Halifax County is averaging about a dozen new COVID-19 cases a day, a drop from the post-holiday surge in January but still about the same rate experienced in December.
On Sunday, 19 new infections were added to the county’s record bringing the 11-month total to 2,349.
While caseloads are still high, hospitalizations and deaths are dropping across the state, the University of Virginia reported in a Friday COVID-19 update.
“The most significant obstacle to continued improvement in case counts remains the further emergence of variants,” researchers wrote in the weekly report.
Models used by UVa to forecast the trajectory of the pandemic continue to indicate Virginia has passed the peak of cases. The high point occurred near the end of January, likely because of the post-holiday surge.
While still high — Virginia is seeing about 2,000 new daily cases — researchers are optimistic the worst part of the pandemic is fading into memory.
“The model results are encouraging again this week,” researchers wrote.
The only scenario that shows an increase of cases in the coming months factors the unknowns of new variants. Even if new variants take hold — and Virginians become more relaxed in behaviors — a spring peak may not be as bad as the one that happened in January, Friday’s report showed. That’s a departure from the previous week that predicted an even larger peak with variants.
Locally, UVa models show rates are steady in Halifax County, and projections indicate a decline should occur if variants don’t factor into the equation. In that case, a mix of the quickly spreading virus with residents loosening behaviors could cause cases to rise again, UVa’s model shows.
“Getting a COVID-19 vaccination, in addition to washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing, will help reduce the chance of being exposed to or spreading the virus,” Brookie Crawford, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, told The Gazette on Saturday.
Halifax County has recorded 56 deaths from COVID-19 with the latest reaching the logbooks on Feb. 9. Deaths are often thought of as a lagging indicator of the current state of the pandemic. Adding to that lag is how long it takes from when someone dies of COVID-19 and it officially shows up in the health department’s database.
That’s because the state waits on death certificates to verify that COVID-19 was a cause of death. That process can often take weeks and can then be delayed if health workers build up a backlog.
Such was the case in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District earlier this month when 22 new deaths were added in a single day. That happened after staff members spent a weekend combing through a backlog of death certificates. One of those deaths dated back to April.
Another outbreak at a long-term care facility surfaced over the weekend in the Southside Health District. Since that district spans Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, it’s not clear where the outbreak is located.
A website updated each Friday doesn’t list any current outbreak for Halifax County. However, Chase City Health and Rehab center reported an outbreak Feb. 8. So far, there are 27 cases associated with that outbreak.
An outbreak last year at South Boston Health and Rehab — formerly known as The Woodview — recorded 196 cases. State records list 30 deaths from that outbreak, but federal data has the fatalities at 39.
The discrepancy comes in the way information is reported. Long-term care facilities must submit weekly reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those reports list 39 deaths from COVID-19.
The state does not list a death until it has been verified through a death certificate, meaning a backlog may exist.
Last year’s outbreak at Berry Hill Health & Rehab Center, identified in early November, infected 73 people. That number recently was increased after health officials rectified a mismatch in two databases, Crawford said.
CDC data shows the positivity rate over the last seven days has nudged upward to 20% in Halifax County. This rate measures the positive results against the overall tests administered and is often used as a benchmark to determine community spread.
Any figure above 5% is generally troubling to health officials. When that number goes about 15% there’s a chance cases are being missed, according to UVa.
As the positivity rate remains high, testing has dropped. In the Southside Health District, there’s now an average of 185 COVID-19 tests given per day. That’s down from more than 340 a day in mid-January.
As a state, Virginia compares favorably to other states on key pandemic indicators, UVa reported.
However, to retain this position Virginians should get vaccinated when eligible, continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“With further emergence of variants looming, these prevention practices are as important as ever,” researchers concluded in Friday’s report.