By Randy Arrington
In December, it was identified in China. In January and February, Europe and a host of other countries began to see the rapid spread. On Jan. 21, it hit the U.S.
Just twelve days ago, the World Health Organization declared a worldwide pandemic for COVID-19, about the time Virginia saw its first case. As of Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health was reporting 219 cases statewide, with three deaths. That represented 67 new cases in the state within 24 hours of that report.
Now, the first cases are being reported within the Lord Fairfax Health District, which includes Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.
On Sunday, the health district reported that a woman in her 30s and a man in his 60s have tested positive. The woman lives within the health district. The man does not live in the area, but is being hospitalized here. Due to privacy laws, the names of the individuals are not being released.
As of Monday, the U.S. was reporting 34,407 cases of COVID-19, compared to 351,731 worldwide. The death toll stood at 15,374 worldwide, with 414 in the U.S. and three in Virginia.
With a major uptick of new cases in New York, which has become a worldwide hotspot, the state has almost shut down — from schools and local retailers, to government offices and now mandatory closure of nearly all non-essential businesses and operations. Similar actions are being taken in Washington, California and other states. In fact, 1.5 billion people globally are being asked to stay at home.
Locally, most government offices are either shut down or requesting limited traffic. On Friday, County Administrator Amity Moler announced in a press release that the county government center on South Court Street in Luray “will be closed to the public, beginning Monday, March 23, 2020 until further notice.”
All county offices will be available to the public by telephone and email. The drive-thru, located at the rear of the building, will remain open for business with the county treasurer, commissioner of the revenue, and building and zoning. A drop box is also located at the rear of the building.
All three town offices are essentially shut down to the public, but are remaining open to ensure the continuation of essential services. They are recommending that citizens do business online, make inquiries by phone and use drop boxes.
The Town of Shenandoah has cancelled the council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 24.
The Town of Luray has postponed the 17th annual Youth Trout Derby until Oct. 3, 2020. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has cancelled all stockings for youth events until June 1.
The Page County Sheriff’s Office has cancelled its annual Easter egg Hunt, previously set for April 4.
A blood drive is still being held from noon to 5:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 26 at American Legion Post 22, 106 Zerkel St., Luray (next to Inn Lawn Park).
Health officials expect the total number of COVID-19 cases to continue to rise sharply this week as more testing is conducted and results are received. In Virginia, 3,337 people had been tested as of Sunday, with 32 hospitalizations. The Old Dominion’s population is about 8.5 million.
Due to a shortage of test kits — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday on its website that only 66,371 people have been tested in the U.S.
“We have seen quite a dramatic shift in our nation’s activities,” President and CEO Mark H. Merrill told Valley Health’s managers and directors around the region in a teleconferenced meeting last Thursday morning. “Fear is a natural emotion that can sometimes overwhelm rational thinking. We are taking a logical and systematic approach in our preparation. There are parts of the world that have effectively mitigated the spread of this virus. We have been learning from their experience.”
In a press release on Friday, Valley Health stated, “Anticipating a likely increase in demand for COVID‐19 testing, Valley Health has established outpatient test collection sites. Two sites are now operational in Winchester and Front Royal, with additional locations opening soon.
“Until more kits become available,” the press release continued, “testing is limited to individuals who meet the CDC screening criteria and are referred by their physician or health department. Patients should not present directly to these sites without appropriate referral.”
As of today, Valley Health has taken the following measures:
- All six off-site wellness and fitness centers are closed until further notice;
- All hospital and outpatient surgery centers are postponing all elective and non-essential procedures;
- Patient visitation at Valley Health’s six hospitals and three long-term care facilities has been curtailed;
- Facility entrances have been closed to control access and manage screening;
- All public events and classes have been cancelled or postponed, except patient education related to disease management or preparation for surgery.
Visitation exceptions are being made at Winchester Medical Center for Labor and Delivery, Mother/Baby, Pediatrics and NICU, and at all facilities for special circumstances including end-of-life care, on a case-by-case basis. Visit valleyhealthlink.com/coronavirus for details.
“Our top priorities are to protect our care team and all those we are caring for,” said Iyad Sabbagh, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Valley Health, who is overseeing the system’s clinical readiness.
He expressed the health system leadership’s confidence that the organization is prepared, equipped and protected to respond effectively to COVID-19.
“I’ve been impressed with our team’s commitment, resourcefulness and resiliency,” he said. “We have key processes in place to preserve supplies, safeguard employees and physicians, continue providing excellent care to all other patients, and be prepared for surge capacity in the days ahead.”
Individuals with symptoms including fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, who have either traveled from a location with COVID-19 or think they may have been exposed, should not go to their doctor, urgent care center or hospital emergency room, according to Valley Health officials. They should call their doctor’s office, answer screening questions, and be directed accordingly.
Individuals who are severely ill and need emergency care are asked to call a number posted outside the hospital Emergency Department before entering. Dispatchers will guide 911 callers and EMS responders if COVID-19 is suspected. Sick individuals are asked to do all they can to protect others by limiting contact with unprotected family, emergency responders, and hospital staff as they seek care.
“We’re all in this together,” Merrill reflects. “How can we help our coworkers, patients, families and friends respond safely, rationally and thoughtfully to create the best possible outcomes? Can we commit to donate blood at a time when our supply is low? Are there things we can do during this time of social distancing to uplift those who may feel isolated? Can we use technology in new ways to bring a smile to a confined loved one?”
Visit valleyhealthlink.com/coronavirus for updates on Valley Health visitation policies, other service adjustments, and volunteer or employment opportunities related to COVID-19.
For contact information for local government offices, check out the county and town websites under “Community Resources” on our HOME page.