Virginia’s statewide COVID-19 numbers have been trending down over the past few weeks. That’s encouraged state officials to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
But the numbers in much of the southwest part of the state have been heading in the other direction, which has health professionals worried.
The health district that covers the Roanoke Valley and parts of the Alleghany Highlands saw 85 new cases reported Monday. That’s by far the highest number there since tracking began in February. The health districts that cover the Lynchburg, Danville, New River Valley and Grundy areas have also seen new highs in recent days.
In an interview provided by Carilion Clinic, Doctor Paul Skolnik notes some areas of southwest Virginia have seen an increased number of cases since late May. “Not only the number of cases but, most importantly, the rate of new infections has gone up. This is in contrast to the rest of Virginia where there has actually been a decrease in cases.”
The statwide 7-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases is 405, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. In the health department's southwest region, the average has been moving steadily upward and most recently stood at 52 new cases a day. The trendline in each of the other four regions has been steadily downward since mid-May, though the raw numbers in those regions remains higher.
Similarly, the postitivity rate in some southwest Virginia health districts is higher than the statewide average. On Monday, the health department reported that 5.9% of all COVID-19 PCR tests in the previous seven days came back positive. In Roanoke City, that figure is 8.2%. In the Mount Rogers Health District, along the North Carolina line, the positivity rate is 8.8%. The Crater Health District, in the Petersburg area, has the highest positivity rate in Virginia at 9.6%.
Skolnik, an infectious disease specialist at Carilion, says some of the recent cases in southwest Virginia are vacationers returning from Myrtle Beach and other COVID-19 hot spots. "But it goes beyond that," Skolnik warns. "We are clearly having substantial community spread right now. And that happens when people don’t wear masks, don’t social distance, don’t wash their hands."
Skolnik says people need to be even more vigilant about precautions now because the infection rate in Southwest Virginia is going up at a time when activities are opening up.
Editor's Note: Carilion Clinic is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.