Halifax County on Wednesday reached a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic: 100 local lives loss to COVID-19.
The official tally was revealed in a Wednesday morning update by the Virginia Department of Health. In reality, the county likely topped that number weeks ago. Health department officials must wait for the official death certificate before declaring a fatality was caused by COVID-19. In addition, sometimes there’s an investigation to get more details from a health provider or family member. That process can take weeks to complete.
“100 COVID-19 deaths is heartbreaking,” Brian Zwoyer, president of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, told The Gazette. “This disease has, and continues to, impact almost every facet of our lives. Our condolences go out to every family who has lost a loved one to this terrible malady.”
Very little is known to the public when someone dies of COVID-19. Since Halifax County is included in the Southside Health District along with Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, demographic details are not always clear. For example, the district recorded three new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, so it’s not possible to know the age and gender of the latest Halifax fatality.
However, the three new deaths across the district Wednesday were all men ranging in ages from their 40s to 60s.
“One hundred deaths is a milestone none of us wants to reach,” Dr. Scott Spillmann, director of the Southside Health District, told The Gazette on Wednesday morning. “This statistic, and others like it, literally causes me grief and emotional pain; my heart goes out to all those who have died, as well as their families and communities.”
So far, 3,765 cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus have been recorded in Halifax County. The area is averaging about 15 cases a day, slightly down from last week but still higher than August. The seven-day infection average compares to a period in mid-February.
There were 28 new cases added Thursday, a day after the 100-death mark was reached.
“It is a grim reminder of the seriousness of this illness and its potential grave consequences, especially for those who have not become fully vaccinated and for those not taking all available precautions (e.g, the 3 Ws — wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance),” Spillmann said.
Halifax County recorded the first COVID-19 death on June 3, 2020. The majority were added to the logs from November through March.
There were no deaths recorded in a period from late May through early August. That’s when vaccines were in the upswing and cases began to dramatically decline.
Then the delta variant emerged and threw the pandemic back to high-gear.
“Vaccination is the light to help us on our path out of these dark woods together; without it we simply are feeling our way individually,” Spillmann told The Gazette.
Halifax County lags the state in shots administered. About 55% of the county’s adult population in considered fully vaccinated. About 61% of people have received at least one dose.
Across Virginia, 81% of residents 18 and older have had at least one shot and 68% are fully vaccinated.
“We will reach community/herd immunity, one way or the other — the questions are how and when,” Spillmann said. “Vaccination is quicker, with more certainty and less pain and suffering.”
While it’s possible to still contract COVID-19 if fully vaccinated, the impacts are far less severe. Experts, including the ones at the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, report the shots of protection perform as intended to prevent severe illness that causes hospitalizations and deaths.
“I urge all to take this milestone as a call to action — please become vaccinated as soon as possible,” Spillmann said.
As of Thursday, Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital was treating 14 people for COVID-19, representing 29% of all inpatients.
“Unlike other parts of the state, we are continuing to see consistent volumes of COVID-19 admissions. We encourage everyone in our community to get their vaccination,” Zwoyer said. “As the numbers of vaccinated people go up, the number of critical admissions will go down and the sooner we all can get a reprieve from the virus.”
Halifax County — along with 89% of the United States — remains in the highest risk category for COVID-19 spread as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With this designation, and even on a step below it, the federal agency recommends all residents wear face masks in indoor public settings. However, with the exception of schools, there’s no state or local mandate to enforce masking.
The county’s positivity rate has nudged upward in recent days to 16.62%, according to the CDC. That figure calculates the number of positive results against all COVID-19 tests administrated to give health officials a local gauge of the pandemic. The CDC views any positivity rate above 5% to indicate the virus is spreading uncontrolled.
Also, fewer people are being tested for COVID-19. CDC data show 35% fewer people were tested compared to the previous seven days.