The state of Virginia eclipsed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths Sunday, exactly one year after the first virus fatality was added to the record books.

Halifax County has added six new virus deaths over the last week for a tally of 72 lives lost to the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Those deaths likely happened weeks earlier because of a process the health department uses to verify virus fatalities with a death certificate.

“Sunday marks one year since we first learned that a Virginian had died from COVID-19 in our commonwealth,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a Friday news release.

Starting Sunday, the Executive Mansion in Richmond will be illuminated with an amber light for a week to pay tribute to the thousands of Virginians lost to COVID-19.

The governor invites people across the commonwealth to join in commemorating the lives lost by lighting their homes and businesses amber.

“And while we cannot bring them back, we can honor their memories — and prevent more grief and loss — by working together to keep each other safe,” Northam said.

Cases

While generally falling across the state, the seven-day average caseload nudged up slightly in Halifax County to 10. That’s higher than the rate in early December.

Overall, trends in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Virginia continue to improve, the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute reported Friday. However, weekly new case rates statewide remain above peaks experienced last summer.

“This is a positive time for key COVID-19 measures in Virginia,” researchers wrote in the report.

With another dose of optimism this week, the report also noted it’s possible Virginia case rates could plateau, like what’s happening across the nation.

Variants

The only scenario that indicates a rebounding of cases factors in growing concerns with variants — virus alterations with higher transmission rates.

Specifically, the B.1.1.7 variant is on track to become the predominant strain by the end of the month, UVa reported.

As of Friday, UVa model projects either a drawn-out plateau of the case rate with current control measures or a new peak in cases this summer with residents relaxing behaviors and snags with the rollout of vaccines.

“Our personal and community COVID-19 control practices remain critically important even in light of the positive trends,” researchers wrote Friday. “Just this week CDC published that state-level mask mandates were associated with decreased COVID-19 case and death growth rates, and allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with increases in case and death growth rates.”

Unlike Texas, Virginia’s neighboring states have not lifted mask mandates.

No spring surprises

Spring normally brings an increase of travel and gathering, but UVa warns — especially with the variants — relaxing prevention efforts could send cases back into another peak by summer.

“Even those who have been vaccinated should continue to wear masks and distance while in public, and to avoid travel,” researchers said.

“COVID-19 growth has occurred in the past when controls are loosened and now is not the time to further test this relationship. With the B.1.1.7 variant looming, even in the face of strong vaccination progress, continued mask use and social distancing are as important as ever.”