RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT/WHSV) — Virginia could see its peak of coronavirus cases in the next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods.
On Monday, Governor Ralph Northam said the latest Virginia-specific data modeling provided by the University of Virginia projects that Virginia's peak will happen at the end of April or in early May.
Officials are using the new model from the University's Biocomplexity Institute to help shape a plan to get the commonwealth back to normal.
“We are slowing the spread of this virus,” said Northam.
Northam and his COVID-19 response team said the new model, which takes into account Virginia-specific factors, including levels of social distancing, the Stay at Home order, and more, indicates social distancing measures are working to slow the spread.
“Since this epidemic began I have said we are basing our decisions on science and on data,” said Northam.
The governor noted how his team has previously relied upon national models like those provided by the University of Washington and CHIME, but that UVA's is the most accurate forecast they can get for a state level.
Like all models, it changes day by day depending on behavior.
Northam says hospitals currently have sufficient capacity to deal with the surge in cases projected by the UVA model as we near the peak.
Because of that, construction on new medical facilities to handle surplus patients in northern, central, and eastern Virginia has been put on hold, though sites, like The Greater Richmond Convention Center, remain as options for that if needed.
So when does the Stay at Home order get repealed? When do non-essential businesses open back up? When are social distancing guidelines lifted? When does the Shenandoah National Park reopen?
The governor and his health leaders advised that acting too early on lifting restrictions could potentially be catastrophic.
The models suggest another wave of illness in mid-July or August if we don’t slowly ease back into normal life.
A surge projected by those models in which orders are lifted early would threaten the capacity that hospitals currently have available.
"If we stop what we are doing too soon, it is clear that we will have a second peak and it could be worse than what we’re dealing with right now,” said Northam. "And we can't afford that."
If people continue to heed the Stay at Home order, though, the growth rate in new cases levels off. However, the model shows that lifting restrictions even as late as mid-June could result in a significant summer spike that does not peak until August.
A task force working on virus spread and outbreaks at long-term care facilities is already making a difference. The state’s deputy health commissioner said they were alerted to an issue at a facility this weekend. They were able to get test kits from UVA, personal protective equipment and staff.
“There are a lot of really good things that happened over the weekend to help with a really acute situation,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Virginia Health Commissioner.
Coronavirus response efforts are also taking a toll on the state budget. The governor is recommending it be slashed by about $874 million from the upcoming budget year and then another $1.4 billion the next year.
The statewide situation in Virginia
On April 8, in Governor Ralph Northam's daily coronavirus briefing, he announced that he was postponing statewide June primaries by two weeks, which moves them past the end date of the Stay at Home order, and recommending that the General Assembly postpone May's local elections until November, to be held at the same time as national elections.
Virginia remains under a state of emergency until June 10, and Northam's order that closed many non-essential businesses, Executive Order 53, remains in place for that length of time as well.
That order is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. You can learn more about what police enforcement of Northam's executive orders looks like here.
All elective surgeries have also been postponed in Virginia hospitals through a public health order signed by Northam on March 25, designed to help preserve critical equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear.
Case totals as of April 13
By April 13, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 5,747 cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
Those positive test results are out of 41,401 people that have been tested in Virginia, which comes out to more than 13% of Virginians tested for the coronavirus receiving positive results.
At this point, 903 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and 149 have died of causes related to the disease.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the outbreak and not the total number currently in the hospital.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data.
The Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 website is updating with the latest statewide numbers at 9 a.m. each day.
The numbers that appear on that list are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department's numbers reflect those new results.
In our area, as of April 13, there were at least 17 confirmed cases in Augusta County, 87 cases in Harrisonburg, 49 cases in Rockingham County, 6 cases in Page County, 17 cases in Shenandoah County, 2 cases in Staunton, 6 cases in Waynesboro, 66 cases in Frederick County, 20 cases in Winchester, and 3 cases in Rockbridge County, along with 3 in Lexington.
Of the state's total hospitalizations, at least six have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District, which confirmed its first COVID-19 death last week.
Just to the east, there have been at least 49 cases in Albemarle County, 33 in Charlottesville, 5 in Greene County, and 5 in Nelson County. There have been nine hospitalizations there.
The numbers provided here are a blend of the data provided by the Virginia Department of Health and case updates provided directly by our local health districts.
The Central Shenandoah Health District has confirmed to WHSV that they have confirmed at least 121 cases in their district, with the majority in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Harrisonburg city officials said on Thursday that they knew of at least 80 combined between the city and Rockingham County.
However, while many of those cases are shown on the Virginia Department of Health's map, not all of them are yet there.
Why do some cases that have been confirmed in my area not appear on the state map?
The VDH numbers always lag behind the numbers reported by local health districts because of multiple factors.
First, they're based on the test results that healthcare providers and laboratories submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so any positive cases announced in the late afternoon or evening, as well as on the day of the case count update, cannot appear on the department's list.
In addition, representatives for local health districts have told us their first priority when a new case is confirmed in their district is to work on tracing the contacts the patient had to let anyone who may have potentially been exposed to the virus know. With that as the priority, sometimes reporting of local cases to the Virginia Department of Health falls lower on the ladder and those results may not show up on the state tally for another day or two.
Plus, the exact locations of cases can sometimes appear differently on the state map than they do for local health districts that know their localities better.
Considering all of those factors, as an example, the April 2 state website update did not show one case in Staunton that the Central Shenandoah Health District confirmed to WHSV on March 29, though it had updated to show two cases confirmed in Augusta County at the same time.
There was also, initially, a glitch in the system for updates from the Lord Fairfax Health District being sent to the Department of Health that caused some of their numbers to not display correctly for weeks. However, as of April 6, Dr. Greene, representing the district, said that issue had been resolved.
With those lapses between local case reporting and the VDH, while we report every morning on the latest statewide totals, we're also reporting local case numbers based on results directly confirmed to us by local health districts.
West Virginia's communication system between the local and state health departments is a little different, and their numbers, at this point, are considerably lower, so a similar discrepancy hasn't been seen there yet.
Reporting by local health districts
Local health districts are no longer sending individual updates for every new case, as they expect, realistically, that numbers will keep rising until we hit the peak of cases, which current models, highlighted by Gov. Northam on Wednesday, don't project until most likely some time in May.
Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.