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Virginia man with COVID-19 died of respiratory failure, health officials say

'Our hearts go out to his loved ones,' officials said.
Posted: 6:57 PM, Mar 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-21 19:30:54-04
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FAIRFAX COUNTY Va. -- A third person in Virginia has died as a result of COVID-19, officials with the Fairfax County Health Department said Saturday evening.

"The patient was a male in his 60s who acquired COVID-19 through contact with a previously reported case," health department officials said. "The cause of death was respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19."

Twenty-two people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Fairfax County as of Saturday, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

"Our hearts go out to his loved ones,” Fairfax County Health Department Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “We ask that everyone do their part to slow the spread of the virus in our community: practice social distancing, wash your hands, and cover coughs and sneezes.”

The news comes exactly one week after Virginia saw its first COVID-19-related death.

That hospitalized victim was a man in his 70s who also died of respiratory failure as a result of the virus, officials said.

"The patient acquired COVID-19 through an unknown source," VDH officials said last week.

Then on Monday health officials announced another man in his 70s, who was also hospitalized and contracted the virus via an "unknown source," died of respiratory failure in the Peninsula Health District.

"Those who have been in close contact with people who have COVID-19 are at the greatest risk of exposure," Peninsula Health District officials previously said. "People with suspected or confirmed exposure should reach out to their healthcare provider to be evaluated."

As of Saturday, health officials said 20 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in James City County, which is one of the clusters state health officials are investigating in Virginia.

"Our hearts go out to his loved ones,” Fairfax County Health Department Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “We ask that everyone do their part to slow the spread of the virus in our community: practice social distancing, wash your hands, and cover coughs and sneezes.”

Addo-Ayensu said the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause "mild to more severe" respiratory illness.

"Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing," health department officials said. "Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If symptoms develop, please contact your health care provider and describe the situation."

COVID-19 cases top 152 as Virginia revises testing criteria

Virginia health officials said Saturday that 152 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 25 people remain hospitalized with the illness in the Commonwealth.

"There are 25 [cases] in the Central Region, 42 in the Eastern Region, 77 in the Northern Region, six in the Northwestern Region and two in the Southwest Region of Virginia," VDH Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said.

Officials said 2,790 people have been tested, which is an increase of 465 people tested for coronavirus in Virginia since Friday's update.

Forlano said Virginia has revised its COVID-19 testing requirements as "the situation has evolved."

"We're prioritizing healthcare workers and those responders who have had contact or cared for COVID-19 patients," Forlano said. "We want to make sure that they are protected, so we can ensure the continuity of care."

There is also a "priority" for healthcare facility outbreaks, Forlano said.

"The testing criteria for hospitalized individuals with more severe illness remain largely the same," Forlano said. "And the testing criteria for persons who are residing in nursing homes have been slightly relaxed to remove one testing component that previously existed -- and we hope that will relieve a barrier for testing for those individuals."

Additionally, Forlano said the state is focused on testing "clusters of respiratory illness" where the flu has been ruled as a cause of sickness.

Health officials are reporting "distinct clusters" of coronavirus cases in parts of the state.

"We have at this point distinct clusters and a few geographic areas in the state," Dr. Lilian Peake, a VDH epidemiologist, said. "And so we are at a level where we're seeing local transmission in Virginia."

Those clusters include 20 cases in James City County, 14 in Prince William County, 22 in Arlington County and 22 in Fairfax County.

"We do not have a medicine for COVID-19. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Friday "The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing., so we need to all do that."

State lab has 'adequate supplies'

Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services Director Dr. Denise Toney said Saturday the state lab has supplies to perform tests for more than 1,000 people.

"We are continuing to receive additional supplies that increase our capacity," Toney said. "And we have also changed the number of specimens that we are testing per patient, which also has supported our ability to maintain more tests per patient."

Additionally, Toney said hospitals and private labs in Virginia are also performing tests, so that "increases our number and the availability of tests for the citizens of the Commonwealth -- if they meet the criteria."

Toney said Friday that the state lab was adequately staffed and has been training new workers since the outbreak began.

"So at the present time, I do not feel that staffing or laboratory personnel is a rate-limiting factor for our ability to respond to the testing that's approved by the Virginia Department of Health for us to provide support for," Toney said.

However, Toney acknowledged that lab supplies, like the collection swabs used to collect specimens, may be in short supply in the weeks to come.

"I think Virginia has been very proactive in getting our orders placed as timely and as quickly as we can so that we have been able to maintain the capacity we need to respond to all the testing requests that have been approved by the Virginia Department of Health," Toney said.

Toney said the state lab has "adequate supplies" for testing at present.

"What I can't say is in a couple of days that we might also have, again be in a position where we are finding ourselves having difficulties and providing or getting reagents it is changing daily," Toney said. "And as these supplies are being distributed across the nation, it can change."

COVID-19 Safety Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.