Halifax County’s COVID-19 death toll has risen to 10 at a time when cases throughout the state continue to rage.
The two new fatalities were reported on Wednesday and Thursday by the Virginia Department of Health.
It’s never clear when a COVID-19 death occurred. Health officials must wait to receive a death certificate before entering the information into an online database. That process could take weeks.
Also, little information is publicly known when a person dies from COVID-19. The health department doesn’t comment on individual deaths, and the only information available is in the form of basic demographics at the district level. Since Halifax County is included in the Southside Health District — along with Brunswick and Mecklenburg counties — that information reflects all three areas.
What is known is that 51 residents in the Southside Health District have died from COVID-19 so far. The majority — 27 — were men. The 70-79 age group has the most deaths at 18, followed by those over 80 at 17.
Halifax County recorded the only teenage death from COVID-19 in the state when Justyce Reid, a 2020 Halifax County High School graduate, died Sept. 4 from COVID-19 at the age of 18.
Cases and outbreaks
As of Thursday morning, Halifax County had amassed 654 cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus. In the last week, 77 cases were added.
It’s not clear if some of the positive tests from outbreaks at two South Boston long-term care facilities are included in Thursday’s total.
South Boston Health and Rehab — the facility formerly known as Woodview — reported its outbreak on Oct. 23, according to online data. Earlier this week, there were 145 cases of the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to Brookie Crawford, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health.
At Berry Hill Health and Rehab Center, there were eight cases linked to an outbreak reported there Nov. 4.
Health department officials would not comment on new numbers, instead referred The Gazette to the Virginia Long-Term Care Task Force. That’s a state group tasked with tracking outbreaks at nursing homes. However, online data as of Thursday morning only showed 41 cases at the former Woodview and eight at Berry Hill, illustrating a lag in updates to that database.
COVID-19 infections are accelerating across the state, as Gov. Ralph Northam warned in a Tuesday afternoon address to the commonwealth.
In addition, hospitalizations are increasing throughout the state.
“This is very concerning,” Northam said, noting that the temptation is high for gatherings especially as the holidays approach.
Especially concerning are areas in Southwest Virginia where cases are rising due to community spread, and there are fewer hospitals available to house patients.
Joni Henderson, a spokesperson for Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, confirmed Thursday that the local facility does have adequate bed space.
“Thankfully we are continuing to care for our community as we navigate COVID-19,” she wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Our volumes change daily, and we are able to care for our community while following necessary protocols to keep patients and staff safe.”
Even with the higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, testing has declined for the Southside Health District. The latest figures on Thursday show about 165 daily tests throughout the district. That’s down from mid-September when the average was about 390 tests per day.
The percent of positive test results in the three-county area has been on the rise since mid-October. The latest rate — 7.3% — is higher that the state’s average of 6.5%. The commonwealth’s figure also has been nudging up recently. The rate calculates the number of positive results against the number of overall tests administrated. Health officials report an increase shows the virus is spreading in a community.
Halifax is experiencing “significant community spread,” McKenna Luzynski, an epidemiologist with the Southside Health District, told The Gazette earlier this week.