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'Contained outbreak' leads to 35 new COVID-19 cases in Westmoreland
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'Contained outbreak' leads to 35 new COVID-19 cases in Westmoreland

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Thirty-five residents of Westmoreland County have become infected with COVID-19 after traveling to an event outside the region.

Dr. Rich Williams, director of the Three Rivers Health District that includes Westmoreland, said he couldn’t provide many details about the outbreak because of privacy concerns. He called it a “contained outbreak” in a congregate setting—a broad category that could include a gathering at a church, political rally or community event; at a hotel, private home or wedding venue; at a business, sports club or migrant camp.

“The outbreak was travel related, and the event did not originate in any of our jurisdictions,” Williams said about the district’s 10 localities from Westmoreland southeast to Gloucester County. “It was identified and contained immediately, so there is no real potential for broad community transmission in our jurisdictions beyond the event itself.”

The outbreak is part of 41 new cases in Westmoreland between Monday and Friday. Except for late June and July, when other outbreaks caused large upticks, the Northern Neck locality typically has between 3 and 20 new virus cases a week, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Meanwhile, the nation prepares for another possible surge of virus cases as temperatures cool, forcing more gatherings inside. National reports indicate that 17 states are dealing with unprecedented numbers of new cases, and The New York Times database shows outbreaks in the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains, as well as early signs of another resurgence in the Northeast.

Numbers in Virginia—and the Rappahannock Area Health District—have not seen the kind of dramatic surge noted elsewhere. But they are starting to increase.

For the week ending Oct. 3, the state reported an average of 770 new cases each day.

The next week, the rate climbed to 1,014 new cases daily.

So far this week, the daily average statewide has been 901 new cases per day.

In Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford, new daily cases regularly have numbered in the 20s and 30s since mid-September.

But 60 new cases on Thursday and 40 new ones on Friday have contributed to a general increase, said Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the local health district.

They brought the seven-day average of new cases up to 35 on Friday. A week earlier, it was 23, she said.

“Though we are not sure what the next few weeks and months will look like in terms of COVID-19 cases locally, we do believe we may see some increase in the spread of the virus as the weather becomes colder and individuals begin spending more time indoors, where the virus can transmit more easily,” Balmes–John said.

Local hospitalization rates have shown a similar increase as new cases. There were 27 people hospitalized on Friday, seven more than the week before, according to Rappahannock Area Health District data.

Mary Washington Healthcare facilities—Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital—have treated the bulk of COVID-19 patients, and their numbers have stayed in the low 20s for most of the pandemic, said Eileen Dohmann, senior vice president and chief nursing officer. Outbreaks at long-term care facilities have caused periodic increases, but “the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has remained within our capacity,” she said.

Another measurement that officials keep an eye on is the positivity rate, which measures the number of positive tests results among all those given. It remains under 5 percent locally and statewide.

That’s especially low when compared to a state such as South Dakota, which is experiencing a surge in cases and a positivity rate that hit 38 percent last week.

Local public health officials once again stressed the need for social distancing and wearing masks, frequent hand washing and getting flu shots—especially as fall and winter typically bring more get-togethers and travel.

“I think it has everyone a little nervous,” Balmes–John said about the upcoming holidays. “It requires careful consideration since these times are usually so laden with traditions. There’s a lot to think through.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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