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Upward trend in local COVID-19 numbers "concerning" for health workers

Upward trend in local COVID-19 numbers "concerning" for health workers

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Coronavirus infection numbers aren’t letting up in and around Lynchburg, and area healthcare workers are expressing concern for hospital demand with flu season on the horizon.

Centra Health officials said Monday its ICU saw a record high of 20 COVID-19 patients at the beginning of July, and numbers have remained high since then.

“We do need to still be aware and perhaps even vigilant again now that we’re seeing the highest volumes that we’ve seen of COVID-19 cases in the community and our healthcare facilities,” Centra Chief Medical Officer Dr. Chris Thomson said in a news conference.

Dr. Christopher Lewis, Centra’s VP of Medical Affairs, said Lynchburg General Hospital’s ICU had 16 patients at the end of last week and now has 12 patients, with nine of those individuals using ventilators. The designated COVID-19 unit for those with less severe symptoms has another 12 patients, making for a total of 24. Five additional patients are awaiting test results.

The number of COVID-19 patients has ebbed and flowed since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, Lewis said, but “what we saw somewhat recently was concerning in that we were seeing [upward] trends in our numbers.”

Data from the Virginia Department of Health show that in and around Lynchburg, the percentage of people testing positive for the disease has been climbing since late May. Now it’s at an all-time high, with 5.1% percent of tests coming back positive. Between Friday and Sunday alone, 78 new cases have been reported in Lynchburg and surrounding counties.

Statewide percentages are higher overall, but have followed the same general trend.

More people testing positive has given way to more people admitted to the hospital, which in turn has given way to more ICU patients, Lewis said.

“We’ve had folks that are here for weeks just in our hospital and that can then be played out further for weeks in the rehab setting,” he said. “This is a mean disease — hopefully we can get folks to survive and get strong again, but it’s a tough fight.”

To date, 57 Centra caregivers have tested positive for coronavirus, which Lewis said is about on par with numbers among asymptomatic people in the community. He said almost all of the staff members who’ve tested positive have contracted the disease outside of work, and none have needed hospitalization.

Cases in the Central Virginia Health District, which includes Lynchburg and surrounding counties, have become increasingly prevalent among young people, according to data from VDH. As of Monday, 149 people in the region aged 20 to 29 have tested positive, and people younger than 30 make up almost 40% of all cases in the region.

Lewis said the youngest person to be admitted to LGH with COVID-19 was 19 years old, and the youngest person to be intubated was 24 years old. Both have recovered, he added.

Centra CEO Dr. Andy Mueller said the surge of adrenaline among workers and energy from supporters at the outset of the pandemic has faded, and caregivers continue to be dedicated to their work despite being “exhausted.” And while those caregivers are prepared and well-stocked with protective gear and ventilators, Lewis said everyone can do their part to help keep people out of the ICU.

“It makes our job a lot easier if the community can keep each other safe and protected … by masking and doing all the right things,” he said. “We stress that here at the hospital on a daily basis … it just has to be a community-wide standard of care, basically.”

The VDH said Monday the total number of COVID-19 cases reported in Virginia so far rose 945 to 78,375 from 77,430 on Sunday.

There were 7,201 hospitalizations statewide reported to date, an increase of 36 from Sunday. The VDH reported 2,031 statewide deaths to date as of Monday, an increase of four from Sunday.

State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.

The 78,375 cases consist of 75,415 confirmed cases and 2,960 probable cases. The VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with known exposure to COVID-19 but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.

The latest seven-day trend for the positivity rate of PCR tests only — excluding antibody tests — rose to 7.7%. That’s down from a peak of 20.8% April 21 and up from 5.9% June 24.

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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