The number of active COVID-19 cases in the Roanoke region is lower again this week. But the area is starting to see longer waits for test results as schools and colleges get ready to reopen.
Doctor Molly O’Dell reported 161 active cases in the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District Tuesday morning. That’s down from 223 last week and 264 the week before. A case is considered active when it’s within the two-week isolation period.
O’Dell said it’s still too early to tell if the decline is a bigger trend. Case counts in other parts of Southwest Virginia are still going up.
O’Dell also said that the lab turnaround time for COVID-19 testing has been fluctuating between just a couple days and up to two weeks. "What we’re seeing is more and more people are requesting tests for various different reasons," O'Dell said in her weekly call with reporters. "Some employers want two negative tests if they’ve gone somewhere or done something." Those requests are increasing the burden on testing labs, particularly commercial labs. O'Dell said the Virginia state lab and a lab run by Virginia Tech have not exeperienced big delays.
The longer wait is slowing down the health department’s ability to investigate cases and trace contacts, O’Dell said.
O'Dell said she is "cautiously optimistic" about schools that hold in-person classes.
O'Dell said all the school administrators she’s worked with are taking the process extremely seriously. "Each one has come up with what they believe is the best given their resources and footprint. And we’ll just have to see how those plans are going to work and make adjustments if we see cases."
O’Dell said the health department has been consistent in its guidance to schools, even though some divisions have made different reopening decisions. She believes the biggest factors impacting each school division’s plan are space and the resources to put six feet of separation between students throughout the school day.
O'Dell noted that some in-person instruction has already started in other parts of the country. When schools have enforced social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and careful cleaning, they've avoided outbreaks, O'Dell said.