Virginia officials announce three more deaths from COVID-19

Three more COVID-19 deaths were announced Sunday evening, bringing the statewide total to six.

All three patients were Peninsula residents. Two had previously tested positive for the virus, and the third was a newly positive case, officials said.

The patients, all women in their 80s, acquired the disease through an unknown source and died of respiratory failure.

‘Months not weeks,’ Northam on Sunday said to prepare for a long haul

Governor Ralph Northam warned Virginians the COVID-19 crisis will stretch out for several months at a press conference Sunday morning after announcing 67 new confirmed cases, a 44% increase from Saturday.

Northam announced the hike along with a plea that residents continue to stay inside and practice social distancing to curb the spread of the disease, which has so far claimed three lives in the state.

“Social distancing does not mean congregating on a crowded beach,” he admonished. “This is not a holiday. This is not a vacation.”

Northam also addressed the reported shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for medical personnel across the state and said the Virginia Department of Emergency Management shipped a major supply on Saturday to emergency medical services, health districts and hospitals across the state.

He also called on private companies to do more to help with supplies which include gloves, gowns, masks and respirators.

Northam encouraged hospitals to reschedule elective surgeries to free up workers, equipment and blood donations for the coming surge. Many already have.

“We know a majority of people who get sick will experience mild to moderate symptoms, so, as a country, our priority must be to protect the people who are most vulnerable: older people, people with underlying health conditions and our healthcare workers themselves,” Northam said.

Northam did not institute any further restrictions some states have already adopted such as mandating work-from-home policies, curfews or restricting travel to healthcare, essential businesses and other limited uses.

Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, fielded questions about the state’s prison population and said no tests have been run on inmates as of Sunday.

At least 38 inmates and employees at Rikers Island in New York City as of Saturday and Moran said restrictions have been put in place in attempts to limit the possible exposure of inmates in Virginia prisons.

The state has suspended visitations and transfers and has given guidance to the state parole board to review older inmates cases to expedite the release of those over 60 who would be most vulnerable in the case of an outbreak.

The state has also recommended alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders, such as home-monitoring systems, to reduce the jail population and limit the chances of exposure.

State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said Sunday that the bulk of new confirmed cases were validated by private labs. Peake said the state has 1,000 tests available.

Updated numbers by region are: North, 95; East, 70; Central, 28; Northwest, 20; and Southwest, 6.

Northam said he would announce Monday an update on school closures at a daily press conference that will be moved to 2 p.m. going forward.


Fairfax County man dies of respiratory failure

A Fairfax County resident in his 60s died from respiratory failure due to complications of COVID-19, making it the third coronavirus-related death in Virginia.

Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Health reported two deaths, both of whom were in the Tidewater area.

The Fairfax County man acquired the virus through contact with a person who previously tested positive, according to the Fairfax County Health Department. 

"We are saddened by the first confirmed death of a Fairfax County resident due to COVID-19. Our hearts go out to his loved ones," said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Director of Health at Fairfax County Health Department. "The health of our residents is our top priority and we ask that everyone do their part to slow the spread of the virus in our community: practice social distancing, wash your hands and cover coughs and sneezes."

The virus was first detected in Virginia on March 7. As of Saturday, the VDH reported 152 cases in Virginia, 22 of which were in Fairfax County. Later Saturday evening, Louisa County reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The individual was tested on March 19, according to the Thomas Jefferson Health District.

152 in Virginia test positive for coronavirus

Virginia health officials said Saturday there are 152 cases of COVID-19 in 31 cities and counties across the state.

The 152 figure is an increase of 38 cases over the 114 reported by the state on Friday.

Here are the cases by region:

Central: 25

Eastern: 42

Northern: 77

Northwestern: 6

Southwestern: 2

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is changing testing criteria to give priority to medical staff treating people with the virus. Health officials said they’re also focusing on testing those with respiratory illnesses and are relaxing criteria for people residing in nursing homes.

Northam also said the state is working to get more supplies like masks and gowns, and the governor signed an executive order Friday night to allow hospitals and nursing homes to add more beds to deal with the pandemic.

Public health officials said with respect to the capacity of the state lab, Virginia has the ability to perform testing for over 1,000 patients in addition to private laboratories.

Regarding concerns with limited supplies in hospitals, Daniel Carey, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said they’re distributing supplies from the national stockpile but are looking toward industrial suppliers or local manufacturers for more protective equipment for frontline first responders and prisoners. Carey added that he’s heard swabs, which are used in flu testing, are in short supply.

“We are pursuing every opportunity, and I think it’s also important to say that this is a national problem,” Carey said. “This will not be solved without a national solution.”

Tuesday, Northam gave law enforcement the ability to enforce the 10-person limit on gatherings, which applies to restaurants, fitness centers and theaters. Saturday morning, he added that with more than 10 patrons, businesses can lose their operating license on the spot and receive a misdemeanor. There haven’t been any issued yet.

He said he hasn’t made a decision regarding enacting workforce limitations similar to New York, which has mandated reducing on-site nonessential personnel by 50% and work-from-home policies. He doesn’t have criteria for what would lead to the implementation of one.

“I’m not here to answer 'what if’s,'" Northam said. “I’m telling you where we are today and what we’re doing to keep Virginia safe.”

The governor also said the Virginia Department of Education is considering actions needed to provide relief to students on state-mandated SOLs, which is required to pass the school year, to ensure high school seniors across the commonwealth will graduate.

He referred to Attorney Gen. Mark Herring's opinion released Friday that gives public bodies and local governments the ability to conduct meetings during the outbreak while maintaining accountability obligations and open government.

"That includes meetings to make decisions that must be made immediately and where failure to do so could result in irrevocable public harm," Northam said.

Northam also clarified again that activating the Virginia National Guard does not mean it's mobilized and forcing people to stay home. But they're on-call to help in transportation of supplies needed in healthcare facilities.

The Virginia Department of Health reported on their website on Saturday that 2,790 people in the state have been tested for the virus. They also gave a break down of the cases by locality.

On Thursday, state health officials said there's a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers by VDH, and their figures might not be the same as ones reported by individual localities or local health districts. 

Based on the VDH numbers, 31 localities now have confirmed cases of coronavirus, up from 20 on Wednesday.

Here's a breakdown of cases by locality provided by the VDH website:

22 - Arlington County

22 - Fairfax County

20 - James City County

14 - Loudoun County

14 - Prince William County

7 - Chesterfield County

7 - Henrico County

6 - Richmond

5 - Alexandria

4 - Virginia Beach

4 - Williamsburg

3 - Norfolk

3 - York County

2 - Gloucester County

2 - Newport News

2 - Stafford County

1 - Accomack County

1 - Albemarle County

1 - Botetourt

1 - Charles City County

1 - Charlottesville

1 - Franklin County

1 - Goochland County

1 - Hanover County

1 - Harrisonburg

1 - Isle of Wight County

1 - Mecklenburg County 

1 - Portsmouth

1 - Prince Edward County

1 - Spotsylvania County

1 - Suffolk


Four cases reported at rehab center in western Henrico

Four people, all 50 or older, at a Henrico County rehabilitation facility and a young woman from Richmond have tested positive for COVID-19, a local health official said Friday.

This brings the totals in the area to seven people with the virus in Henrico, and six in the city.

But what concerns Dr. Danny Avula, the public health director for both localities, more than the rising number of cases, is the fact that some have no known contact with the virus.

“This just confirms what we’ve been operating on for the last week or longer,” Avula said during a briefing at the Richmond City Health District Clinic at 1 p.m. on Friday. “We have community spread going on here in Central Virginia.”

These numbers differ from figures posted just an hour earlier on the Virginia Department of Health website. VDH's numbers indicate five cases in Richmond and three in Henrico, and do not account for these five new cases confirmed Friday.

On Thursday, state health officials said there's a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers and figures on the VDH site might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts. The state has a 5 p.m. cutoff for tabulating daily numbers, so the numbers reported on the website each day are 19 hours old.

A Richmond woman in her 20s tested positive for the virus around noon Friday, according to Avula. She had contact with three individuals who had recently traveled to Spain, he said, and expects to count some, if not all of them, among future cases, once tested.

Avula said an epidemiologist spent half the day Thursday at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, which is a long-term rehab center in western Henrico County -- not to be confused with the Westminster Canterbury Richmond retirement community in Henrico near Richmond's North Side where another positive test was reported earlier this week.  The epidemiologist was deployed to the center after a woman in her 50s had developed a fever and tested positive for the virus.

The health district official examined other residents with potential signs of the virus. Seven were tested, Avula said; three came back positive, two who were symptomatic tested negative, and results are pending in the other two cases.

Those who tested positive included a man in his 60s and two other women in their 60s and 70s.

The facility’s medical director, Dr. James Wright, was one of six doctors who sent a letter to state officials on Wednesday criticizing Virginia Department of Health rules delaying COVID-19 testing of those most vulnerable residents.

The doctors, who manage more than a dozen long-term care centers in the region, called for a change to a requirement that the flu and other respiratory infections be ruled out before a COVID-19 test is provided. The process takes up to a week.

On Friday, State health commissioner Norman Oliver said the state planned to issue new guidance that might make it easier for nursing home residents to be tested. The announcement came as the state bolstered its testing capabilities.

Wright and Avula said the patients at Canterbury Rehab are isolated in a wing of the facility. Each is also in their own separate room.

The facility had suspended visitation even before the first symptoms began to show, Avula said. But it was unclear how these patients came into contact with the virus.

Another case in Henrico reported on Friday involved a man in his 40s with no known exposure to the disease. All others can be traced to recent travel to already contaminated areas.

Avula said that’s evidence that there is community transmission occurring in the area, which is what some of the more extreme measures, like closing schools and limiting restaurants, theaters and gyms to just 10 patrons, taken by area and state officials were aimed at preventing.

“Those types of decision are being done to limit social interaction,” he said. “Because more and more people are getting this without knowing who they’ve come into contact with or knowing where they may have contracted the virus.”

With temperatures in the 80s, crowds could be found on Belle Isle and other outdoor spaces enjoying the weather, but disregarding social distancing recommendations.

“I wouldn’t say let’s not go outside, but I would say, let’s do it safely,” Avula said. “Where there are places where people are congregating in close groups and not spacing themselves six feet apart, that’s concerning and we’re going to advise against that.”

Based on how other similar respiratory viruses spread, Avula said being outside is better, but doesn’t completely mitigate the risk.

Currently, the only confirmed case of the virus that has required hospitalization is the man in his mid-80s who lives at the Westminster Canterbury retirement. He tested positive Tuesday after returning from Florida early last week.

All others are self-isolating at their respective homes, Avula said.

Half of the confirmed cases in Richmond and Henrico were tested by LabCorp, a private company, which shows an expansion of testing that was first limited to the state lab, he said.

“People are still really struggling to get access to test kits,” Avula said.

- Ali Rockett

Richmond, YMCA to open emergency childcare

Richmond is establishing emergency childcare centers for medical workers and others as long as public schools remain closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“None of the essential workforce should have to choose between knowing their kids are safe and keeping our community running,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a news release announcing the initiative.

Richmond is partnering with the YMCA of Greater Richmond on the program, which will serve children K-8 for the region’s health systems.

The nonprofit’s first center will open at its downtown branch on West Franklin Street on Monday. It will provide care for children of medical workers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. Depending on demand, the nonprofit will expand to other sites it operates around the region, said Tim Joyce, its CEO.

Additionally, the city plans to establish centers at Richmond Public Schools buildings, pending approval from the state. Those will provide care for other workers the city deems “essential.”

Stoney said that would mean “sanitation workers, bus drivers, grocery store clerks, pharmacists” and others. The Community Foundation has pledged money to support the launch and operation of the centers.

“My team will work with employers across the city to identify essential personnel with children,” Stoney said.

The centers will operate 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

- Mark Robinson

New Virginia guidance could result in speedier COVID-19 testing of nursing home residents

Virginia health officials will soon issue new guidance making it easier for nursing home residents to be tested for COVID-19.

State health commissioner Norman Oliver said that patients with symptoms that align with COVID-19, and meet other risk factors, might be eligible for the test without undergoing testing for other respiratory illnesses.

“It's very clear that our most vulnerable population is the elderly, particularly elderly people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, assisted living facilities and so on,” Oliver said during a briefing with reporters. “We've always had, as part of our testing criteria, allowing for increased testing in those facilities, but we're thinking about changing it so that it's even less restrictive.”

Oliver said that a slate of tests for respiratory illnesses can take up to a week to be completed. For ill, elderly patients in a long-term care facility, that might be too long to wait, Oliver said.

The new guidance is bolstered by a slight increase in the state’s testing capacity. As of midday Friday, Virginia had the capacity to perform roughly 1,000 COVID-19 tests — higher capacity than the state has had in past weeks.

When testing might become widely available remains unclear. Right now, only people who have known contact with a positive case and showing symptoms are eligible to be tested, along with those in high-risk groups, like the elderly.

"While we have more than 1,000 tests, we don't have enough to do mass testing," Oliver said.

Virginia has two known cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. 

• A man in his mid-80s who lives at the Westminster Canterbury retirement community in the Richmond area tested positive Tuesday.

• A man at an assisted living and memory care facility in Fairfax County, tested positive and has been in isolation Saturday.

- Mel Leonor

6 in Richmond, 7 in Henrico test positive for COVID-19

Six people in the city of Richmond and seven in Henrico County have tested positive for COVID-19, a local health official said Friday.

Dr. Danny Avula, the public health director for Richmond and Henrico, gave a coronavirus briefing at the Richmond City Health District Clinic at 1 p.m. on Friday.

These numbers differ from figures posted on the Virginia Department of Health website at noon on Friday. VDH's numbers indicate five cases in Richmond and three in Henrico.

On Thursday, state health officials said there's a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers and figures on the VDH site might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts. The state has a 5 p.m. cutoff for tabulating daily numbers, so the numbers reported on the website each day are 19 hours old.

114 people in Virginia test positive for COVID-19

Virginia health officials are reporting 114 positive cases of COVID-19, with 35 tests pending at the state lab, and more from private labs.

That's an increase of 20 positive cases since Thursday. Officials also said southwest Virginia has its first case. The Roanoke Times reported Thursday that a woman in her 80s from Botetourt County had tested positive.

Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said the state's testing capacity is at more than 1,000 tests as of midday Friday. The figure represents the number of tests the state lab can conduct given a shortage of testing supplies.

Gov. Ralph Northam thanked individuals and businesses complying with the statewide call for "social distancing."

Still, he said the state was ready to enforce noncompliance.

"We’re hearing reports of some businesses being noncompliant. Our localities have the authority to enforce the 10-person limit at restaurants, theaters and fitness centers. I fully expect them to use it when needed," Northam said.

"But, many people, many businesses are doing the right thing, and for that, we thank them."

According to data posted to the Virginia Department of Health website, 2,325 people have been tested for the virus in Virginia and 20 people have been hospitalized.

There have been two deaths attributed to the virus.

On Thursday, state health officials said there's a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers and might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts. Below is the breakdown of cases across the state according to the VDH website:

19 - James City County

17 - Arlington County

16 - Fairfax County

12 - Prince William County

9 - Loudoun County

5 - Chesterfield County

5 - Richmond

4 - Virginia Beach

4 - Williamsburg

3 - Alexandria

3 - Henrico County

3 - York County

2 - Stafford County

1 - Accomack County

1 - Charles City County

1 - Charlottesville

1 - Gloucester County

1 - Goochland County

1 - Hanover County

1 - Harrisonburg

1 - Newport News

1 - Norfolk

1 - Portsmouth

1 - Prince Edward County

1 - Spotsylvania County

Coronavirus drive through testing

Betsy Holzworth, a registered nurse with Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, collected samples for the coronavirus test Monday at a drive-thru site in York County, which had one confirmed case. Neighboring James City County has 10 cases.

Sentara Healthcare adding two drive-through screening sites

Sentara Healthcare is expanding its drive-through screening program. 

Sentara, the largest hospital system in Virginia, announced Friday that it is opening two additional drive-through screening and testing sites. One will be at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton and the other at Military Circle in Norfolk. The sites will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 

The hospital system now has four testing sites after it reopened sites at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach and Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center on Thursday.

Sentara asks that only people who have met all of the following criteria come out for testing:

- If you have two of the three symptoms: fever of 100.4 or higher, cough and shortness of breath.

- And if you have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person or have traveled to a place with an outbreak.

- And if you are over the age of 60 or have underlying health conditions.

Anyone who does not meet the criteria but feels ill should stay home for 14 days, the press release said, unless in need of urgent medical attention.

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