The exponential growth of positive COVID-19 cases is still expected in Virginia but the mushrooming numbers the Virginia Department of Health continues to report have some underlying positive trends.
Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, said on Tuesday that Virginia is well past the period where isolating specific cases can stem the tide of transmitting COVID-19 but fast-paced growth will turn into more predictable increases with time.
On Tuesday the VDH shared information gathered by 5 p.m. Monday that includes the first cases in Page and Clark counties. As of Monday evening, every area within the Lord Fairfax Health District has at least one confirmed case of COVID-19, bringing the total to 27.
Statewide as of Tuesday afternoon, there have been 13,401 returned tests, 1,250 positive cases, 165 hospitalizations and 27 deaths. Within the district, Frederick County has the most positive cases with 12, followed by Shenandoah, 7; Warren, 3; Winchester City, 3; Page, 1 and Clark, 1.
Greene said that as of Tuesday afternoon there have been no COVID-19 related deaths within the district.
Social distancing has slowed the spread of a virus that has killed more than 3,000 people in the United States and remains the only sure-fire way to keep that count from soaring any higher.
While the virus can survive on surfaces for days, Greene said the greatest risk of exposure comes from interacting with other people. The virus, he said, cannot reproduce on its own because it requires animal or human cells to reproduce — cells found in respiratory tissue to be precise.
“If it doesn’t have another human being to infect, it will die out,” Greene said. “It will only get to another human being from someone who has got it … This is why you cover coughs and sneezes.”
In a perfect world, Greene said everyone would stay at home for two to three weeks and the virus would be stopped cold. Without person-to-person interaction, the virus would have no opportunity to reproduce and most of the people who are infected would recover.
But the world is not perfect and there are still some interactions that have to take place.
To protect some of the most vulnerable people still venturing out, the health district, at the request of several local governments, rolled out a program Tuesday that will provide information about people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 911 dispatchers. Greene said this information is not public and will only be dispensed to people responding to emergency calls so they can keep themselves safe.
First responders will be better prepared to enter a situation with someone known to have tested positive for COVID-19 but even that information is not always enough, Greene said. For every person who has tested positive, there could be as many as five or 10 others who have the virus but have not been tested. It is the symptoms people show that will have the greatest effect on how first responders interact in various situations.
Testing was the primary issue for the United States early on in the COVID-19 crisis as it rejected tests that had been approved by the World Health Organization and opted to create its own. The testing regime has improved since then but is still not optimal.
The state lab in Richmond is capable of going from conducting a test to reporting a positive or negative result within 24 hours on a good day, Greene said. Private labs are slower, averaging between three and 11 days, but even that pace is impressive, Greene said.
He added that people need to understand how hard it is to set up a high tech industry.
“The fact that people are coming up with these things in two weeks is amazing,” he said.
Innovation by private companies creating and producing tests as well as industrial manufacturers going to work on providing ventilators is one positive sign underlying a bleak landscape. Another is the comparatively low death ratio of Virginia and U.S. COVID-19 patients.
Compared to all the other major European countries, only Germany has a lower confirmed case fatality rate (1%) than the United States (1.94%) according to the RealClear Politics Coronavirus tracker.
Greene warned that the reasons underlying America’s low fatality rate could be attributed to several factors but overall it appears the country has responded well to the crisis.
Worldwide, COVID-19 numbers are updated constantly and it is still too soon to believe the crisis is over, Greene said. But, he said, it is important to remember that things will be OK.
“It is going to be OK eventually,” he said. “Eventually, this outbreak will end and we will return to some semblance of normal. It’s just a matter of how soon and how many people get sick and how many people die from the sickness.”