COVID-19 cases top 152 as Virginia revises testing criteria

State 'prioritizing' healthcare workers who had contact with COVID-19 patients
Posted at 12:47 PM, Mar 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-21 18:35:32-04

RICHMOND, Va. – 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," Virginia Department of Health 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 state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), 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."

Northam: 'Our health is in your hands'

"This pandemic is affecting everyone's lives," Gov. Ralph Northam said. "It is forcing changes in people's routines. And for many people, it is affecting their jobs and their income. We are doing everything that we can to help people."

Northam urged Virginians to take the outbreak seriously.

"I want to reiterate the need for every single one of us to take social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus," Northam said. "There is evidence of community transmission in the northern and central regions of the state and in the Peninsula. infectious diseases do not respect boundaries. All people within these areas should remain vigilant."

Northam said all Virginians should "practice individual prevention and control measures."

"Our health is in your hands," Northam said. "Know the signs and symptoms. If you're sick enough to seek testing, you are sick enough to stay home for any reason other than to get medical care."

Northam urged those who are sick to stay home since those people can still transmit the virus.

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.