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Percent positivity rate of virus testing in area higher than officials would like to see

Percent positivity rate of virus testing in area higher than officials would like to see

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Positivity rate higher than officials would like

{child_byline}By ALLISON WRABEL

awrabel@dailyprogress.com (434) 978-7261 {/child_byline}

The seven-day rolling percent positivity rate for COVID-19 in the Thomas Jefferson Health District this week shows the COVID-19 pandemic is far from under control. As of Friday, the seven-day percent positivity rate was 7.6%. According to the World Health Organization, an indicator that the pandemic is beginning to be controlled is a percent positivity rate below 5% for a period of at least two weeks.

The rate in the TJHD has hovered between 7.5% and 8.5% for the last week, officials said.

TJHD staff said one of the easiest things people can do to protect themselves and others — and get closer to controlling the pandemic that has consumed 2020 — is to wear a face covering.

“If we want to be able to have students in classrooms at the beginning of their school year, now is the time to act to wear face coverings, to practice social distancing,” said Ryan McKay, senior policy analyst for the health district.

McKay said the health district is getting about 30 complaints a day about people not wearing face coverings at businesses locally.

“It’s not necessarily staff — it’s the public,” he said. “That’s a huge indicator that we as a community are relaxing on some of the things that got us to some of the lower positivity rates, and the ability to open up for [phases] one, two and three.”

McKay said the district expected to see an increase in the number of cases throughout the governor’s reopening phases based on the area opening up more, and because more testing was done.

The health district has noticed that a lot of these positive cases are related to social gatherings where people aren’t wearing face coverings and are not practicing social distancing.

“Fourth of July was the first big weekend that we had right after Phase Three reopened, and now is when we’re beginning to see cases that would have been traced back to that time period,” McKay said. “It’s concerning, because we’re also looking to bring students back at the [University of Virginia], we’re looking to get schools reopened in mid-August and through early September, and the preference would be to have our percent positivity be lower, so that when we do open those things up, we’re not already at a higher place for community spread.”

McKay said the rate can increase when there are outbreaks at places such as long-term care facilities, given how quickly COVID-19 can spread in such places.

“I think, generally, we want to look at that as a starting point, and really work to see what we can do to bring things down over the course of the next three to four weeks,” he said.

Multiple area long-term care facilities are dealing with new COVID-19 outbreaks, including Albemarle Health and Rehabilitation, with six cases; Heritage Inn Assisted Living and Memory Care, in Albemarle County, with 20 cases; and Cedars Healthcare in Charlottesville, with 40 cases.

The number of fatalities due to outbreaks, and in general, can lag in the publicly published data, McKay said. A death certificate has to be signed by a physician, which can take time, and the department of health investigates to confirm whether it’s COVID-19 related.

“It could take a few weeks for the death to be confirmed and then added to the statistics, so fatalities are definitely a lagging indicator, and one that I think is critical for understanding mortality related to the disease,” he said. “As far as our decision making in real time, it’s one [factor] we look at, but not necessarily at the top of our list.”

McKay said that as much as long-term care facilities try to stay locked down and closed off, there are still staff members coming and going, and there can be links between what occurs socially in the community, to a long-term care facility and then back out of the facility. Keeping track of who comes and goes and who they are in contact with is vital to bringing the pandemic to heel, McKay said.

“That’s where contact tracing is really important, so that we can identify where things originated and then quickly act to put in some mitigation measures, particularly inside the facility, so that we keep those that are most vulnerable for severe risk safer and then try to protect the community from what is being brought out of the facility with their staff,” he said.

The health district is doing all of the investigating and contact tracing for the area. There are currently 21 team members doing that work, and the district is in the process of bringing on board 12 more people over the next two weeks.

“What we’re doing and have been doing is trying to build our staff capacity around when we expect different phases to begin and when we expect to see an influx in the local population,” McKay said. “So when we expect to see more students here, ... we can have the right number of investigators and tracers to match what we expect to see as far as the population and the community.”

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"We're trying to work hard to increase as much as we can while also making sure that we can maintain the ability to offer so many testing events. We plan on leading this into the fall. We want to sustain these operations.”

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