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COVID-19 deaths stand at 17 as county gradually reopens

SoVaNow.com / May 20, 2020
With less than two percent of the local population having been tested for COVID-19 and confirmed cases of the virus on the rise throughout the Southside Health District, businesses and places of worship are moving forward with plans to reopen under the Governor’s Safe At Home Phase I order.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed Executive Order 61 on May 8, but it went into effect a week later, on May 15.

As states began to implement their own phased reopening plans, the CDC released a statement Wednesday that listed six “gating criteria” as thresholds for entering phase I — a decrease in newly identified cases, decrease in emergency or outpatient visits for COVID-like symptoms, decrease in emergency department or outpatient visits for influenza-like symptoms, decrease in percentage of Sars-CoV-2 positive tests, treat all patients without crisis care, and robust testing.

At least two of those key assessments, — robust testing and a downward trajectory of newly reported COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period — are not occurring in the Southside Health District, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. The other “gating” criteria are not reported by the VDH.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus has been most pronounced in Mecklenburg County, one of three counties that make up the Southside Health District. The other two are Halifax and Brunswick.

As of Tuesday, DVH reported 178 confirmed cases in Mecklenburg County, 29 in Halifax and another 21 in Brunswick. VDH also reported Tuesday that only 1,502 out of 81,860 residents living in the Southside Health District have been tested for COVID-19. That’s 1.83 percent of the total population.

Mecklenburg County confirmed 40 new cases of the virus in the past seven days, nine of those between Monday and Tuesday this week. Mecklenburg has seen 17 deaths from COVID-19, and 26 patients hospitalized for treatment.

Brunswick County had been holding steady at 20 confirmed cases until Tuesday, when the county reported one additional positive result. Halifax County added two new cases to its cumulative total between Monday and Tuesday, up to 29 from 27. The number of positive test results in Halifax rose by five persons in the past seven days.

It is unknown, because the figures are not reported by VDH, how many of the 228 confirmed cases and 18 deaths in the Southside district are attributable to four reported disease outbreaks, three involving nursing homes. Also, VDH also does not report, how many, if any, of the patients who tested positive have recovered from the virus. Nevertheless, business throughout the health district began to reopen on Friday, May 15.

Before implementing Phase I of his reopening plan statewide, Northam issued a cautionary warning. “It is critical that as we begin to ease some of the restrictions in the next phase of our response, we remain vigilant, cautious, and measured. We cannot race back to the lives we led before the pandemic. The path forward will not be business as usual.”

Following the guidance set out in the Governor’s Executive Order 61, local restaurants with outdoor seating can now offer dine-in service, but with limited seating and additional sanitation measures in place. Hair salons and barber shops can see clients by appointment. Fitness centers can serve members outdoors, while and shoppers can return to their favorite farmer’s market and outdoor lovers to the parks, with some limits.

For the most part recreational and entertainment venues, such as theaters, racetracks, large state events, amusement parks, and bowling alleys remain closed, as do K-12 schools, public beaches, and overnight summer camps. Public and private gatherings are limited to 10 people or less, and institutions of higher education are limited to online instruction.

In addition to other the restrictions imposed on specific businesses, Northam reminded the public of the need to “continue to practice physical distancing, to continue teleworking, whenever possible, to wash our hands frequently, to not touch our faces, and to wear face covering whenever possible.” He added, “These measures are meant to make necessary ventures outside of your home safer, but everyone, especially those who may be more vulnerable to the virus, must understand we are all safer at home.”

Phase I of the Safer at Home reopening plan for Virginia remains in effect until June 10, unless extended by the governor.

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