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Increasing Lynchburg-area coronavirus cases, treatment 'sobering' for health sector

Increasing Lynchburg-area coronavirus cases, treatment 'sobering' for health sector

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Health officials continue to stress caution as they see more people hospitalized because of COVID-19 — and if recent testing numbers are anything to go by, that number will only continue to rise.

Comparing Centra Health’s catchment area — which includes Lynchburg, the surrounding counties and Farmville — to other parts of the state at a news conference Wednesday, CEO Dr. Andy Mueller said it seems to be seeing more than its fair share of patients.

He said Centra had 39 total patients within that catchment area late last week, whereas University of Virginia Health had 29 patients and Inova Health System in Northern Virginia only saw 30% more patients, despite being around double Centra’s size.

As of Wednesday morning, Lynchburg General Hospital had 34 COVID-19 patients, according to Dr. Chris Lewis, Centra’s VP of Medical Affairs. Of those, 20 patients were in the designated COVID-19 unit and 14 were in the ICU.

That’s up 10 patients from about a week and a half ago. Within that same week and a half, three more people have died at the hospital, bringing the total number of COVID-19 victims there to 18.

Lewis said caregivers have seen trends of community cases, hospitalizations and deaths follow one another, typically a couple of weeks behind one another. The Central Virginia Health District, made up of Lynchburg and surrounding counties, saw positive cases increase steadily through June and then skyrocket starting in July, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

In the first two weeks of July, 180 new cases were reported in the area. Since July 16, there have been 414 new cases and counting.

“That’s why we’re a little bit nervous as we continue to see cases rise in the community at a pretty steep rate,” Lewis said. “That means we’re going to see many more hospitalizations in the near future.”

He said nine of LGH’s patients in the ICU were on ventilators Wednesday morning and one was using an ECMO machine, which oxygenates someone’s blood when their lungs are not functioning enough to do so. He added that patient is the first COVID-19 patient to use that machine and “he’s fighting for his life and we’re fighting for it with him.”

When asked about the likely cause of the virus’ accelerated spread, Lewis pointed toward increased social mobility.

“It’s hard to know for sure, but our suspicion is that as our community has been opening up and folks are getting more comfortable with sort of the new reality … I think we in general are being potentially a little bit less mindful about the safety [measures] that we should be doing,” he said.

Mueller said Centra officials continue to work with area business and school leaders to help try and stanch the flow of new infections as businesses remain open and schools prep for the start of classes. At its core, though, community health and safety still rely on the same basic measures, he added.

“A lot of the conversations include a lot of the things that we’ve talked about earlier: continuing to social distance, continue to ensure children can wash their hands frequently and recommending masking,” he said.

“… And I realize people are rolling [their] eyes and hearing us say that stuff over and over and over, but the reality is we don’t have a lot of things to fight this virus, and the things that I just mentioned are the things that actually work the best — and they’re things that all of us can do.”

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