RICHMOND — Southwest Virginia residents will be the target of a state campaign calling for smaller holiday gatherings and more mask wearing as the far region saw a climb in daily COVID-19 case numbers in Tuesday’s state health data.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday said he had no plans to reimpose lockdown measures on the southwestern part of the state despite increases in daily case numbers and rising percentages of positive COVID-19 test results in the region.
In the past seven days of Virginia Department of Health data reports, the LENOWISCO Health District — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and the city of Norton — has seen 315 new COVID-19 cases compared to 82 in the same period in October and 66 cases Sept 4-10. The Nov. 4-10 period also includes a one-day record for new cases in the LENOWISCO district: 100 cases.
While Virginia is seeing a rise in cases and the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests, Northam said the increase has been relatively small statewide with a 6.2% testing positivity rate for PCR swab tests, the most accurate type of COVID-19 test. The entire southwest region had a test positivity rate around 9%, he said, and Ballad Health has expressed concerns about increased hospitalizations.
The western most LENOWISCO district posted a testing positivity rate of 13%.
Asked if he planned to reimpose lockdown measures in the southwest as he did in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in the summer, Northam said that VDH is starting a “communication campaign” to ask southwest residents to follow VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health and safety measures, including wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings. Part of that campaign includes asking residents to be aware that the novel coronavirus is transmittable by air when they plan any holiday gatherings.
“Take precautions around anyone who doesn’t live in your house, even family,” Northam said.
Northam recommended that anyone considering holiday gatherings look at staying outdoors if possible while wearing masks and washing hands. He said a statewide mask mandate for businesses and public spaces is still in effect, adding that enforcement actions were taken against four restaurants in the Richmond area recently. Violations of the mask mandate and state pandemic emergency orders are subject to civil penalties and fines.
VDH (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,435 new cases and 13 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 194,912 cases and 3,726 deaths.
The LENOWISCO Health District saw 31 cases for totals of 2,169 and 31 deaths during the pandemic. Scott County saw 12 cases for totals of 535 and 9 deaths. Lee County had 11 cases for 685 and 11 deaths.
Wise County added eight cases for 887 and 11 deaths Norton remained at 62 cases and no deaths.
The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Tuesday’s VDH report was 3,045,116 of 8.63 million residents, or 35.29%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,820,659 people have been tested to date, or 32.68%. In the LENOWISCO district, 21,060 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 24.35%.
testing rates by locality
• Lee County, 6,603 of 23,423, or 28.19%.
• Norton, 2,039 of 3,981, or 51.22%.
• Wise County, 7,851 of 37,383, or 21%.
• Scott County, 4,567 of 21,566, or 21.18%.
Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 webpage (https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news-press-releases/2020/covid-19-updates/).
Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and three active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and dropped one case to one active staff case.
The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report dropped from 13.9% to 13%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 6.1% to 6.2%.
According to Tuesday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, cases in the far southwest region of Virginia were ranked as rising after a 50-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 30-day increase in that measure.
All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Wise County and Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Lee and Scott county schools were ranked lowest-risk.
Where to be tested
Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.
The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment.
Contact numbers for the county offices are:
• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.
• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.
• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.
Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.
The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.
In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.