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Officials say COVID-19 cases are low, but governor warns Southwest region is experiencing highest numbers in the state

Officials say COVID-19 cases are low, but governor warns Southwest region is experiencing highest numbers in the state

It’s officially been six months that Virginia has been in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the one thing that is consistent is the constant change.

Most, if not all, festivals and big events locally and nationally have been canceled, unemployment rates are still high, though not as high as they were in April, schools reopened as did many businesses. However, there is still no vaccine or end in sight to the pandemic.

West Piedmont Population Health Manager Nancy Bell said she can’t quantify what Virginia Department of Health has learned throughout these past six months but the partnerships developed during the pandemic have been invaluable. Bell spoke during a Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Zoom event Sept. 15.

“We have worked with municipal governments, businesses and other health care entities to provide testing events and to plan, and this has been essential,” Bell said. “The contacts we have made and the relationships formed will serve us well in the future.”

At press time, VDH reported 310 cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County with 16 hospitalizations and three deaths. In Bedford County, 705 cases have been reported with 32 hospitalizations and 12 deaths.

Cases in Virginia topped 140,511 at the start of this week, up from 137,460 cases late last week. The state reports more than 10,591 hospitalized due to the virus, and the state’s total deaths has reached 3,015.

Franklin County Public Schools reported four staff members and three students who have tested positive as of Sept. 17 and due to possible exposures to other staff members at Henry Elementary School.

Two positive cases of COVID-19 were reported last week at Bedford County Public Schools. The cases of the virus involved individuals at Forest Middle School.

Bedford County Public Schools welcomed students back to schools for in-person and remote instruction on Sept. 8.

There have been no changes with respect to available testing in Franklin County. There are still three sites listed on VDH’s website in the county — Velocity Care in Hardy, CVS Pharmacy on Franklin Street in Rocky Mount and the Free Clinic of Franklin County. However, CVS is testing by appointment only.

In Bedford County, Bedford Memorial Hospital provides testing. Multiple other testing locations are available in Lynchburg including Walmart, MedExpress and CVS. An appointment is necessary at all testing sites.

As the population health manager for the VDH’s West Piedmont District which does not include Bedford County, Bell was only able to provide details on testing on the Franklin County side of Smith Mountain Lake.

“We are contracting with Carilion to deploy their testing team in Franklin County as needed,” Bell said, adding as far as testing rates, there is no reliable data in this region.

“There is often lag time, and with multiple entities doing testing, it’s difficult to capture,” Bell said. “We do receive every positive case directly from CDC for every positive test in Franklin County for case management purposes. Even if they test positive in another state or region, the data is sent to us, as the local for the home address on record.”

She said the health district is tracking every positive case and providing case management for every positive person.

“Fortunately, Franklin County has a decreasing and relatively low rate of COVID cases,” she added.

However, she said Martinsville/Henry County has more than 1,300 cases they have had to perform contact tracing for, keeping them busy on top of advising businesses, schools and groups and educational outreach.

During the chamber’s Zoom meeting, Carl Cline, vice president of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, said Carilion has tested 46,000 patients system-wide, with approximately 2,000 testing positive for the coronavirus. He said as of Sept. 15 Carilion had 33 total patients in its hospital system who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 patients awaiting test results.

During a press briefing on Sept. 16, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam cautioned Southwest Virginia is seeing more new cases per day on average.

“Since Southwest Virginia has fewer people and fewer hospitals with fewer ICU (intensive care unit) beds and capabilities this continues to be concerning to us,” Northam said.

Northam implored Virginians to get their flu shots. Bell said flu shots are more important than ever with symptoms that closely mirror COVID-19.

“These numbers for COVID have got to stay down as we approach flu season because if they are allowed to rise at a time when the flu comes on … it’s a perfect storm for making sure our doctors and our hospitals cannot handle the capacity,” Bell said. “If you get COVID or you get the flu your immune system is compromised and it could be deadly.”

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