Far SWVA COVID-19 cases level; Virginia officials explain data use for reopening plans

Mike Still • May 4, 2020 at 7:44 PM

The LENOWISCO Health District has gone a weekend without new reported COVID-19 cases, as Virginia Department of Health staff explained how case data is influencing the possibility of a May 14 easing of business closings and other emergency restrictions.

According to the VDH COVID-19 tracking webpage (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus), the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — remained at 41 confirmed cases and two deaths during the pandemic since VDH’s Friday report.

In East Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health (www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov) on Monday, Sullivan County saw a six-case increase in confirmed cases to 57, while Hawkins rose by one to 31. Johnson County rose by two cases to five since the pandemic began.

Washington County stayed at 57 cases and Greene County at 43 cases since Sunday. Carter and Unicoi counties remained at 14 and 2 cases, respectively, since Sunday’s report.

Virginia has not reported COVID-19 testing rates by health district since last week. The statewide testing rate, based on the actual reported number of people receiving a test, was 1.29 percent, or 111,441 out of Virginia’s 8.63 million population.

VDH reported 19,492 confirmed cases and 684 deaths — increases of 821 and 24, respectively, since Sunday.

Tennessee’s overall testing rate in Monday’s report was 3.1 percent, or 211,443 people out of the 6.83 million state population. Tennessee has seen 13,571 reported cases and 219 deaths to date — increases of 394 and 9, respectively.

Testing rates in East Tennessee were

- Hawkins — 1.71 percent (970 of 56,786)

- Washington — 1.52 percent (1,961 of 129,375)

- Greene — 1.4 percent (968 of 69,069)

- Sullivan — 1.2 percent (1,899 of 158,348)

- Carter — 1.1 percent (628 of 56,391)

- Unicoi — 0.9 percent (164 of 17,883)

- Johnson — 0.6 percent (100 of 17,788)

In a briefing in Richmond on Monday, VDH Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Lillian Peake and state Deputy Health Commissioner for Public Health Dr. Parham Jaberi reviewed the types of data being used by VDH and Gov. Ralph Northam’s staff in developing a possible May 14 reopening of businesses and easing other restrictions on the public.

Peake said that data reports on the VDH COVID-19 tracking webpage, while updated daily, may lag in certain ways. Data on numbers of people tested, she said, in some cases may have happened a few days before posted by VDH because of how private and state labs report that data.

Numbers of reported COVID-19 cases can also be confusing to the public, Peake said. Each day’s new posting of total cases may not reflect when patients were diagnosed with the disease, she said. That data is also collected as cases by date of the illness’s onset in each patient.

Determining the date of onset may take a few days because patients may not present themselves for treatment until some time after the first symptoms appear, Peake said. While establishing that data may take additional time, she said the trend curve for that data may give a more accurate picture of COVID-19 spread in communities and the state. That delay means trends in disease spread and slowing will not be seen immediately.

Peake said the same issue applies to numbers of deaths reported on the VDH tracking website because of lags between when deaths are recorded on death certificates and when those certificates are received by VDH statisticians.

Commissioner Jaberi said another data measure being used by the Northam administrations is hospital capacity. Out of approximately 16,000 hospital beds in the state, roughly 12,000 are occupied, he said. Out of those, about 1,000 are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Jaberi said hospital bed capacity is being monitored in case of a surge in COVID-19 cases, and Virginia has about 4,000 beds available along with the ability to add another 3,000 beds if needed. About 200 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators daily, based on a rolling average of data since mid-April, he said.

Another data set being monitored is whether hospitals are having shortage difficulties with personal protective equipment. Jaberi said that situation has improved, from seven hospitals reporting difficulties on April 14 to none on Monday.

Testing capacity is also an administration concern, and Jaberi said the daily number of tests given has grown from about 200 in mid-March to more than 5,000 a day on Monday.

Peake said the data sets will become available on the COVID-19 webpage in coming days.

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