Virginia will enter Phase Three of the governor’s reopening plan Wednesday. That means larger gatherings and fewer restrictions on businesses.
But a health official in the Roanoke area says the reopening process is changing the face of COVID-19.
In the spring wave of COVID-19, the illness hit Virginia’s older population hard. But in the health district that covers the Roanoke Valley and much of the Alleghany Highlands, the biggest number of cases is now among people under the age of 40.
Doctor Molly O’Dell with the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District said that’s a result of reopening. "As we’ve opened up, we’ve got more younger people working and they’re being affected."
While COVID-19 still affects older people most severely, O’Dell said there’s an increasing number of younger patients needing hospitalization. And she expects the number of cases to continue rising in Southwest Virginia. "The rate of increase in our cases is perfectly predictable given the amount of opening we’ve already had." In her weekly conference call with reporters Tuesday, O’Dell said it’s still vitally important to screen employees for illness, to wear face coverings and maintain six feet of distance whenever possible.
Spokespeople for Salem, Roanoke City and Roanoke County said Tuesday there were no plans to delay local reopenings or ask for a rollback of restrictions.
The Virginia Department of Health reported 102 new cases of COVID-19 in the health district Tuesday morning. More than a hundred recent cases can be traced to vacations to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to O’Dell.
She said the same guidelines about masks, handwashing and social distancing should be followed whether you’re staying home around the July Fourth holiday or traveling. "We have to practice this adherence when we go to the grocery story, when we’re traveling, even when we go camping," she emphasized. O’Dell said she has not seen a similar spike in cases resulting from travel to beach locations in Virginia or North Carolina.
The Tuesday increase in the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District was the highest jump in any district in the state. The next largest increase was 91 cases in the Prince William Health District in Northern Virginia. The West Piedmont Health District, in the Martinsville area, also saw its biggest single-day increase Tuesday. It recorded 34 new cases.
Late Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam tapped the brakes on part of his Phase Three reopening plan. Restaurants will have to keep bar seating and congregating areas closed.