A month after announcing its intent to partner with a handful of other states to purchase 500,000 rapid response tests, Maryland placed its first order of 250,000 tests while Virginia continues to finalize its plans.

Daniel Carey, secretary of health and human resources, said on Tuesday that Virginia is still finalizing its order and determining where the tests will be most useful. The plan, he said, is to prioritize providing tests to areas that require intensive, regular testing such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Virginia’s testing regime continues to progress as the Virginia Department of Health is averaging 12,394 COVID-19 detection tests a day over a seven-day average. That figure is lower than the peak in late July of more than 17,600 tests a day but marks a continued trend of hitting the early-established benchmark of at least 10,000 tests a day.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he would like to see Virginia’s positivity rate — the percentage of tests conducted that return positive — to drop to the 5% and 6% levels of its neighbors rather than the 7.1% it is hovering around but said that Virginians are doing a good job modifying their behavior to quell the spread of the virus.

Effect on electionsAs the virus continues to disrupt daily life, Northam mentioned the monumental effect it is having on the upcoming elections.

“We all know this will be an unprecedented election,” Northam said. “The combination of a presidential election year and pandemic is something none of us have ever experienced.”

To prepare for a safe election day, Virginia, along with the rest of the country, is gearing up for a surge in mail-in ballots. Northam said the Department of Elections has already requested more than 790,000 requests for absentee mail-in ballots.

Virginia is in a better place than many other states, Northam said, when it comes to counting mail-in ballots. Unlike other states, Virginia code allows registrars to count mail-in votes as they come into the office rather than waiting until election night. For that reason, he said, Virginia will likely know the results of how the commonwealth voted before other states — though he warned that everyone should be prepared to wait a couple of days rather than a couple of hours after election night to have a firm idea of who the country elects to be president.

The VDH reported 943 new cases, 44 new hospitalizations and 96 new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 135,514 cases, 10,337 hospitalizations and 2,839 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Total figures include 6,255 probable cases, 70 probable hospitalizations and 2,839 probable deaths.

The 96 new deaths on Tuesday was the largest number of new deaths reported in the commonwealth since the beginning of the pandemic but Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, said that a backlog of data caused the spike. Officials at the VDH recently received a large batch of death certificates, which caused a spike in deaths by date reported but not in deaths by date the death was recorded.

The Lord Fairfax Health District reported 15 new cases, no new hospitalizations and five new deaths on Tuesday, bringing its total to 2,954 cases, 261 hospitalizations and 104 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Total figures include 321 probable cases, one probable hospitalization and eight probable deaths.

The health district has reported 15 new cases twice in the last four days, the largest number of new cases since Aug. 25 when the district reported 18 new cases. The health district’s average new cases have been falling since they peaked in early June. The district is averaging 10 new cases a day over the last seven days and 4.3 new cases per day per 100,000 people.

Tuesday’s report of five new deaths marked the second-largest leap in new deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The district reported six new deaths on May 23 and five new deaths earlier in the month on May 13.

Local cases

Frederick County has had 821 cases, 62 hospitalizations and 11 deaths.

Shenandoah County has had 791 cases, 87 hospitalizations and 55 deaths.

Winchester City has had 471 cases, 35 hospitalizations and four deaths.

Warren County has had 407 cases, 23 hospitalizations and six deaths.

Page County has had 376 cases, 42 hospitalizations and 28 deaths.

Clarke County has had 88 cases, 12 hospitalizations and no deaths.

Regional casesHarrisonburg has had 2,269 cases, 89 hospitalizations and 34 deaths.

Rockingham County has had 1,294 cases, 111 hospitalizations and 20 deaths.

Schools/ universitiesJames Madison University reported it now has 357 active COVID-19 cases and 1,001 recovered cases since July 1.

On Monday the University Health Center conducted 88 COVID-19 detection tests and returned positive results on 13 tests. Tests are taking between two and three days to return results. The health center has tested 2,280 students, faculty and staff and returned 581 positive tests — giving the health center’s tests a positivity rate of 25.66%.

In addition to the positive tests from the health center, JMU has had 777 students, faculty and staff self-report positive COVID-19 test results to the university.

The university now has 54 beds available for students to isolate or quarantine on campus.

– Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com