The New River Health District on Aug. 10 was reporting six outbreaks in the region, two of which originated in educational settings, as Floyd County students and parents prepared for a return to school the very next day.
Between Saturday and Sunday last week, 18 new cases of coronavirus infection were reported in Floyd County—representing nearly a quarter of the county’s total cases since the pandemic began. The Floyd County surge, unlike some others in the region, cannot be attributed to an increase in testing—the number of people tested in the four days preceding the increase in cases was average to low for the district.
Director of the New River Health District Dr. Noelle Bissell did not return a request for comment regarding possible causes of the surge in positive results.
Between Aug. 3-10, other localities in the New River Valley reported similar spikes in cases. In Radford, the case count doubled in seven days to an all-time peak of 54 cases, according to reporting by Sam Wall at the Roanoke Times.
Of the 542 total cases ever reported in the New River Health District—which includes Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and Floyd Counties, as well as the city of Radford—nearly a third are from the 20-29 age group, bucking the misconception that the virus affects only the elderly. The next-largest group of infected people were ages 30-39. Only 87 of the district’s cases, or 16%, were from people over the age of 60.
At press time, Floyd County was reporting 90 cases of coronavirus, after another spike of 13 new cases on Wednesday. While the county reports only three hospitalizations and two deaths, even nonfatal cases of coronavirus can have lasting effects. According to information shared by the Centers for Disease Control on July 24, “recovery from COVID-19 can take a long time, even in young adults with no chronic conditions.”
Dr. Gregory Poland, who works with a vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic, said long-term consequences of COVID-19 infection are being reported. Many people “report long-term fatigue, headaches, vertigo (and), interestingly enough, difficulties with cognition, hair loss, cardiac issues, and diminished cardiorespiratory fitness,” Poland said on Aug. 3. “And I think what we're going to find out is that a large portion ― not all, but a large portion of that ― is likely to relate to the significant cellular-level damage that this virus can cause.”
According to reporting by Luanne Rife at the Roanoke Times, Ballad Health has shifted staff and services to increase capacity for COVID-19 patient care. According to predictive modeling the rate of new cases is trending near the worst-case scenario line, Rife reported.
Jamie Swift, chief infection officer for Ballad Health, said the virus took a little longer to reach rural areas—but it’s here now.
“As COVID has come into the community now, if we don’t have all the measures in place continually — the wearing the mask, the washing of the hands, the distancing — that’s when you are going to see rapid increases in cases. And that’s what we are seeing,” Swift said. “It took a little longer to get here based on our geography and how spread out we can be. But now that it is here, it can spread just as rapidly as any metro city.”
Last week, Gov. Northam held yet another press conference to update the Commonwealth on the progression of the pandemic. “As you all know, our case counts have been rising in recent weeks,” Northam said during the Aug. 5 conference. “We’re seeing roughly 1,000 new cases per day, roughly where we were at the peak (of the pandemic).”
Northam used a portion of the press conference to introduce the “COVIDWISE” cell phone application —Virginia will be the first state in the country to use the technology, developed in collaboration with Apple and Google. The app is most effective if a large proportion of the population downloads it, and will be used to assist local health departments with contact tracing and subsequent testing in the event of new cases.
Northam emphasized that the app does not store users’ personal information, location data or medical history. “I want to be clear…It does not track you at all. It doesn’t rely on GPS or your personal information. And while we want everyone to download it, it is voluntary,” Northam said.
The app uses Bluetooth technology to send “keys”—randomly assigned letter-and-number codes— between phones in close proximity. Then, if a person tests positive for coronavirus, those who were recently near that person (and their phone) will be sent an alert saying they should consider getting tested. Northam said this app can help catch potential new cases early and prevent outbreaks.
You can download the COVIDWISE app by visiting the App Store on an iPhone or the Google Play store on an Android device. According to data released by the governor’s office, more than 152,000 people downloaded the app in the first 24 hours it was available.
This story was updated at 8:55 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 14 to clarify references to reporting by Luanne Rife.
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