The number of people hospitalized in the Roanoke area for COVID-19 related complications is higher now than at any point since the pandemic began.
Fifty people were hospitalized as of Tuesday morning in the health district that covers the Roanoke Valley and parts of the Alleghany Highlands. The African American and Hispanic communities continue to be disproportionately impacted, according to Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District Director Dr. Cynthia Morrow. Of the 50 hospitalized people, 23% are African American and 15% are Hispanic.
The number of outbreaks also continues to be at a record high level. Those outbreaks are in businesses, long-term-care facilities, restaurants, a private school and even a fire station.
In a weekly call with reporters and local government leaders, Dr. Molly O’Dell said people in western Virginia are just not being as careful about prevention practices. "The inconsistent adherence to the known prevention measures allows this virus to thrive."
Morrow echoed that sentiment. "Every week we hope that something we say will stick. Last week, when we saw record number of outbreaks, we were hopeful that that would really make the message would stick. And unfortunately, this week when we have a different and equally sobering message. This virus is real," Morrow continued. "It’s here and it’s going to stay until all of us do our part in trying to decrease transmission."
In a joint statement, the three hospital systems that serve the Roanoke area—Carilion Clinic, LewisGale Regional Health System and the Salem VA Health System—say there is still capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.
But they also say now is not the time to let our guard down.
COVID-19 cases in the New River Valley continue to trend down from a high in early September when students returned to Radford University and Virginia Tech.
Some K-through-12 school systems are considering bringing more students back to in-person learning. Dr. Noelle Bissell, with the New River Health District, said there has not been evidence of students and staff contracting COVID-19 inside the school setting. "What we’re finding is that they got it through activities outside of school," Bissell said. "And this is where we kind of continue to preach that people need to practice the precautions all the time: at work, at home, at school, at play, in their social life."
In a weekly call with reporters, Bissell said occasionally test results from commercial labs are missing patient contact information, which can slow down the tracing process. Bissell encouraged people who test positive to reach out to the health department if they are not contacted by a case investigator within about 24 hours. She also asked doctors to continue to report positive cases directly to the health department and not rely solely on electronic reporting from the labs.
Both Bissell and Morrow admitted that the state IT outage was impacting their and the public's ability to access the most updated case data.