local public health officials conduct a case investigation and let the person’s employer know—if the person worked while contagious. Those considered close contacts, who have been within 6 feet of the infected person for 10 minutes or more, also are contacted, said Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the local health district.
In the most recent outbreak, that includes families of children exposed in day care facilities, she said. Health officials share details about symptoms to watch for, self-quarantining and when to seek medical care.
The health officials also offer guidance on deep cleaning “and any other needs unique to that workplace to prevent further spread of the virus,” Balmes–John said.
What the local health district doesn’t do is mandate that a business owner notify its customers about employees testing positive for COVID-19, Stern said last month after a case at a local supermarket. He didn’t know of any regulation that allowed him to mandate a grocery store to post such a notice.
Because the virus is “fundamentally here to stay,” Stern said local public health officials will continue efforts to reduce the spread in the community “as all of us learn how to live with this.”
He added: “There will still be those few who will need hospitalization and even fewer who will die; these are the folks we all need to protect—the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.”
Meanwhile, as of Saturday, there were 940 cases of COVID-19 in the local health district, including 458 cases in Stafford; 304 in Spotsylvania; 89 in Fredericksburg; 47 in King George; and 42 in Caroline.
Elsewhere in the region, there were 365 cases in Culpeper County; 211 in Fauquier County; 53 in Orange County; and 42 in Westmoreland County.
Statewide, there were 29,683 cases and 1,002 deaths, as of Saturday.