William & Mary staff member has COVID-19

'Most effective defense is to limit potential exposure,' officials said.
Posted at 12:10 AM, Mar 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-15 00:26:13-04

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- A William & Mary staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, college officials announced Saturday afternoon.

"The university received confirmation today," college officials said. "This is the first and only case of COVID-19 involving a member of the W&M community. That is very likely to change in the near future as more cases are diagnosed in the surrounding Williamsburg area."

Officials said the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) was in the process of "contacting people who may have been in close contact" with the staffer.

"If you have received a call from VDH regarding self-quarantine, please follow their instructions," college officials urged. "We are in contact with VDH and are closely following their recommendations."

The college announced Thursday that in-person classes were suspended until they continue online starting Monday, March 23.

"Please remember that amidst this serious pandemic, the vast majority of affected individuals will develop only mild to moderate symptoms," officials said. "Preparation, not panic, will provide the best assurance that the health of our community is protected."

Peninsula 'limited community spread'

Authorities said there is "limited community spread" of COVID-19 on the Peninsula after a man in James City County died as a result of the virus Saturday.

Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting, James City County Administrator Scott Stevens, Newport News City Manager Cindy Rohlf, Poquoson City Manager Randy Wheeler, Williamsburg City Manager Andrew Trivette and York County Administrator Neil Morgan said in a joint statement the community must take "further steps to curtail the spread" after they learned of several more COVID-19 cases "within the region."

"Our first and most effective defense is to limit potential exposure," officials said. "In that respect, Peninsula residents are urged to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. This includes church services, civic/social organization meetings, and public events and festivities."

Officials noted that critical tasks like grocery shopping, fueling your vehicle and other essentials should not be neglected.

"Remember to observe the hygiene steps of washing your hands frequently, sanitizing flat surfaces, and when possible avoid close contact," officials said.

Those county and city leaders noted that additional steps may be needed in the coming days as "local officials try to slow the rate of infection."

First COVID-19-Related Death in Virginia

Virginia health officials said a man in James City County died as a result of COVID-19 Saturday.

The victim is his 70s, who was hospitalized, died of respiratory failure as a result of the virus, officials said.

"The patient acquired COVID-19 through an unknown source," Virginia Department of Health (VDH) officials said.

The somber news marked the first death in the Commonwealth as a result of COVID-19.

"The Peninsula Health District has been working very closely to identify people who have been in potential contact with people known to have tested positive for coronavirus," officials said. "They are interviewing affected people and giving instructions on how to protect themselves and others."

Gov. Ralph Northam released the following statement in response to the death:

“Pam and I were deeply saddened to learn that a Virginian has died from COVID-19, and we grieve for everyone this virus has touched around the world.

“The health of Virginians and our communities is my most important priority right now. As a Commonwealth, we have taken major, critical steps to stop the spread of COVID- 19. I have declared a state of emergency, closed K-12 schools across the state, restricted visitors at nursing homes and correctional facilities, limited state employee travel, and canceled large events.

“This is a public health crisis—we must all treat it as such.

“Again, I urge Virginians: take this seriously. Take basic health precautions, avoid large gatherings, telework if possible, and stay home if you are sick. That will stop the virus from spreading.

“It is all of our responsibility, yours and mine, to keep each other safe and healthy.

“You deserve to know next steps. I will meet with local officials on the Peninsula tomorrow, and we will speak to the community at 12:00 PM about additional measures we are taking to combat COVID-19.”

Virginia COVID-19 Cases

Of the 395 people tested for COVID-19 in Virginia, 41 people had tested positive for the virus as of Saturday. Officials noted public health officials are "reaching out" to anyone who is known to have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Earlier Saturday, health officials said a Chesterfield County man had tested positive for COVID-19. The patient, who is in his 60s, recently returned from a country with COVID-19 cases.

When he returned home, health officials said he stayed home and monitored his health.

“Confirming a case of COVID-19 in a Chesterfield resident does not come as a surprise given international travel from an affected area,” Chesterfield Health District Director Dr. Alexander Samuel said. “We have been on high alert for possible cases of residents with COVID-19 and are working hard to identify possible cases.”

The patient is "doing well" and "isolated at home," officials said.

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases, which have been reported in all states except West Virginia, swelled to 2,951 Saturday.

The death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, rose to 60 in the U.S. Saturday.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 156,390 people and killed over 5,800, with the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.

Safety Tips

VDH officials urged folks to abide by the following "effective behaviors" to "lower the risk of respiratory germ spread:"

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

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COMPLETE COVERAGE: Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Tracker