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Coronavirus cases, impacts, keep steady pressure locally

Coronavirus cases, impacts, keep steady pressure locally

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Boxes of protective equipment sit ready for use at Lynchburg General Hospital's loading bay on June 17, 2020.

Virginia isn’t among the states experiencing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, but the Lynchburg area is steadily continuing to feel the disease’s impact on multiple fronts.

Virginia is among about 20 states experiencing an overall decline in the percentage of positive test results, with many states having seen a peak around mid-to-late April. Local numbers indicate the percentage of positive test results has plateaued.

There have been 282 confirmed cases so far in Lynchburg and surrounding counties, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. In the first 15 days of June, 72 positive new cases were reported in the district, compared to 65 new cases during the first 15 days of May and 67 new cases during the first 15 days of April.

Local testing rates have also increased — from 780 tests administered in the first half of April to 3,596 in the first half of June.

Centra entered the pandemic with 72 beds in two non-ICU units prepped to take COVID-19 patients but has only served a fraction of that number even at peak use, according to Dr. Christopher Lewis, Centra’s VP of Medical Affairs. Currently, he said Lynchburg General Hospital is caring for eight COVID-19 patients: four of them in ICU and one of those ICU patients on a ventilator.

“We’ve seen ... sort of a slow burn or a slight up and down in terms of census,” he said.

At first, Lewis said the hospital treated a number of patients in the ICU who were “quite sick,” but that’s not the case anymore — recalling a recent nine-day period where no one was intubated. Caregivers haven’t particularly seen a “surge” of cases, he said, but outbreaks in settings like nursing homes have led to influxes of patients needing care.

Centra officials said Lynchburg General Hospital used more than 79,000 masks in the month of May alone.

Though the future trajectory of the disease is uncertain, he said Centra remains prepared to “flex up” if a surge does occur.

“It’s really hard to know — I think the likelihood is that we will see flare-ups here and there, especially in congregate settings,” he said, adding transmission from patients to hospital caregivers has been rare so far.

One such outbreak began around the end of May at the Oakwood Manor nursing home, operated in Bedford by Centra. Thus far, 14 residents and three staff have tested positive for coronavirus, according to Centra spokesperson Diane Ludwig. Two of the staff members have recovered and are now testing negative.

Regional jails also have seen the first positive coronavirus case among their inmates. A man at the Bedford County Adult Detention Center tested positive June 1, was taken to Lynchburg General Hospital and was granted furlough June 3 to remain out of jail.

His attorney, Morgan Hollister, told The News & Advance on Wednesday he remains at Lynchburg General Hospital on oxygen. Tim Trent, administrator of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, said all other inmates and staff at the facility were tested and “everyone was negative.”

Unemployment numbers for Central Virginia have remained relatively flat for the past month, showing people have continued to seek benefits because of loss of work. Between Lynchburg and surrounding counties, a total of 9,149 unemployment claims were filed for the week ending June 6, the latest week for which data is available from the Central Virginia Workforce Development Board.

Those continued claims are in addition to new unemployment claims, which have declined since a spike in early April. A total of 670 new claims were filed across the region during the week ending June 6, according to the Central Virginia Workforce Development Board.

Lewis said he and other health workers have been reaching out to the local business community to help hammer out what safety measures they can implement practically since Virginia’s reopening phases have started allowing for more traffic.

Thus far, he said he’s seen locals do a “decent job” of sticking to safety precautions, with room for improvement.

“We still have to live our lives and I understand the need to live your life and not live in fear,” he said. “But at the same time we still need to be respectful that [COVID-19] is still out there … and I think we can do that relatively safely.”

Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

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