RICHMOND, Va. -- Sunday, March 7, marks one year since the first case of the coronavirus was reported in Virginia. In the days, weeks and months that followed that first case, the pandemic brought a succession of changes from school and business closures to mask mandates and beyond.
A Marine stationed at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, who had recently returned from overseas, tested positive for COVID-19, a Pentagon spokesman announced Saturday, March 7, 2020.
News of the marine’s diagnosis marked Virginian’s first official case of COVID-19. A the time, health officials were awaiting the results for seven others being tested and said 139 people were being monitored to see if they developed symptoms.
Officials in the nation’s capital also confirmed the district’s first COVID-19 case that same day.
Officials said a man from DC is in his 50s and was admitted to the hospital earlier in the week.
“He started exhibiting symptoms in late February,” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “He presented and was admitted to a DC hospital on March 5.”
Virginia's first coronavirus-linked death
One week after that first COVID-19 case was reported, the state's first COVID-19-related-death happened Saturday, March 14.
That hospitalized victim was a James City County man in his 70s who died of respiratory failure as a result of the virus, according to officials.
"The patient acquired COVID-19 through an unknown source," VDH officials said at the time.
Pam and I were deeply saddened to learn that a Virginian has died from #COVID19. The health of Virginians continues to be my absolute top priority. I will meet with local Peninsula officials tomorrow, and we will speak to the community about next steps.https://t.co/Q7GNEVDEeO— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) March 14, 2020
By March 22, six deaths in the Commonwealth were linked to the virus and the health department was investigating "distinct clusters" of COVID-19 "local transmission" that included 32 cases in James City County, 31 in Fairfax County, 26 in Arlington County, 18 in Prince William County, 17 in Virginia Beach and 15 in Loudon County.
As of Sunday, March 7, 2021, Virginia has reported more than 585,000 COVID-19 cases (461,000+ confirmed | 124,500+ probable) and nearly 9,600 virus-linked deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health. More than 48,000 people who have been hospitalized with the coronavirus have been discharged, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.
The nation's first COVID-19 case was reported on Jan. 20, 2020. Since then more than 28,964,400 cases and more than 524,660 deaths have been linked to the virus in the U.S.
Governor closes schools, non-essential businesses
A day before the state's first death was reported, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all public schools to close for two weeks on Friday, March 13.
The hope being, school closures will help slow the spread of COVID-19. “We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” Northam said.
Then on Monday, March 23, Northam announced that public schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year and that certain types of businesses, like bowling alleys, gyms and theaters, would have to close because of the coronavirus outbreak.
During that Monday briefing, Northam also mandated that restaurants and bars close their dining rooms indefinitely at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24. However, those establishments were allowed to continue to offer delivery and/or takeout services.
Recreation and entertainment businesses also deemed non-essential were forced to close March 24.
“I know the next several weeks will be difficult," Northam said. "These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together."
Northam ordered all Virginians to wear masks while in public indoor spaces, saying the measure was needed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, on Friday, May 29.
The order, which was largely voluntary, mandated masks be worn inside all retail stores, while using public transportation, and in any other indoor places where people congregate.
Earlier that month, the governor had urged folks to voluntarily wear masks as they serve multiple purposes: they protect others from potentially deadly COVID-19 which can be asymptomatic in some carriers, and they serve as a reminder not to touch your face.
"The most important reason to wear a mask is to prevent other people from catching or having what you have," Northam said. "The other thing, from a physicians perspective, is we know that this virus is transmitted from bringing our hands to our face, whether it be our mouth, our nose, or our eyes, and actually just having the mask on kind of reminds you to keep your hands away from your face."
The mask order followed Phase 1 of Virginia's reopening, which was likened to a dimmer switch approach, which began Friday, May 15, for all parts of the state except northern Virginia, the City of Richmond and Accomack County.
"We're not flipping a light switch from closed to open," Northam said. "When the time is right, we will turn a dimmer switch up just a notch."
Phase 1 allowed non-essential retail to reopen at 50-percent capacity and restaurants were able to reopen with outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity.
Virginia is currently in Phase 3 of the "Forward Virginia" reopening plan. The mask mandate remains in effect for Virginians aged five and over as well as limits on social gatherings, 10 indoors and 25 outdoors, and businesses that can do so are "strongly encouraged" to continue telework options for employees.
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.