Increasing COVID-19 Cases Impacting Hospital Capacity, Contact Tracing in Roanoke Region

Oct 27, 2020

Health officials in the Roanoke region are warning about the increasing trends related to COVID-19.

The number of outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths are all higher, compared to this time last week.

Doctor Cynthia Morrow, the director of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District, reported 78 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday morning.  That's up from 51 the week before.  

Credit CDC

A total of 60 people have died from complications related to the illness and Morrow cautioned that the number will soon jump as outbreaks at long term care facilities are investigated.  Morrow's colleague, Dr. Molly O'Dell, noted that very few, if any, long term care facilities in the district have been able to avoid at least one outbreak during the pandemic.  Morrow said there were 12 active outbreaks at long term care facilities in the district Tuesday morning, up from 9 the week before.

"We cannot overstate how important it is for people to do everything in their power to reduce the transmission of this disease within our communities," Morrow said in a weekly conference call with journalists..

Morrow said hospitals in the health district that covers the Roanoke Valley and parts of the Alleghany Highlands are nearing 90% of their capacity. In the southwest part of the state, the average daily number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased from about 150 at the start of the month to 240 Tuesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard.

Morrow also said a change in how data is processed artificially increased the count of active cases in the district.  Morrow reported 340 active cases as of Tuesday morning.  The week before it was 115.

Contact Tracing Efforts Strain

Case investigators with the health department are having a hard time keeping up. Morrow said the growth of cases, combined with a broader definition of who is a close contact, means more work for investigators.

"So we really want to appeal to the public right now: If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, please start telling your close contacts that you’ve been diagnosed.  Reach out to them. Let them know so that they can self-quarantine," Morrow advised.    

Morrow also says there’s been less cooperation with contact tracing efforts.

The Centers for Disease Control recently clarified its definition of close contact to a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more of exposure over a 24 hour period. Previously, exposure of less than 15 minutes was not considered a close contact.  Morrow says that change has increased the number of people needing to be contacted and advised to quarantine.