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Infection rate eases, despite outbreaks

SoVaNow.com / September 16, 2020
Mecklenburg’s community risk level for the coronavirus has subsided in recent days after only seven new cases of COVID-19 were reported over the weekend and through Monday.

If and when the seven-day moving average of daily cases per 100,000 of population tops 25 persons or more, Mecklenburg County will once again land in the red zone, the highest risk level for spread of the virus. As of Tuesday, Mecklenburg County’s seven-day moving average was 18 cases per 100,000.

That places the county in the orange band — based on a color-coded risk assessment scheme developed by Harvard University researchers to determine when communities should curtail or shut down everyday activities, including school.

Despite rumors that swirled over the weekend, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols said there are no current plans to shut down Mecklenburg’s elementary schools and send students home. Last week, Mecklenburg County Public Schools welcomed students in grades preK-5 back to school for in-person classroom learning.

Students in middle school and high school remain at home, doing their classwork there, after the School Board voted in August to keep secondary schools closed for the first nine weeks of the fall semester.

While Mecklenburg’s risk level for community spread has eased, Nichols did warn teachers and administrators that if the county goes back to red, all students would be consigned to distance learning.

Nichols said he hopes to keep elementary students at school for as long as possible to prepare them if their classes must shift to a virtual platform.

“I said all along that we would base our decisions on the numbers” from the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Virginia Department of Health, Nichols told county supervisors at their monthly meeting on Monday night. “If we return to the red, we will shut down. We have to be prepared to keep our kids safe and protect our teachers.”

Nichols assured parents whose children are attending in-person school in grades one-five that their students would be assigned a Chromebook to use at home if full distance learning is ordered. Learning for pre-K and kindergarten students would not take place virtually by computer; instead, hard-copy packets of materials would be distributed to those students.

The total number of confirmed covid cases in Mecklenburg County stood at 635 as of Tuesday. Of those cases, 80 are active — and all are the result of general community spread, as opposed to stemming from a virus outbreak at a contained environment such as a prison or long-term care facility, according to Emergency Management Coordinator Jon Taylor.

The orange risk level means Mecklenburg County remains at risk for accelerated spread and stay-at-home orders or rigorous testing and contact tracing programs are advised. A risk level of red is considered the tipping point where stay-at-home orders are necessary to quell the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, the number of outbreaks in the Southside Health District — which spans Brunswick, Halifax, and Mecklenburg counties — jumped to 14. The previous day, 12 outbreaks were reported in the three-county area.

The two latest outbreaks have cropped up at a K-12 school and a long-term care facility in Mecklenburg County. The state health department does not disclose the exact location of any outbreak, citing privacy concerns.

However, Nichols said there are employees of Mecklenburg County Public Schools who have tested positive for the virus and are in quarantine. One cafeteria worker at Chase City Elementary has tested positive, but a health investigation found that the worker had no interaction with any children at the school.

Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter confirmed that county offices were closed to the public last week until further notice after a couple of employees tested positive for the virus. On Sept. 4, Mecklenburg County Circuit Court shut down for a day, though the Clerk’s Office remained open, after it was learned that several courthouse deputies tested positive for the virus as well.

Court proceedings resumed on Sept. 7 after a cleaning crew was brought in to deep-clean the building. The sheriff’s deputies who tested positive and others who had contact with them remained under quarantine away from the courthouse.

An outbreak is said to have occurred when there are at least two lab-confirmed cases at a single location.

Of the 14 outbreaks in the Southside Health District, most have taken place at known locations. Prison outbreaks have occurred at Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Brunswick County and Baskerville Correctional Center in Mecklenburg. Nursing home outbreaks have occurred at Sentara MeadowView Terrace in Clarksville and Chase City Health and Rehab. Together, 27 of the Mecklenburg County’s 33 reported deaths are tied to the two long-term care facilities.

The other outbreaks can be traced to individual counties, but little is known publicly about most of them. Outbreaks have been reported at two businesses and a church in Halifax County, and at the Brunswick County prison.

Ten of the 14 outbreaks have been reported in Mecklenburg County — at Meadowview Terrace, Chase City Health & Rehab, at a third unidentified nursing home and at a long-term care behavioral health site; in a health care setting; at Baskerville Correctional Center; and at an unnamed business, a church, a daycare/pre-K facility, and a K-12 school.

Several of the outbreaks are considered “closed” or “pending closure” by the Virginia Department of Health, meaning there are current no active cases. These include the residential behavioral health facility, the health care site, and MeadowView Terrace and Chase City Health & Rehab.

Other sites are either deemed “outbreak in progress” or “outbreak initiated” by the Virginia Department of Health, meaning there are current active cases at those locations.

The Virginia Department of Corrections reports no current cases among inmates at Baskerville Correctional Center, although four prison employees are still listed as infected with the virus. The corrections department also reports that two offenders at Lawrenceville Correctional Center and two employees also have COVID-19.

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