How health director believes 16 election workers caught COVID-19

Doctor: 'Mask wearing is really important, but so is maintaining physical distancing'
Posted at 6:54 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 18:58:38-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The head of the Richmond and Henrico Health Department believes not adhering to six feet of distancing may be to blame for 16 election workers in Henrico and Richmond contracting COVID-19.

With 90 percent of the Richmond Registrar's Office under quarantine after 11 employees tested positive for COVID-19, and a member of Mayor Levar Stoney's campaign staff sick with the virus after spending time in the Registrar's office, Stoney held a virtual press conference.

"Personally I'm feeling really well," Stoney said.

The Mayor is currently in isolation due to contact with his campaign staffer that has COVID-19.

Stoney said he is one of 57 city employees currently in quarantine due to possible COVID exposure, 37 of them are with the Richmond Police Department.

"We have 25 confirmed positive cases within City of Richmond workforce," Stoney said.

Richmond/Henrico Health Department Director Dr. Danny Avula said those confirmed positive cases and the employees in quarantine are not all tied to the Registrar's office.

He said it appears all employees in the Richmond Registrar's Office wore masks while working the election, however, some other safety protocols may not have been followed.

"We consistently heard stories that people were not able to be fully physically distanced at 6 feet," Avula said.

He also said his staff found employees who had mild symptoms they thought were fall allergies, and still came to work.

"That story is heard over and over almost every day as we're working up clusters, where people don't recognize even mild symptoms like congestion and runny nose are symptoms of COVID," Avula said.

Meanwhile, across the border in Henrico, five employees at the Registrar's office there have now tested positive for COVID-19.

Henrico's Deputy County Manager for Public Safety, Tony McDowell, said two of the five have symptoms.

He said their epidemiologists are looking into how the spread occured, adding that the disease is highly contagious, and even with all the right protections and safeguards in place, there is still a risk of infection.

"Masks are one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of COVID, but they by themselves aren't 100 percent effective, which is why we talk about using all of the things that work. Mask wearing is really important, but so is maintaining physical distancing," Avula said.

Avula is urging everyone to read up on all the possible symptoms of COVID, and said even if you have mild symptoms you should stay home and get tested before interacting with others.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 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.