The director of the Southside Health District attributes many factors to the increasing caseload of COVID-19 across Southern Virginia, including vacations to Myrtle Beach.

Halifax County recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 — the highest single-day jump yet — in Saturday’s data update from the Virginia Department of Health.

Since Thursday, the county added eight reports of the severe respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Sunday’s total was 49; no new reports were added in Sunday’s data update.

On Friday, a representative with Sheetz said one of their employees has tested positive for COVID-19 and that they would not be closing the gas station. It is unclear if that case is reflected in Sunday’s numbers.

Nick Ruffner, the public relations manager for Sheetz made a statement in regards to the positive case of the coronavirus at their South Boston location on Philpott Road.

“Sheetz was informed this morning that an employee at our store on Philpott Road in South Boston, VA, has tested positive for COVID-19. Our top priority is the health and wellness of customers and employees. The employee has not worked at this store location since June 19, 2020, and according to our on-going protocols, this store has been conducting daily cleaning, sanitization and disinfecting. Therefore, we will not be closing at this time. We will continue to put the health and well being of our customers and employees first as this unprecedented health crisis continues,” Ruffner said in Friday’s release.

Statistically speaking, a dozen of the cases in Halifax County are considered active. Health officials have used a two-week period from when a case was diagnosed to classify someone still active. Two weeks ago, there were 37 cases.

Neighboring areas of Danville and Pittsylvania County also experienced jumps. In that health district, 20 new cases were added since Thursday, according to the health department.

Henry County has overtaken Mecklenburg as the Southside locality with the most cases. On Sunday morning, Henry County had 249 cases, compared to 240 in Mecklenburg.

“There are all kinds of reasons” for the increase in cases, Dr. Scott Spillmann told The Gazette in a phone interview.

In addition to direct contact with someone locally who has the virus, he’s noticed “a number of cases who have traveled for recreation and vacation to the Myrtle Beach area,” Spillmann, who also oversees the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said Saturday.

Another explanation are residents working outside of the region.

“For instance, ... some people who have volunteered near Washington, D.C.” have become infected, according to Spillmann. Those cases are added to the local tally since they reside in Southside.

He’s also noticing more positive cases for people who are either asymptomatic — they never show signs of the virus — or pre-symptomatic, meaning they have the virus, but symptoms won’t show up for several days. In both cases, residents can unknowingly spread the disease.

“I have noticed the great percentage of people are not wearing masks,” Spillmann said of public observations in both districts.

Since May 29, Virginia has required residents to wear face coverings in all indoor public settings. Other states — including North Carolina — have joined that movement as positive cases rise across parts of the nation.

In addition to not wearing face coverings — or improperly wearing below the nose or mouth — most people appear not to be keeping a social distance of at least 6 feet. The health director also has noticed a decrease in hand sanitizer use.

Demographically speaking, the fastest growing trend is people in the 18-39 age group testing positive.

Overall in Virginia, there are 61,735 people infected with the coronavirus, according to Sunday’s data from the Virginia Department of Health. That marks an increase of 489 from Saturday’s tally. Those numbers include probable cases, meaning a person is showing signs of the illness and had contact with someone who’s tested positive. 

There are no probable cases listed for the Southside Health District that includes Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. The district’s total of 391 cases are all confirmed.

On Sunday, the state reported 1,732 deaths associated with COVID-19.

“As we get back together, in school, athletics and socially ... there’s a good chance that there will be more people to spread back and forth” to contribute to the spread. “That doesn’t mean those actives are wrong, it just means there are risks with that.”

Spillmann referenced this week’s Fourth of July holiday as a way to balance social interaction with safety. For people who want to get together “put your chairs further apart and wear masks,” he said.

And here’s another tip: If you are around a lot of people, consider washing your face in addition to your hands.

Spillmann said there’s just no substitute for preventative measures like wearing a facemask in public, paying attention to hygiene and social distancing.

“If enough people do not do them, then viruses will spread more easily and the cases will rise,” he said.

For those with health issues — diabetes, lung problems and high blood pressure — Spillmann stressed the need for residents to talk to their doctors about their increased risk living in a COVID-19 world.

“Try to make sure you are taking as good of care of yourself as you can,” he said.

There will be ups and downs with the caseloads continuing well into the fall, he said.

When the commonwealth — and Southside Virginia — buckled down in late March when the coronavirus was sounding alarms, it was those social distancing and hygiene actions that “got us over the first hump” and turned overall numbers around.

“Don’t give up,” he said. “Keep taking care of yourself and taking care of others.”

Spillmann’s hope is that perhaps the pandemic will lead to residents working together to create a stronger community.

“Maybe this will ultimately help us overcome things that have divided us before.”