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Health director discusses county’s recent spike in cases – ‘This is life or death’

As positive coronavirus cases increase in counties across the area, Director of the Piedmont Health District Dr. H. Robert Nash gave some insight into the local community’s fight against COVID-19, including alarming statistics among young adults, Prince Edward’s recent jumps in cases as well as what it may take to allow college students to return to Longwood and Hampden-Sydney in the fall.

H. Robert Nash

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) listed Prince Edward County as having 129 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, May 27. Nash said Prince Edward saw 18 new cases May 25 and 26 alone, a 17% increase in cases in just two days. He added 17 of those 18 new cases, or 94%, appeared to be community spread not associated with any facility outbreaks.

“Community spread is what we really have to be on guard against in protecting everybody, because at this point it’s out there pretty much everywhere,” Nash said Wednesday. “You have no idea who’s contagious and not symptomatic yet.”

Nash said the threat of spread through community members, and the inability to know for certain who around you may have the virus, goes to show just how important it is to wear masks in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The health of our population, our community, is in our own hands. This is everybody’s business. Do not get complacent now,” he warned. “Hand washing, face masks, social distancing and modified social isolation will work. We cannot afford to become selfish, reckless or irresponsible. This is life or death.”

He added that it seems many in the community, including some college professors, are of the impression that college students are not vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. However, Nash said many of the cases the health district saw within the last two weeks were among the 18-24 age group.

“They are really sick,” he emphasized.

He brought up the subject of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, otherwise known as MIS-C, a rare illness believed to be linked to the coronavirus.

“We’re seeing it now in the 18-24 age group, and it is horrible in that age group,” he said.

Nash said that while MIS-C is not frequent in young adults, contracting the illness could be “a life-changing or life-ending event.”

An article published by CBS Baltimore said at least 157 cases of MIS-C are being investigated in New York, where three children have died from the illness, with symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain and vomiting.

The article referenced Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) Pediatrician Dr. Rachel Plotnick, who said MIS-C can affect the heart muscle of these children and young adults, sending kids into signs of heart failure and breathing difficulties.

Nash said a friend who served in the Navy alongside him recently suffered the loss of his wife, a nurse, from COVID-19.

“She was in quarantine at her home and recuperating nicely at dinner that evening with her husband. (She) started getting really short of breath … (He) took her to the hospital and she went from having dinner and conversing, to dead in less than three hours. She had a pulmonary embolism. This overwhelming infection can activate the clotting system and kill you in a matter of hours.”

Nash continued the discussion of the area’s younger generation by referencing the possibility of Longwood and Hampden-Sydney students being able to return to the area in the fall.

“We need to be really, really cautious about that from a lot of different perspectives,” he said.

Nash said many students and their parents are very aware of the dangers of the virus, adding that several of the college professors in the area are of an age that would make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There are a very visible minority of the students that don’t have the social discipline or the consciousness to be aware of the fact that they can be infectious and completely asymptomatic and run amuck throughout the entire community and potentially spread this virus to a community whose demographics are very heavily weighted to the older population,” he said.

Nash said he believed the area would need to see a consistent drop in cases over a four-week period to consider the possibility of bringing back the students, which would be a matter of the community working together to reduce spread.

“I think we have time to do that,” he added. “Now, if we have the social commitment among our entire population to do the things that we have to do in order to do that, that remains to be seen.”

Nash emphasized his belief that there are steps the community can take to work together and fight the coronavirus and get that downward trend started, including help from the faith-based community, county and town leaders, law enforcement, and medical personnel.

“All of these people have to be on board at hammering away every day at that consistent communication. We cannot be complacent now.”

Nash said reducing the spread of the coronavirus is one thing all community members can do to make the world a better place today and in the future.

He referenced a famous John F. Kennedy quote, “Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, ‘I served in the United States Navy.’”

“I’m going to paraphrase that,” Nash said. “The right answer is ‘I helped contain COVID-19 in my community.’”

On Wednesday, Buckingham County was listed as having experienced a total of 445 cases of the virus. Cumberland had risen to 32. Lunenburg County was at 10 cases, and Charlotte was listed as 23.

As of Wednesday, a total of 40,249 coronavirus cases were reported in Virginia, with 1,281 deaths related to COVID-19.