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Opinion/Editorial: Central Va. not isolated in COVID

Opinion/Editorial: Central Va. not isolated in COVID

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Central Virginians have reason for satisfaction in the recent decline in the COVID positivity rate over a seven-day period. For the benefit of all, we need to cooperate in good health practices — social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands — to keep driving the rate down.

Across the Thomas Jefferson Health District, the rate declined last week to 6.6% from the previous 7.6%.

That’s the good news.

But it’s not all good. Some localities continue to see high numbers.

What’s more, Central Virginia is not isolated from the rest of the state, nor is Virginia isolated from the rest of the country. COVID pressures from other areas can affect how well we can manage the crisis here.

Charlottesville recorded a positivity rate of 7.8% last week, according to the TJHD, while Albemarle’s rate was 7.7%. Both were higher than the state average of 7.5%.

Meanwhile, over a five-day period positive cases jumped for those in the 20-29 age range, potentially heightening local concerns over re-opening the University of Virginia.

Additionally, as the pandemic drags on, the numbers of deaths and infections — as opposed to the weekly percentage of positive new tests — continue to climb.

As of July 27, the district had seen 1,648 COVID-19 cases and 30 fatalities.

Local government officials have been concerned over another statistical marker — hospital capacity. The Board of Supervisors heard from the TJHD last week that University of Virginia Health System’s COVID ICU is full, COVID acute care is at 86% capacity, ICU is at 72% capacity and acute care is at 83% capacity. The capacity issue also is, to some degree, affecting Sentara Martha Jefferson, according to District Health Director Denise Bonds.

Both UVa and Sentara later pointed out that, overall, hospital census rates have risen not necessarily because of the coronavirus alone but because patients either have begun to feel comfortable with emerging from their homes to seek treatment for other ills — or have reached a serious stage where treatment no longer can be put off.

Patients who delayed non-COVID treatment because of COVID fears became sicker than would otherwise have been the case, and therefore needed to be hospitalized in intensive- or acute-care units.

And that’s not all. A major hospital like UVa draws not just from the Thomas Jefferson region but from all over the state and beyond. UVa’s patient census statistics likely do not reflect local infection rates for COVID or any other illness; they are driven by patient intakes from a much larger area.

We would not want a hospital with UVa’s stellar expertise to be limited just to local residents. The healing skills and technologies available at UVa — and Sentara as well — should be shared with those who need them.

But that does raise the question: If UVa ever is at or near capacity treating patients, whether they’re local or reside outside the district, what happens if infection rates surge here? Where would our patients go?

We are fortunate to have two excellent hospitals in our midst. But if Sentara were at capacity as well, would local patients then be shuffled to still other hospitals?

The cascade effect is not just theoretical, at least not in some parts of the state. In a question-and-answer session before Charlottesville City Council last week, Dr. Bonds noted that the Tidewater area has experienced a surge in COVID cases, stressing capacity at local hospitals. That in turn has affected other hospitals, as they take in patients who cannot be treated closer to home. The overflow even could impact hospitals as far west as our area, she said.

A similar cascade of consequences could occur in Central Virginia if COVID cases surged here or nearby.

And it’s not just treatment of such cases that’s affected by what happens elsewhere, it’s also testing.

First of two parts

Tomorrow: New delays

in coronavirus test results

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