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Lunenburg County sees 22 new COVID cases

With record COVID-19 case numbers coming out of the state and post-Christmas coronavirus spikes seen across the health district, a local health official is warning Virginia’s case numbers could double in the next two-to-three weeks.

From Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, to Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, counties in the Piedmont Health District saw large jumps in cases of the novel coronavirus.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Lunenburg County rose 22 cases for a cumulative total of 355 since the start of the pandemic.

Prince Edward County experienced 80 new cases of COVID-19 in the last week for a total of 1,145.

Buckingham County skyrocketed 152 cases in one week for a cumulative total of 1,428.

Cumberland County, which experienced only one new case between Dec. 21 and Dec. 28, jumped 21 new cases this week for a total of 208.

Charlotte County saw a large increase in its cases this past week, rising 43 cases for a total of 400 since the start of the global health crisis.

Despite large case spikes seen locally, Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said Monday, Jan. 4, the majority of the district’s numbers could not be attributed to local prisons or congregate living facilities but rather community spread.

Nash said this was true even for Buckingham County, which in the past has seen huge number surges as a result of coronavirus outbreaks at the local detention centers.

Although the Virginia Department of Corrections was reporting 177 positive inmates and 16 positive staff out of Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC) on Monday and three staff cases out of Dillwyn Correctional Center (DCC), Nash said none of the 152 cases reported out of Buckingham in the last week were coming from the prison system.

Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC) was reporting 40 active inmate cases with one inmate hospitalized and one staff case Monday.

These numbers appear to be almost entirely composed of incidences of community spread rather than familial outbreaks.

“Actually, what we’re seeing is rare family spread,” he said.

On Monday, Nash said the district was beginning to see the start of a dramatic case increase expected following the Christmas holiday. But while residents may have expected the holiday surge to come from a slew of family gatherings and holiday parties, Nash said only 2% to 4% of cases seen from Dec. 25 to Jan. 4 were incidences of familial spread.

Nash said community spread cases usually entail random encounters, be it passing by someone in the grocery store to standing in line at the post office.

Last week Nash predicted the state would likely continue to see record numbers of coronavirus cases each week following New Year’s.

So far, that’s been the case. On New Year’s Eve Virginia saw a new record of reported coronavirus cases in a single day at 5,236.

Saturday, Jan. 2, the commonwealth reached a new highest seven-day moving average of 4,168 cases.

But some health officials, including Nash, believe this trend could get far worse in the coming weeks.

“We are now in the beginning of the post-Christmas surge,” he said. “And with staggering numbers of over 5,000 cases a day in Virginia, I think it’s not unrealistic of us to expect 10,000 cases a day within the next two-to-three weeks. I think our staggering numbers right now are probably going to be doubled.”

Nash also addressed a new, mutated strain of the coronavirus known as B.1.1.7. that recently began to be identified across 33 countries and three U.S. states.

“We’re losing our commitment to mask wearing and social distancing, and now, quite frankly, there’s the rumor of the more contagious mutation strain out there,” Nash warned. “If it’s in three states scattered across the country, it’s everywhere. We just haven’t identified it yet.”

Nash emphasized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is fairly confident the current COVID-19 vaccines will work against this new strain, which he estimates could be two to three times more contagious than the original coronavirus.

Rumors spread over the weekend that both the VCU Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill and the Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville had begun “full diversion” from their emergency departments, with some speculating the hospitals were near full bed capacity and sending patients elsewhere.

VCU officials said Monday that while the hospital had been on full and partial diversion over the last several weeks, diversion would not mean the hospital would completely stop accepting new patients in an emergency.

“We have been on diversion, sometimes full and sometimes partial, at different times in the past few weeks, typically because of census numbers (number of total patients in the hospital) and staffing,” Ken Kurz, director of marketing and development at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, said Monday, Jan. 4. “Being on diversion is a somewhat frequent occurrence at hospitals across the country related to census and staffing, especially during the winter months. Common reasons for a partial diversion are pieces of equipment, like a CT or MRI, being out of service for a repair or scheduled maintenance.”

On Monday, Centra Southside Community Hospital CEO Tom Angelo said there was no validity to statements that the hospital was on full diversion, and while Southside does sometimes have to go on full diversion, it is rare.

“Southside currently has bed capacity on all of our units, and we are not in diversion,” he said.

He added the emergency department at Southside is always open for business regardless of how full the hospital is.

“If an ED (emergency department) patient needed to be admitted, we would either transfer them to a hospital that had capacity or hold them until a bed (became) available.”