COVID-19 cases spike in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County; officials urge caution

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Although the latest confirmed numbers from the Virginia Department of Health showed 39 cases of COVID-19 in Harrisonburg and 21 cases in Rockingham County, city officials say there has been a recent spike, raising the numbers significantly higher than what appeared on the state's Thursday update.

Law enforcement can issue misdemeanors for gatherings in close quarters that are both indoors and outdoors.

The case totals

According to Harrisonburg Director of Communications Michael Parks, the city is aware that there have been more cases confirmed by local labs and hospitals, leading to more than 80 positive tests for the coronavirus in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area.

WHSV reached out to the Central Shenandoah Health District, and Dr. Laura Kornegay, representing the district, confirmed around 4:45 p.m. that there have been 121 confirmed cases in the district as a whole, which stretches from Rockbridge County in the south up through Rockingham County.

She could not confirm the exact breakdown of cases at the time, but said the majority have been identified in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

So why aren't those numbers on the Virginia Department of Health website?

The system works by labs and medical centers sending their test results to local health districts, who then work on tracing the contacts of each person who tested positive and send the results on to the Virginia Dept. of Health, which releases updated numbers the next morning at 9 a.m. based on the submissions they had received by 5 p.m.

Due to that system, the state numbers always lag behind local reports, so what appears on the state website is currently an under-count.

Follow the orders and guidelines

Because of the spike in cases for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, which just a week ago had 26 combined cases, city officials are urging all residents to follow the recommended guidelines for social distancing.

They're also reminding residents that citations will be issued to people violating Virginia's Executive Order 53, which bans gatherings of 10 or more people in a space.

As people would normally gather for Easter weekend or to enjoy spring weather, city officials say it's vital that people follow Gov. Northam's Stay at Home order.

Under the Stay at Home order, residents are required to stay at home as much as possible, except for essential reasons, like traveling to work, for medical care for you or a loved one, or essential travel, like grocery shopping or buying needed supplies.

Visiting a family member for Easter or Passover or Ramadan is not essential.

People are still free to go outside for exercise or other activities if they are not sick, but need to social distance while doing so, which means maintaining at least six feet between yourself and others, according to the CDC.

If groups of more than 10 are not social distancing and violating the executive order, Harrisonburg police will issue tickets.

Concerns for this weekend

The city is concerned people don't plan on following the order this weekend, even as cases spike in the area, and is pleading for them to stay at home and stay socially distant.

"The dramatic increase in the numbers show the importance of continuing social distancing, washing our hands, and staying home as much as possible,” Harrisonburg Fire Department Administrative Officer and Deputy Emergency Coordinator Paul Helmuth said. “Remember, even when having to be in small groups, social distancing practices are important.”

"It is very important that you limit contact with others as much as possible right now. Coronavirus is very serious and spreads easily, and dozens have died in Virginia because of it. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could still have coronavirus and possibly spread it to others," Parks said.

More info

If you have any questions about COVID-19, you can call the Virginia Department of Health's hotline at 1-855-949-8378, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The city of Harrisonburg is also now distributing flyers with coronavirus information and recommendations to stop it, which you can find here and here.

Those flyers include information on symptoms to look out for. The flyers are being distributed in both English and Spanish.

Here is the message the city is sending all residents through their flyers:

It is very important that we all work together to respond to coronavirus and protect the health and wellness of ourselves, our families and our neighbors.

It is vital to limit the spread of coronavirus from person to person. If you are sick, stay home. But even if you don’t feel sick, you could still have coronavirus and possibly spread it to others. Follow social distancing rules by staying at least six feet apart from others when you are outside. Wash your hands often. Do not have visitors and do not share things like towels and utensils.

Virginia Gov. Northam has issued an order that instructs everyone in Virginia to stay at home as much as possible unless they are traveling for work, for medical care for yourself or a loved one, or essential travel such as grocery shopping or buying other needed supplies. You also are still allowed to go outside for exercise, work in your yard or other such activities, as long as you are in groups of fewer than 10 people and keep at least six feet of space between yourself and others as much as possible.

If you are outside in a group of more than 10 people for reasons other than essential reasons listed above, you receive a citation from authorities. It is very important that we limit contact with others as much as possible right now. Coronavirus is very serious and spreads easily, and dozens have died in Virginia because of it.

Please help stop the spread of coronavirus in our community.

Following the stay at home order as much as possible is the best way we can do that.

The Virginia Department of Health has created a phone number for questions about coronavirus. That number is 1-855-949-8378.