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Numbers rise as vacationers return from beach hotspots / June 29, 2020
A recent surge in coronavirus cases in Pittsylvania and Halifax counties is tied in part to vacationers returning from Myrtle Beach, S.C., a COVID-19 hotspot, says Dr. Scott Spillmann, medical director for the Southside and Pittsylvania-Danville health districts.

“There are lots of reasons we have increased cases. Going to Myrtle Beach is definitely one of them,” said Spillmann on Saturday.

Virginia health officials are warily monitoring the effects of vacationers returning home from popular travel destinations that have been hit with mass outbreaks of the virus. Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia and a number of other states are struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19 as caseloads and hospitalizations break previous records seemingly by the day.

On Saturday, Florida shattered the mark set the day before with 9,585 test positives for COVID-19. Also Saturday, six states issued warnings to residents urging them to reconsider plans to vacation at Myrtle Beach, and take special precautions if they do so.

Closer to home, Pittsylvania County has seen its caseload over the past 10-day period jump from 76 to 108. Over the same period, from June 19 to June 28, Halifax County cases have risen from 39 to 49.

Spillmann said going to the beach is part of the reason that local caseloads continue to tick up: “Anywhere you’re on the coast, you’re at increased risk [of infection].”

With Phase 3 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Virginia Forward plan set to begin Wednesday, state health officials are hoping to avoid the fate of other states that have been forced to hit the pause button on their reopenings.

Increased testing in Southside Virginia has revealed a shift in the makeup of COVID-19 patients, said Spillmann. Initially, most of those who tested positive for the disease were older patients who were showing symptoms. Recent testing has uncovered more young people with the virus, many who feel no effects.

“In the beginning, we were testing more vulnerable populations. We now have a broader brush, a greater spectrum of who has what,” said Spillmann. “The 18-29 age range is coming on strong.”

In the Southside Health District, which covers Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, elderly people continue to make up the highest number of cases, mostly due to outbreaks of the virus at area nursing homes. But the 30-39 age group now accounts for nearly as many infections as the 70-79 group (51 cases compared to 55 for the older set) while the age 20-29 demographic has run up 39 cases.

There are 391 persons who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Southside Health District, with the vast majority — 240 — located in Mecklenburg County.

Most young people who contract the virus suffer only mild symptoms, if any at all. However, that can create a problem if younger people are unknowingly exposing other persons at greater risk of serious illness or death, such as those with suppressed immune systems, or elderly parents and grandparents.

“Rarely does anybody go to the hospital out of that beach group,” said Spillmann, referring to younger people who catch the virus while on vacation. “The issue there is getting them to isolate and self-quarantine, and not go out among more vulnerable members of the community.

“We’re testing more for it [COVID-19] and younger people are getting it,” he said. The ramp-up in testing, Spillmann said, has revealed “a lot of pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic and symptomatic communities.”

When people are showing no symptoms, or their symptoms have yet to develop, they can easily spread the disease — spawning a new term, superspreaders.

Spillmann said the best protection against that happening is to follow CDC and health department guidelines for protecting yourself and others — by wearing a face covering, maintaining six feet distance from others, and washing hands and practicing good hygiene.

“If you’re at home, you’re safe. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands and keep your distance …. Healthy behaviors are still making a greater difference,” he said.

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