A resident of Charlottesville tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials with the Thomas Jefferson Health District announced Monday. The diagnosis marks the first case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, in the district that also includes Nelson County. The positive case is a woman in her late 50s and the case appears to be travel-related, the district said.
As of Wednesday, 77 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which also reported two people in their 70s had died as a result of the disease.
Gov. Ralph Northam on March 13 announced all K-12 schools would close through at least March 27. On Tuesday, Northam banned all public gatherings of 10 or more people statewide but stopped short of ordering a full statewide quarantine. He instead urged residents, particularly people who live in the Peninsula District, where the two deaths occurred, to avoid crowds.
“This is a very fluid and dynamic situation. We have not mandated a quarantine, but we are strongly encouraging and urging people to avoid public gatherings of any kind,” Northam said.
In response to the pandemic, local officials are encouraging Nelson County residents to be cognizant of the risk of exposure and to practice social distancing.
County Administrator Steve Carter said the county is committed to maintaining operations, including emergency services, and serving as a conduit of information while minimizing risk to staff and residents.
“We’ll get through this but it’s just a matter of when. We’re monitoring this constantly trying to do what’s best for our staff and continuity of operations,” Carter said.
He said the county is working closely with the health department as well as state and federal agencies to take appropriate measures in response to the growing spread of the virus.
While there are no confirmed cases in Nelson County as of Tuesday, Carter said additional measures may need to be taken if the virus does reach the county.
“Everyone still needs to be very diligent about this … its very important that everyone recognize that this virus is very contagious,” Carter said. “No one should second guess it and put themselves at risk.”
According to Carter and board of supervisors chairman Tommy Harvey, the county currently is not considering a local emergency given that the county can operate under the larger state emergency enacted by Northam. Carter noted, however, the county would do what is necessary as the situation evolves.
“ ... [I]f it’s something we should do, we’re definitely going to do it,” Carter said.
The Lovingston Volunteer Fire Department on Monday announced via its Facebook page it would cancel meetings, fundraisers and other events for the foreseeable future, as well as limiting access to only emergency personnel.
Fire Chief Daniel Johnson said this decision should have no effect on the department’s ability to provide emergency services.
“We’re just heeding a warning of unnecessary gatherings and we felt it was important to not put our people at risk at this point,” Johnson said.
Harvey commended the work done by emergency services.
“Our emergency services are handling everything just top notch,” Harvey said.
For people who live in the Peninsula District, Northam said: “If you are planning an event with several people, you should cancel it — period.”
According to the health district and the University of Virginia, the person who tested positive Monday is a member of the Women’s Center staff who lives off-Grounds. She is receiving treatment and has been quarantined at her home, according to an email sent to the UVa community by school President Jim Ryan.
The Women’s Center is being vacated and deep-cleaned with products that kill the coronavirus in accordance with CDC guidelines, the email from Ryan said. All 17 of the center’s permanent, non-student staff are currently self-quarantining, according to a university spokesman.
“The situation with COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly changing, so it is not surprising that we are identifying a case in our area,” Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District, said in the release. “Public health officials will work to isolate the patient and to investigate all people who had close contact with the patient. Contacts will be asked to stay home away from others for 14 days.”
According to the release, 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 who have chronic medical conditions.
Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. 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, the release said.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, people should stay home as much as possible.
The Thomas Jefferson Health District has activated a public information line, (434) 972-6261, for questions from community members about the coronavirus situation
The CDC is recommending gatherings of 50 people or more in the US be canceled or postponed during the next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Local officials said municipal buildings throughout the district will be closed through March 30, but said local governments will continue to provide essential services.
The Richmond Times Dispatch, Daily Progress, Roanoke Times and Nelson County Times contributed.