Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that he believes social distancing is helping to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19, even as the number of confirmed cases rose to three in the region and at least 119 in the state.
Rockbridge County officials Friday afternoon said they were notified by the health department of the first case of the virus in their area. The person lives in Lexington, but no other details were available.
Also Friday, the West Piedmont Health District, which includes Franklin, Patrick and Henry counties, said a woman in her 60s has the virus and is isolated at home. No further information will be provided. The Central Virginia Health District, that includes Bedford County and Lynchburg, said Friday evening that a man, in his 30s, tested positive and is isolated at home, monitoring his health.
With the diagnosis Thursday of an elderly Botetourt County woman, every region in the state now has the virus.
Carilion Clinic said it has received positive results for three patients; only one is in the hospital.
Northam, responding to a question during the daily briefing as to whether social distancing works, said he’d answer it as a doctor.
“We know these droplets spread out, so people need to keep their distance,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist. “So, yes, that works. I believe it is working in this case. And while we are seeing an increased number of positive tests, we are doing everything, I believe, to keep that curve as flat as we can.”
The number of Virginians with the disease is unknown as testing has been limited. Capacity is increasing both at the state lab and in commercial labs. The University of Virginia Health System is now using its own test.
Denise Toney, director of the state’s consolidated labs, said, “We have adequate supplies to respond to the testing we need to. And that is for today. What I can’t say is that in a couple of days we might again be in a position where we are finding ourselves having difficulties getting reagents.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Virginia’s guidelines about who should be tested would be broadened. Community transmission of the virus is occurring in Virginia, as health officials cannot confirm the source of the disease in some patients.
Oliver also said that the Virginia Department of Health had received a shipment of nearly 200,000 respirators and a stock of gowns, masks and gloves that it is distributing to hospitals and EMS across the state. Carilion has been turning to commercial labs.
The lack of adequate testing capacity remains a challenge.
UVa Health System has developed its own test. “We have started performing local tests in a limited capacity, about 20 per day right now, with the hopes of increasing to around 80 per day by this weekend,” spokesman Eric Swensen told The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress on Thursday. “One factor that will limit our capacity for testing is a national shortage of the nasal and upper throat swabs needed to perform the test.”
The local health department is continuing to trace the contacts of the Botetourt woman and have no new confirmed cases related to her. She remains in serious condition in an isolation unit at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. The health department is attempting to determine where and when she might have come in contact with the virus, and whom she might have encountered since then.
The virus can be transmitted before symptoms of fever, cough and difficulty breathing appear.
“We are saddened to learn that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 is a resident of Botetourt County,” County Administrator Gary Larrowe said in a news release. “As we think about the impact on our community, we will continue to remain vigilant. These times are unprecedented, so we are encouraging everyone to stay safe and take necessary precautions for their families and loved ones.”
Botetourt had already closed it offices, libraries, recreation facilities and fire and EMS stations to the public, and it plans to increase the seating space at its Tuesday board of supervisors meeting to limit contact between people.
Fire and EMS Chief Jason Ferguson said they have been preparing for the evolving public health emergency.
“The fact that a positive case has been identified locally does not change the reality that this is a highly communicable virus that can be transmitted without even knowing you are sick,” Ferguson said. “Please take this pandemic seriously and practice social distancing and all other recommended practices to stop its spread.”
The news release said county officials are “analyzing credible information sources to determine the probability of risk to the county and its citizens and visitors. Decisions made now to help mitigate the spread of the virus can greatly help in the future.”
Other areas of Virginia continue to see an increase in positive cases, including students at two of the state’s universities.
The Charlottesville newspaper said one of the new cases in its area appears to be a UVa student.
James Madison University also said one of its students tested positive.
Also Thursday, the Western Tidewater Health District had its first positive result, a man in his 50s who recently visited New York.
“The patient described a rapid onset of symptoms, and quickly self-isolated, which greatly limited potential contacts,” said Western Tidewater Health Director Dr. Todd Wagner. ”
The Botetourt woman, the Rockbridge person, the West Piedmont woman and the students did not appear to have been included in the Virginia Health Department’s daily update on Friday. The website reported 114 positive cases out of 2,325 people tested. Twenty are in a hospital and two have died.