COVID-19 Moves to Working-age Population in New River Valley

Nov 18, 2020

COVID-19 cases in the New River Valley have stayed relatively steady over the past several weeks.
But the age of those most often getting the disease is what’s worrying health officials.

Much of the concern about COVID-19 cases in the New River Health District over the past few months was centered around the region’s two big universities. And while cases in that college-age group spiked late in the summer, they’ve now dropped off. 

Doctor Noelle Bissell says they’ve been replaced by increases in another age group.  "That’s kind of the big news in the New River Valley.  We have an upward trend in our working age adults."

A graph of COVID-19 cases in the New River Health District
Credit Virginia Dept. of Health

Bissell says the increase in the 25-59 age group is a sign of community spread: exposures at social events, workplaces, car pools and church events. And the danger is that it could jump into older, more medically vulnerable populations like long-term care facilities next. "We really have to look at the impact and consequences of those decisions," Bissell recommends.  "You know, we may not realize that someone we sing at church with works at a nursing home."

Bissell notes the college-age surge didn’t cause a spike in hospitalizations because younger people generally don’t get more severe complications.  But older people do and hospitals are getting busier.

Bissell says cases in the youngest age group, 0-17, have remained relatively low despite school reopenings.  There has been some limited transmission in school settings.  In most cases, Bissell says, children are being exposed to the virus outside of school.

Ballad Health Expects COVID-19 Metrics to Go Higher

The hospital system that serves parts of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee has seen new highs in almost all of its COVID-19 metrics this week.  And Ballad Health officials expect them to go even higher.

The hospital system reported 246 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Wednesday and said they expect to hit 350 in the next few weeks.  Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said people need to wear masks and avoid gatherings outside their household.  "The only safe way to celebrate Thanksgiving is with your immediate household," Swift explained Wednesday. "For guests, especially those travelling, the only truly safe practice would be a negative test, followed by 14-day quarantine. But with 8 days to Thanksgiving, that’s no longer an option."

Ballad reported a 35% increase in COVID-19 cases over the past week in the Virginia counties it serves.

Slow Increase in Hospitalizations in Near Southwest Region

Meanwhile, hospitals in the Virginia Department of Health’s Near Southwest region have seen a slow increase in hospitalizations since early November.  That region includes Roanoke, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Danville and parts of the New River Valley.

Here are the statistics released Wednesday:

As of Wednesday, Nov. 18:
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients: 208
•        ICU patients: 36
•        Ventilator patients: 22
Hospitalized PUIs (patients under investigation awaiting results): 26

As of Wednesday, Nov. 11: 
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients: 203
•        ICU patients: 38
•        Ventilator patients: 18
Hospitalized PUIs: 35

As of Wednesday, Nov. 4:
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients: 186
•         ICU patients: 40
•         Ventilator patients: 22
Hospitalized PUIs: 32

As of Wednesday, Oct. 28:
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients: 200
-        ICU patients: 50
-        Ventilator patients: 27
Hospitalized PUIs: 46