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As virus cases climb in Fredericksburg region, testing demands again exceed supplies
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As virus cases climb in Fredericksburg region, testing demands again exceed supplies

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A National Guardsman swabs for COVID at a local test site in 2020. Cases are surging again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like 2020 on the COVID-19 front.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are being reported at levels not seen since last winter, the peak of the pandemic. Four more deaths were reported over the weekend in the Rappahannock Area Health District, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

The recent deaths included men in their 30s, 40s and 80s and a woman in her 70s. All were white, two lived in Spotsylvania and two in Stafford. They’re among 312 people who have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The local positivity rate, which measures the percent of positive tests among all those taken, is well above 10 percent, indicating a high level of disease transmission, according to health officials. And tests to determine if a person indeed has the novel coronavirus are becoming harder to find as demand increases.

Some urgent care centers are offering tests only for those showing symptoms of the respiratory illness, according to RAHD officials. The centers are sending people who have quarantined—because of a possible exposure—and need a negative test to return to school or work to other locations for testing so they can devote their energies to the sickest people.

Local health officials suggest people call ahead before going to get tested. A listing of state test sites is available at vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-testing-sites. The Virginia Department of Health announced last week that it was adding 170 more free testing sites in the state to keep up with rising cases “due to the delta variant, a more contagious variant than the others currently circulating throughout the state,” according to a press release.

Some King George County employees have been turned away from urgent care centers because they weren’t showing symptoms, County Administrator Chris Miller said last week.

“Some of the places are saying we don’t have the supply of testing, which is understood,” he added.

Annie Cupka, chairwoman of the King George Board of Supervisors, confirmed during a recent weekly call with health officials that there’s a supply-chain issue among at least one major manufacturer.

But the “unusually high number of patients” seeking tests—not a supply shortage—also is causing a shift in treatment, according to Patient First urgent care center.

“Our medical centers have recently experienced an unsustainable increase in patient visits,” said Brooke Waller, community relations manager at Patient First. “This surge has resulted in long waits at our centers, often for patients with acute illness or injury.”

As a result, Patient First decided to stop testing patients who are not showing symptoms and to send them to pharmacies, where they can get tested or purchase over-the-counter test kits.

It’s no wonder changes are necessary. In June and July, there was so little prevalence of the disease that between 200 and 400 people in the local health district were being tested each day.

That number had exploded by Aug. 25, when 1,112 people took a COVID-19 test in a single day. Nine of the 20 days since then, more than 1,000 people have continued to be tested every day in the health district, which currently has a positivity rate of 12.4 percent.

Mary Washington Healthcare officials said during a town hall last week that patients should not come to the emergency room if they have a cough and want to be tested for COVID-19.

“Come to the ER if you have an emergency, a life-threatening condition,” said Dr. Mike McDermott, CEO of the health care system. “Only come to the ER if you’re sick enough to warrant the level of care you need there.”

Mary Washington Healthcare operates a hotline daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Nurses can answer questions about whether patients should see their doctor, go to a pharmacy or urgent care for testing or come to the hospital, officials said. The hotline number is 540/741-1000.

The health care system also is looking into ways to provide more COVID-19 testing sites to meet the growing demand.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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