New data analysis from the Virginia Department of Health suggests that Virginia’s previous peak of new COVID-19 cases in May is only a glimpse of how widespread the virus may become.
During the week of May 17, the VDH recorded 7,251 new cases — the highest total for any week since the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, cases began to decline almost without fail until July 12 when the VDH recorded 4,333 new cases in a week, 121 more than the previous week. Now, analysts are saying that Virginia is in the middle of a surge and is on course to peak in September.
The revised model that is updated for the public on Fridays presents a range of scenarios and projections. What effect the newly reenacted restrictions on the Eastern Health Planning Region will have are still unknown.
However, the surge scenarios and current course scenarios modeled this week show little to no difference in new caseloads in the coming weeks. Models do not stretch beyond Sept. 6 but they predict Virginia will record more new weekly cases the week of Aug. 9 than at any other point during the pandemic. The current course predicts a peak of 14,404 new weekly cases the week of Sept. 6.
Modelers predict that new cases will continue to climb in the Lord Fairfax Health District as well over the next month. The district’s surge is predicted to reach 242 new weekly cases at its peak — far short of the 326 new weekly cases it recorded at its worst during the week of May 31.
Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, wrote in an email Friday that it is important for everyone to remember that models are offering predictions of what may happen, not producing hard evidence of what will happen.
“Every model, regardless of topic, is hypothetical, and is only as good as the assumptions that go into its construction,” Greene wrote. “Besides always remembering that models are hypotheses and predictions and not fact, the other key point is that models are only one of many tools with which to plan our COVID response, and case numbers are far from the only data point we should be watching.”
The Lord Fairfax Health District has had 2,456 cases, 214 hospitalizations and 84 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Total figures include 278 probable cases, one probable hospitalization and seven probable deaths.
On Friday, the district reported 10 new cases, one new hospitalization and two new deaths.
Greene pointed to the district’s steady recovery since reopening in terms of case rates. There was one in July and, Greene said, the district should expect to see another one when schools open, but the key is to keep rates low — continue to flatten the curve — rather than expect to see no new cases at all.
Greene said the important thing is for people to continue following the guidelines set out by health officials that will continue to keep the curve flat.
“Actions are far more important than models,” he said.
On Friday, the VDH broke down some of the data it had on the effect poultry plants have had on the state’s COVID-19 statistics. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the VDH has traced 1,216 cases, 48 hospitalizations and 10 deaths back to poultry plants around the state.
Last week, Greene told The Northern Virginia Daily that poultry plants made Shenandoah County a particularly vulnerable region in the district to COVID-19.
Shenandoah County has the only two plants in the district, which consists of five counties and a city. Those two plants account for roughly 140 cases, Greene said.
Some health planning regions have not had any cases traced back to poultry plants — the northern and southwestern regions — while the northwestern region — which includes the Lord Fairfax Health District — and eastern region make up the bulk of cases with 453 and 720 cases respectively. Greene said that the district has more or less controlled the spread of COVID-19 within poultry plants but their effects lead to providing roughly 11% of the region’s poultry plant-related cases.
The eastern region has been struggling with COVID-19 consistently. It joined with northern Virginia to delay its initial transition into Phase One of the governor’s reopening plan and reentered a more restrictive state on Friday because of its surging caseloads that are dragging statewide figures up.
Shenandoah County reported it has had 667 cases, 70 hospitalizations and 42 deaths.
Frederick County reported it has had 651 cases, 49 hospitalizations and seven deaths.
Winchester City reported it has had 391 cases, 29 hospitalizations and four deaths.
Warren County reported it has had 348 cases, 23 hospitalizations and seven deaths.
Page County reported it has had 330 cases, 36 hospitalizations and 24 deaths.
Clarke County reported it has had 69 cases, seven hospitalizations and no deaths.