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COVID-19 mounts in Virginia; local caseload remains steady

SoVaNow.com / March 30, 2020
The spread of COVID-19 in Virginia shows no signs of abating as the state health department reported Sunday that the number of positive test results has climbed to 890, up by 151 cases since Saturday.

The respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus has claimed at least 22 lives in Virginia, including eight residents of Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico County. Nationally, the death toll now exceeds 2,400 people.

In the Southside Virginia area, the number of COVID-19 cases listed in Sunday’s update by the Virginia Department of Health is unchanged since Friday. Halifax County has one confirmed case, Mecklenburg County and the City of Danville each have four, and Pittsylvania County has one. No coronavirus infections have been reported thus far in Campbell and Charlotte counties.

In North Carolina, three counties that adjoin Halifax — Caswell, Person and Granville — each have been touched by the virus. Both Caswell and Person have one person who has tested positive for COVID-19, and Granville County has six.

Amid warnings that the pandemic could overwhelm hospitals that lack adequate supplies of protective masks, ventilators and other essentials, providers are taking steps to prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients.

In a Thursday news update, Norfolk-based Sentara Health warned that it may take up to 10 days for test subjects to receive the results of coronavirus screenings. Sentara has established drive-thru testing sites at three of its hospitals in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton. Sentara operates more than a dozen hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia, including in South Boston.

While the local hospital has erected outdoors tents for possible use as a drive-thru test site, Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital officials say they have no immediate plans to activate such a facility in South Boston.

Sentara Health also is appealing to the public for donations of protective equipment — more evidence of the shortfalls that hospitals around the U.S. face as the coronavirus patient caseload mounts.

According to Sentara’s website, the need for donations is greatest for personal protective equipment (PPE) — items that include masks (N95 or disposable face masks), nitrile gloves, virus-impervious gowns (level 1-level 4), disposable shoe covers, fog-free face shields and goggles.

Another hospital system, Richmond-based VCU Health, has asked the state for permission to expand capacity to deal with the expected wave of COVID-19 patients. VCU Health is seeking to add 460 licensed hospital beds — a plan that includes the reopening of the idled Community Memorial Healthcenter facility in South Hill. The 1950s era hospital was shuttered in 2017 when VCU Health opened a new, state-of-the-art hospital on the outskirts of town. VCU acquired Community Memorial Healthcenter in 2014.

In addition to South Hill’s old hospital, which is nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood, VCU Health is proposing to add 150 beds at its downtown Richmond medical campus, and up to 180 beds at the VCU Honors College in Richmond. (See related article, right)

As the virus spreads, medical providers are stepping up their warnings to the public about the severity of COVID-19 and urging people to strictly follow public health recommendations for social distancing — by limiting contacts with others, avoiding going out in the public whenever possible, and maintaining a space of at least six feet with other individuals. People are also urged to wash their hands frequently and to use hand sanitizer, especially after touching surfaces where the virus can linger for days.

A Triangle, N.C. emergency room physician who recently contracted COVID-19 went on social media this week to describe what it’s like to have the disease. “I’ve never experienced illness like this before,” wrote the physician, who lives in North Carolina but has ties to Southside Virginia. He asked that his name not be used. “I never felt like I would die, but there were times when I thought that death might be an improvement.”

He continued: “I think there is a misconception about Covid19 that, really, only the elderly or those with underlying health problems will get severe disease. This is because mortality (death) rates are much higher in this population. It doesn’t mean younger, healthy people won’t get severe illness. I got severely ill.”

The physician said that in the first week with COVID-19, he experienced a cough and joint and muscle pain, but no other symptoms. “Three days after the cough started, it began to feel like something was squeezing my lungs from inside and deep breaths were like a knife in the chest. I experienced shortness of breath for the first time in my life. I had to pause when climbing stairs to catch my breath.

“Also, I developed pink eye. Not the itchy, watery irritation, but a painful form that hurt the entire left side of my eye and head when I looked around. That was week one. It hadn’t gotten bad yet.

“Week two ushered in with addition of fever that caused every bone in my body to hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I had chills that caused audible teeth chattering. This was cycled with sweats that left my clothes and sheets looking like I had jumped in a pool. And diarrhea” — he wrote, an agonizing experience on top of his other symptoms. “The fever and diarrhea were added prizes.”

While the ER physician said he has been feeling better in recent days, he wrote that he wanted to convey the misery that COVID-19 can cause among those who contract the disease. “I’ve seen accounts of people on TV that describe a mild flu like illness. Most people will get symptoms like that,” wrote the doctor. But, “Healthy people can get severe illness, though. I don’t want to feel like that, again.”

He concluded, “you don’t want to gamble with potentially getting an illness that will knock you down and out for two whole weeks. I was asked to make this public, so that it could be shared, and I have. Hopefully, this will help shed some light on this illness in a first hand perspective from an otherwise healthy 46 year old Emergency Physician.”

The Virginia Department of Health is urging people to take these steps to avoid contact with the coronavirus:

» Practice social distancing. If you have to go out, stay six feet away from others. Avoid public spaces, public activities, and group gatherings with 10 or more people. Do not take public transportation such as buses, trains, taxis, or ride-shares, if possible.

» Avoid contact with sick people. Family, friends or neighbors with COVID-19 symptoms of fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek immediate medical care. Individuals should call their healthcare provider or in an emergency, dial 9-1-1.

• » Wash your hands frequently to limit the spread of germs. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty. Clean your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. And avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

» Consider self-quarantining if you feel sick or develop even mild signs of COVID-19 — fever, cough and shortness of breath.

» Disinfect frequently-touched surfaces.

For more information about the pandemic, visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus



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