Every time COVID -19 cases show up in a particular locality, people in the community have a similar response, at least in terms of their calls and emails to The Free Lance–Star.
They’re panicked. They want to know where the person lives, works and shops in case they passed them in the grocery store. They wonder what they should do and where they can be tested—and are shocked to find out that test kits indeed are in short supply in the Fredericksburg community and throughout the nation.
The pattern started March 9, when the Rappahannock Area Health District reported its first case—a Spotsylvania County man who has since recovered—and has continued as case numbers have risen in each of the five localities in the local health district.
The latest is Caroline County, which had two cases as of Monday, and questions were circulating after an employee in the Department of Social Services tested positive for COVID-19. People worried about how many people had been exposed, who would be tested for the virus and what measures the county was taking.
County Administrator Charles Culley Jr. ordered the offices closed for cleaning, which probably will keep the building shuttered all week, he said.
When local public-health officials are asked for their response to increasing numbers of cases, they can’t comment on specifics, but can offer the same general answer that Dr. Donald Stern issued on March 24. It was his second day on the job as acting director of the district, and he was talking about how people are contracting the illness, even if they haven’t knowingly come in contact with someone who was sick or traveled to places that are hotbeds of sickness.
“It’s because we have a virus out there that can transmit from respiratory droplets and guess what? it’s in our community,” he said.
When someone tests positive, health district officials investigate the cases and reach out to any close contacts of the person. They give information on quarantining and monitoring their symptoms and tell people to stay home unless their condition worsens.
Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes during the time the person was symptomatic, as well as two days before the individual began showing symptoms, said Allison Balmes John, spokesperson for the RAHD.
“We understand there is a lot of fear and anxiety about COVID-19, especially in regards to possible exposure in the community,” she said.
She stressed once more the message that local, state and national health officials have sounded for weeks: stay at home as much as possible, practice social distancing and good hand-washing and wear masks or other facial coverings out in public.
Those who have to go to work, or out to pick up supplies, can observe the same practices as well as use alcohol-based sanitizers—if they can find any—and avoid touching their faces, Balmes John said.
While older adults and those with underlying conditions face the highest risk of having a severe case of COVID-19, people of all ages are testing positive in the local health district. Percentages are spread out fairly evenly, with 45 percent of local cases being people 49 and under. The remaining 55 percent are 50 and older.
But the age group that leads the numbers at this point is not the graying population, but those ages 40 to 49, according to the health district.
Across Virginia, there were 2,878 cases and 54 deaths, as of Monday morning.
The Rappahannock Rapidan Health District had 28 cases, with 11 in Fauquier County, eight in Culpeper County, five in Orange County and four in Madison County. Not included in the daily totals was a confirmed case in Rappahannock County, that locality’s first.