By most metrics, July was the worst month of the COVID-19 pandemic so far in the Thomas Jefferson Health District.
Fourteen more people died, hospitalizations increased and cases climbed at a faster rate than the previous three months, officials with the TJHD said. The deaths reported in July make up 41% of the district’s total, which was 34, as of Friday.
“I’m hoping that July was a little bit of an eye opener for some people, and that we become better in August with keeping our distances and remembering that there’s still a big risk to individuals of infection,” said Denise Bonds, director of the health district.
Bonds has attributed the increase to the reopening of businesses and more people ending their self-quarantines as well as Fourth of July gatherings. The health district encompasses Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.
“I think people weren’t always rigorous about social distancing when they went back to work and didn’t wear their cloth face coverings consistently, and that also resulted in people becoming infected,” she said.
In response to the climbing numbers, Charlottesville and Albemarle elected officials voted Monday to enact ordinances that go into effect Saturday requiring masks and limiting gatherings.
COVID-19 month-to-month numbers in Thomas Jefferson Health District
|Month||New Deaths||New Hospitalizations||New Cases|
On Friday, the health district reported an additional 20 cases, bringing the total to 1,705 in the district. Albemarle County has the bulk of the cases with 735 while Charlottesville has 466 reported. In the last week, the county added, on average, seven cases a day while the city averaged nine cases.
Charlottesville has one of the state’s worst outbreaks in long-term healthcare facilities. Cedars Healthcare reported 140 cases among patients and 17 deaths, as of Friday.
“We’re finding that when you have widespread community spread, you are going to have it in your nursing homes,” said Fred Stratmann, spokesman for Communicare, the company that owns Cedars.
The health district’s fatality counts lag behind what Cedars and other healthcare centers report because 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.
Stratmann said 96 residents have tested positive and 19 are hospitalized. Forty-four staff members have tested positive. The outbreak was reported in mid-July after four months of visitor restrictions and health screenings that protected the facility during the start of the pandemic.
“Things worked well until it didn’t,” Stratmann said, noting that the visitor restrictions went into place three days before the federal government issued guidance for nursing homes.
Cedars is using an aggressive treatment program for all residents, Stratmann said.
There are two other outbreaks in progress in Albemarle County at Albemarle Health and Rehabilitation Center and Heritage Inn, according to the Virginia Long-Term Care Task Force.
As the pandemic continues to spread in the heath district, Bonds said she’s looking to several measures to gauge its spread from the case count to percent of positive cases as well as the numbers of emergency department visits for COVID-like illnesses — the percent of which has increased in recent weeks.
“They haven’t been tested yet, so we don’t know if it’s really COVID or if it’s some other type of condition,” Bonds siad. “None of this is perfect data. But this one gives just a little bit like what might be coming in the next week or two.”
The health district’s percent of positive cases fluctuated throughout the month. Bonds and other public health officials have said a sustained decline in that rate would be positive.
As of Friday, the seven-day average of positive cases was 6.6%. That rate lags several days behind but has declined for three consecutive days.
The state’s average on Friday was 7.2%. For July, the highest rate reported was 8.5% on July 11 and the lowest was 5.8%.
The World Health Organization has said percent positivity rate below 5% for a period of at least two weeks would indicate that the pandemic is beginning to be controlled.
Bonds said the positivity rate isn’t the best metric because it depends on who is tested for COVID.
“If we’re testing the right groups, then I think it’s a better reflection of the burden of disease and the community,” she said, adding that low positivity rates could reflect testing people who are worried but not exposed while high rates could result from a community testing event or a point prevalence test in a long term care facility.
Efforts to contain the virus have been complicated by long wait times for test results. Commercial labs were “glacially slow” earlier in the month, Bonds said.
She said the delay in processing the tests might have resulted from the rising cases in Southern states, which put more pressure on those labs.
People who are waiting for test results should quarantine, she said, so long wait times can complicate that effort as well as contract tracing efforts if the test comes back positive.
Still, she said the contract tracers who investigate positive cases have contacted people within the first 24 hours 98% of the time. That is measured from when the health district is notified of a positive case. The close contacts of positive cases have been reached within 24 hours 93% of the time, Bonds said.
“We’re doing great,” she said. “We’re still hiring. We’re still training individuals. But we’ve got a great team, and they’ve set up a really great system. So I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to cope with any outbreaks that might happen in the next weeks or months.”
At this point, the health district is able to test anyone 6 years and older. Two community testing events through the health district have been scheduled for next week, and those are open to anyone in the district, regardless of locality.
“We are encouraging high-risk individuals or people who were a known contact, or if you work in one of those high risk professions [to get tested], but we’re not going to turn people away, at least we’re not right now,” she said. “We have adequate supplies for individuals.”
To find more information about testing and COVID, go to https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/thomas-jefferson/covid-19-tjhd-information-resources.
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