Virginia Records Spike in New COVID-19 Cases; Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah Nat. Park to Reopen

May 21, 2020

The Virginia Department of Health reported the largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases Thursday morning.  Testing numbers also dropped.

The health department's Thursday morning data update included 1,229 new cases of COVID-19.  That's the largest daily increase since the crisis began.  34,137 Virginians have now been diagnosed with the illness.

After nearly hitting the state's 10,000 daily test results goal on Wednesday, testing numbers dropped off Thursday.  Only 5,925 new diagnostic (PCR) test results were entered into the state database Thursday morning.  216,890 such tests have now been conducted in Virginia.

25 additional deaths were reported, bringing the state's total to 1,099.

Richmond to help those who need to isolate

The City of Richmond will begin offering hotel rooms to COVID-19 patients who can’t safely isolate at home.

Mayor Levar Stoney noted it can be hard for an infected family member to isolate in a crowded apartment or home.  "This program is specifically for those who cannot isolate safely.  This is not a vacation for those who can," Stoney said during a Thursday news conference.

The city will also provide food and health care resources to qualifying patients.  It will use Cares Act funding to pay for the program.

The city’s school superintendent also said Thursday that food distribution programs will continue through the summer.

Shenandoah Nat. Park, some Appalachian Trail access points to reopen

Some access points to the Appalachian Trail in Virginia are set to reopen Friday.

The U.S Forest Service will begin reopening the trail in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.  Access to Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob and Tinker Cliffs in the Roanoke Valley will remain closed, though.

Hikers are still encouraged to follow regulations from the Centers for Disease Control. That includes avoiding congregating in parking lots and in large groups and maintaining six feet between hikers.

Most trails, overlooks and the iconic Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park will reopen Saturday morning at 8:00. 

Popular hiking areas like Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon will stay closed though, along with the park’s campgrounds, visitor centers and restaurants.   Most bathrooms will also remain closed.

The park tried to keep its trails open for exercise earlier this spring, but they became so crowded they had to be shut down.  Park officials hope visitors will do a better job of spreading out this weekend.

The northernmost section of the Blue Ridge Parkway will also reopen Saturday morning.  The 13 mile section is adjacent to Shenandoah National Park.

Parking areas at Sharp Top in Bedford County will also reopen.