The Central Virginia Health District, which encompasses Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell, on Friday confirmed its first case of COVID-19 illness in a resident of the district.
“The patient is a male in his 30s. He is isolated at home and monitoring his health. To protect patient privacy, no further information will be provided,” according to a news release issued Friday night by the Virginia Department of Health.
“The COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly changing, so it is not surprising that we are identifying a case in our area,” Dr. Kerry Gateley, director of the Central Virginia Health District, said in the news release. “We all have a responsibility, a duty and an opportunity to take the simple and effective steps to protect ourselves and those around us.”
The news came just hours after the Southside Health District announced its first COVID-19 case in the district that covers Brunswick, Halifax and Mecklenburg counties. According to the department, a Mecklenburg man in his 50’s had contact with a person in another part of Virginia who was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Friday afternoon Gov. Ralph Northam said during a news conference that he believes social distancing is helping to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19, as the number of confirmed cases in the state rose to at least 117. Every region in the state now has a confirmed case of the virus. The cases reported late Friday are not reflected on the Virginia Department of Health website’s dashboard with is updated daily with cases recorded by 5 p.m. the previous evening.
Other areas of Virginia continue to see an increase in positive cases, including students at two of the state’s universities.
According to The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress, one of the new cases in its area appears to be a UVa student.
Four people, all 50 or older, at a Henrico County rehabilitation facility and a young woman from Richmond, also have tested positive for COVID-19, a Richmond-area health official said Friday.
The Richmond woman in her 20s tested positive for the virus around noon Friday, according to Dr. Danny Avula, a public health director. The woman had contact with three individuals who had recently traveled to Spain, he said, and expects to count some, if not all of them, among future cases, once tested. On Thursday, the Western Tidewater Health District had its first positive results, for a man in his 50s who recently visited New York.
More than 260,000 people live in the Central Virginia Health District, according to 2016 VDH statistics, and more than 41,000 of those people are 65 or older — the age group with the highest risk of severe illness or death from the coronavirus, the disease caused by COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centra Health has not disclosed how many people have been tested by its nurses. People have visited Centra’s outpatient testing sites in multiple locations, including sites that cover Farmville and Gretna, outside of the Central Virginia Health District, and have been directed to isolate themselves at home for two weeks while awaiting results.
Prior to the local case, reported Friday night, Lindsey Cawood, Central Virginia Health District’s population manager, said health providers are mandated to report presumptive or positive cases to VDH.
“We are not notified every single time someone is tested,” she said. “But we are notified every single time there is a positive result.”
What concerns Avula more than the rising number of cases is the fact some have no known contact with the virus.
A case in Henrico reported on Friday involved a man in his 40s with no known exposure to the disease. All others can be traced to recent travel to already contaminated areas.
Avula said that’s evidence there is community transmission occurring in the area, which is what some of the more extreme measures, such as closing schools and limiting restaurants, theaters and gyms to just 10 patrons, taken by area and state officials were aimed at preventing.
“This just confirms what we’ve been operating on for the last week or longer,” Avula said during a briefing at the Richmond City Health District Clinic at 1 p.m. Friday. “We have community spread going on here in Central Virginia.”
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions, the news release said. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Symptoms most often appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the release said.
“With new cases arriving this week in central and western Virginia, we all are reminded of the steps each of us can take as individuals to protect ourselves and each other. It boils down to maintaining effective hygiene and social distance,” said Gateley. “Everyone should reconsider any plans to gather together in large groups this weekend, and every day.”
The Virginia Department of Health encourages residents to stay home when sick; avoid contact with sick people; cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; wash hands; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; disinfect frequently touched surfaces; practice social distancing; avoid crowds of more than 10 and call the doctor if experiencing symptoms.
Richmond Times Dispatch and The Roanoke Times contributed.