RICHMOND, Va. -- The number of people who have died of COVID-19-linked illnesses in Virginia climbed to six Sunday as health officials announced three elderly women died of respiratory failure.
Officials with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said the Peninsula women, two of whom previously tested positive for COVID-19 and a third newly positive case, died in the hospital.
The victims, who were in their 80s, were from Newport News, Williamsburg and James City County, according to the health department.
One of the women lived at a long-term care facility, according to officials.
"The three patients acquired COVID-19 through an unknown source," Peninsula Acting Health Director Dr. Steve Julian. “It is with deep sadness that we announce three additional victims of COVID-19. We at VDH express our condolences to those families."
Officials said two of the cases were included in the statewide COVID-19 count of 219 Sunday, but that the third patient was a new case not included.
Health department workers are investigating "distinct clusters" of COVID-19 "local transmission" that include 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.
Officials with the Fairfax County Health Department announed Saturday evening that a man died as a result of COVID-19.
"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."
Health officials announced last Monday that a man in his 70s, who was 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."
The first COVID-19-related death in Virginia happened Saturday, March 13.
That hospitalized victim was a James City County 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 at the time.
Fairfax County Health Department Director Dr. Gloria 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 in Virginia top 219; most new results from private labs
Virginia health officials said most of the 67 new positive COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth announced Sunday were from testing done at private labs.
Dr. Lilian Peake, a epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said 219 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 32 people remain hospitalized with the illness. Six people have died of COVID-19-linked illnesses in the state.
"That brings us to a total of... 95 in the Northern Region, 70 in the Eastern Region, 28 in the Central Region, 20 in the northwest and six in the southwest," Peake said.
Q - When/what will the peak of the virus be?— Cam Thompson (@CamThompsonCBS6) March 22, 2020
Peake: We can't predict what the peak will be. Looking at other countries/states. Hope to have a better idea eventually
Officials said 3,337 people have been tested, which is an increase of 547 since Saturday's update.
"Most of the new cases were reported today from tests done at private labs," Peake said. "So it is heartening to see that we are having more increase in testing in the Commonwealth."
Officials said the state lab capacity continues to be at about 1,000 tests.
"And we're looking at how we can stretch that capacity and use those tests wisely until we have more available," Peake noted.
Virginia Department of Health Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said Saturday that Virginia has revised its COVID-19 testing requirements.
"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.
Additionally, Forlano said the state is focused on testing "clusters of respiratory illness" where the flu has been ruled as a cause of sickness.
Officials are investigating "distinct clusters" where there is "local transmission" of the virus in Virginia.
Those clusters include 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.
"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."
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 non-essential travel.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Practice social distancing. Maintain at least six feet of space between yourself and other individuals when out in public.
- Avoid crowds of more than ten people.