The rate of new cases of COVID-19 in the Roanoke Valley appears to be slowing, although the virus has claimed the lives of four additional people in the last week, including a 33-year-old man.
Dr. Molly O’Dell, who is leading the pandemic response for the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts, said 31 area residents have died so far. All but one of the fatalities have been in people age 58 and older.
She said there have been 2,106 cases in the districts, with 20- to 29-year-olds having the highest percentage of cases, followed by 30- to 39-year-olds. The shift to younger ages has occurred during the summer months and has been seen across Virginia.
That trend is also playing out in the New River Valley. Of the health district’s 463 cases, 131 were in people in their 20s.
Cases in younger people have caused just four deaths statewide to people in their 20s and 18 deaths in people in their 30s.
The elderly are most vulnerable to hospitalization and death, with 1,111 of the state’s 2,244 deaths occurring in Virginians 80 or older. The oldest local person to die from COVID-19 was 98.
The good news, O’Dell said, is that new cases are occurring at a slower pace and that no additional cases are coming back from vacationers who visited Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She said about 200 of the local cases were connected to people who traveled there in June and brought the virus home. Some of the cases developed in their families and friends who had been asked to quarantine because of their contact with someone with the infection, which helped to stop the spread, she said.
The Myrtle Beach cases kicked off a surge locally.
“Based on the numbers I’ve been giving you the last four or five weeks — we had been steadily increasing since April — we are now on the right side of whatever curve we choose to call this, whether it’s a wave, first wave or whatever,” she said during her weekly press briefing. “We are experiencing some relief in case investigation, that’s for sure.”
O’Dell’s weekly count reports 1,122 cases for Roanoke, or 200 more than the Virginia Department of Health reported Tuesday on its dashboard. She said she remains frustrated that the figures don’t match, as about 5,000 of the state’s cases remain unassigned to any locality.
She said while the numbers differ, the trend line day over day mirrors what is occurring in the districts, and the burden over the last six weeks of case counts is relaxing.
Cases represent individuals who either test positive or are diagnosed with the infection. Each person is counted only once, even if he or should is re-infected, O’Dell said.
“When we are going to go back up, I can’t predict. I don’t have a crystal ball, but it is going to be related to human behavior,” she said.
O’Dell said 15 contact tracers have been hired, with eight on the job and the others in training; more are expected. Also, she said they will be getting another epidemiologist and more help in investigating complaints about stores, restaurants and other public places that aren’t adhering to distancing and face covering requirements.
Complaints have not slowed.
“I will say this, responding to the complaints is an effective way to have people adhere to the norm of social distancing and face coverings when it looks like they really didn’t want to, didn’t believe or didn’t understand,” she said. “It does seem to be an effective way to bring people around to that practice.”
She said the health department did come close to shutting down an establishment that it permits.
“We had gotten to the point of delivering the message, and transformation occurred on the spot,” she said.
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