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Local virus cases up among 20-somethings; outbreaks reported at Caroline school and Stafford care facility

Local virus cases up among 20-somethings; outbreaks reported at Caroline school and Stafford care facility

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Friday’s report from the Rappahannock Area Health District showed an even bigger daily increase in COVID-19 cases than the day before, as another school has been impacted, more young people are testing positive and another long-term care facility is dealing with an outbreak.

The report showed 88 new cases—the third highest total since the pandemic began—but part of the spike may be because of a data backlog, according to the Virginia Department of Health website. The cases should have been reported Wednesday and Thursday, the site stated.

But no matter which day they made the tally, the delay “does not minimize the generally high case counts we have been seeing” for the past three weeks, said Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the local health district.

The increase is especially notable when compared to several days in early July, when new case totals were in the teens and 20s.

It’s not just cases that are climbing. Hospitalizations and the area’s positivity rate—the percentage of positive tests among the total tests taken—also are on the rise, said Dr. Denise Bonds, acting director of the local health district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

The increases indicate “a true spread of the virus and not simply an increase in people seeking testing,” she said.

Caroline County Public Schools notified parents Thursday night that three staff members at Caroline High School tested positive for the virus this week. The school system worked with local health-district officials to identify co-workers who’d been in close contact with those infected. They were told to quarantine, whether they showed symptoms or not, according to the letter, which was dated Friday.

The locations within the high school where those who tested positive spent significant time were deep cleaned several times throughout the week.

As the school year begins, Caroline schools plan to post safety signs throughout its buildings; put plexiglass barriers in the offices; conduct wellness checks for students and staff; follow protocols for mask-wearing and social distancing; and clean facilities regularly.

Caroline High School is the second school in the Fredericksburg area to report cases of COVID-19 this week. On Monday, Stafford County employees received a letter from the principal of Shirley Heim Middle School about staff members there testing positive. The school system would not specify how many cases were involved.

There also has been an outbreak involving three staff members at a Fauquier County elementary school in Warrenton, according to the Rappahannock–Rapidan Health District.

In addition, health district officials have been working with another long-term care facility in the Fredericksburg area—Harmony at Falls Run in Stafford—about an outbreak. The situation hasn’t been reported on the state website, so it’s not clear how many cases are involved.

While facilities for the elderly work to contain spread in their buildings, more people on the opposite end of the age spectrum—those in their 20s—are testing positive, Balmes–John said. Younger people typically don’t get as sick as their older counterparts, but that’s not always the case, said Dr. Christopher Newman, medical director at Mary Washington Healthcare.

“If 100 get infected, one or two could have a very serious outcome,” he said. “Young people are not immune to the risk of serious outcome, and there’s a high risk of them spreading the disease to someone else.”

As public health officials interview those who’ve tested positive—to assess who they’ve been in contact with—they’re hearing similar scenarios. They were exposed at Fourth of July gatherings, while on vacations, at restaurants, “even things like kids’ birthday parties,” Balmes–John said.

Contact tracers haven’t asked specifically if those infected attended protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement or to back law enforcement officers, she said. Instead, they ask those with confirmed cases when they were close to other people, and attendance at such events hasn’t been mentioned, Balmes–John said.

Public health officials also are concerned about disease spread at workplaces, particularly among service-industry workers who don’t have the option of teleworking. COVID-19 already makes containment challenging because as many as 4 of every 10 people who get it won’t have any symptoms, although they are contagious to others. Those who do end up getting sick can spread the illness two days before symptoms appear.

In addition, people are reporting they’ve gone to work when they’re sick, Balmes–John said. “That’s concerning.”

Making things even more difficult is that, as the pandemic continues, people have reported symptoms beyond sore throats, fevers and coughs. Some have complained of being achy; others have headaches, dizziness and nausea; older people especially report a general sense of not feeling well.

That’s why public health officials ask those who don’t feel well to stay home. If they absolutely must work, Balmes–John stressed the need for masks, social distancing, washing hands regularly and using hand sanitizer.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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