After 10 days without a new virus-related fatality, four deaths were reported in the Rappahannock Area Health District on Tuesday.
The sudden increase doesn’t mean all the deaths happened in recent days; rather, they’ve just been added to the Virginia Department of Health website. A note at the top of the summary page, which showed an unusually high increase of 96 deaths for one day, had this explanation:
“Regarding the death data for Tuesday, Sept. 15, there is an existing data backlog. VDH is working diligently to identify COVID-19 related deaths using vital record death certificate information.”
The new fatalities reported in the local health district were two men and two women who were age 80-plus. Three were white, and one was Black. Two were from Spotsylvania County, one lived in Stafford County, and the other was from Fredericksburg.
With the increase, 69 people in the local health district, which also includes Caroline and King George counties, have died from the virus since March. Spotsylvania has recorded the most fatalities with 41, followed by Stafford with 14, Caroline and Fredericksburg with five apiece and King George with four.
It isn’t unusual for there to be a lag between the time a death occurs and when it gets reported to the state website, according to public health officials, who said they have to certify that the death meets the definition for a COVID-19-associated mortality.
Doctors aren’t obligated to report the death to the local health district if they’ve already reported the infectious case, said Allison Balmes–John, district spokesperson. Data from the death certificate serves as “the backup for accurate counts,” but because of limited staff, the state only reconciles the different databases “on a period rather than continual basis,” she said, “which results in these occasional jumps.”
While the health district did note a spike in fatalities on Tuesday’s report, it also continues to have few deaths related to the virus. Less than 1.5 percent of those with confirmed cases have died, according to state data. And, two of the deaths on Tuesday’s report occurred in August, Balmes–John said.
A similar situation happened earlier this month in Fauquier County, when 12 deaths were reported in a matter of days from an outbreak at the Brookside Rehab and Nursing Center in Warrenton. But that’s not the time frame in which they occurred.
The deaths happened over the course of a couple of weeks, said Dr. Wade Kartchner, health director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District.
The Brookside outbreak reached 85 cases as of Tuesday, while cases also increased at three local facilities. Woodmont Healthcare Center in Stafford had 25 cases; Cardinal Village in Spotsylvania had 34 cases; and Fredericksburg Health and Rehab, also in Spotsylvania, had 38 cases, according to the state.
All three local facilities have had at least one virus-related death, according to the state. But when there are fewer than five deaths, the exact total isn’t reported on the state site.
Outbreaks at nursing homes and assisted living facilities have resulted in large numbers of cases, and deaths, and are among “the many factors that can influence the spread and case counts of COVID-19 in each locality,” said Balmes–John.
But they’re not the only place where outbreaks happen. They also occur at work, and public health officials suggest that the same strategies to prevent the spread of disease are effective on the job site: frequent hand-washing, wearing masks, social distancing and staying home when experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
“I’ve been reminding people that most people should not have anyone at work who meets the definition of a close contact [within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more],” Balmes–John said. “For most people, the only people meeting the definition of a close contact should be their household members.”
She suggested employers work to prevent outbreaks by marking off 6 feet of distance from a person’s work station so that others know how close they can sit or stand and reinforcing the requirement to wear a mask around others at work.
Two other factors that have a large influence on case numbers are crowds and travel patterns. In the spring, case numbers soared in Stafford, presumably because so many people were commuting north for work, and Northern Virginia was a hot spot at the time.
Then in the summer, the local health district saw many cases associated with vacations, Balmes–John said.
If there’s to be a spike from Labor Day activities, it will be reflected in case numbers in coming weeks.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
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