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Community spread increasing

As university coronavirus cases appear to be declining, community spread is on the rise, tightening visitation policies at hospitals and leading to concern from health officials that the population is becoming more relaxed in its mitigation efforts.

According to Longwood Assistant Vice President of Communications Matthew McWilliams, Longwood University in Farmville was reporting 13 active cases of the coronavirus and 101 cumulative cases the morning of Monday, Oct. 19.

A week later, Monday, Oct. 26, that number sat at just two active cases, with 105 cumulative cases. The university saw only four new cases of the novel coronavirus in its student/staff population in seven days.

“We have seen a decrease in the number of active cases over the last two weeks, which is a testament to the vigilance of the student body and broader campus community to following the health guidelines, and to our contact tracing and quarantine efforts,” McWilliams said Monday. “Our quarantine and isolation numbers have also declined and remain manageable, within our typical range that we’ve seen all semester. We know all of these numbers may continue to fluctuate, and remain vigilant as we approach the final weeks of the fall semester.”

Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC) has also seen a decrease in its case numbers, with just six new cases in the last week.

According to H-SC Director of Communications and Marketing Gordon Neal, the college had 15 active COVID-19 cases Monday, Oct. 19, with 87 cumulative student cases, four cumulative employee cases and 42 individuals in quarantine.

Monday morning, Oct. 26, the college was reporting 12 active cases with 93 cumulative student cases, four cumulative employee cases and 29 individuals quarantining.

“As these figures indicate, we’ve seen a slight decrease in the number of active positive cases over the past week, as well as a decrease in the number of individuals in quarantine,” Neal stated.

Piedmont Health District Director Dr. H. Robert Nash said Monday morning, Oct. 26, the college’s 10 new cases in the last week accounted for just 9% of cases in the health district.

“This is all community,” Nash said Monday.

Nash said the other 91% of cases seen in the health district are left over from “event outbreaks” seen recently. That community spread is a trend seen across much of the commonwealth.

“Pretty much if you draw a line across the map from Charlottesville to Richmond and then just outside of Suffolk County, from that region all the way over to West Virginia and Kentucky, it looks as though the case burden is increasing, and there’s more substantial community transmission in that whole half of the state. Actually, in the Central Region, we’ve been there significantly for probably the last four weeks.”

Despite increased community transmission, Nash said many of the district’s counties are decreasing in numbers or “holding their own”/remaining static in coronavirus figures. The Piedmont Health District is currently seeing a 15-16 case-per-day average. In Prince Edward County, cases are averaging 16 per week.

When asked about the “dark winter” some national health officials have referenced with regard to the shape the pandemic may take as the colder months approach, Nash mentioned the potential for increased spread should the population let its guard down.

“I agree with Dr. (Anthony) Fauci. I think we’re going to see a modest to an impressive increase in the number of cases, because people are going to tend to huddle together indoors,” he said. “I think as a population we seem to be dismissing some of the recommendations to maintain our social distancing in our social circles. People are just wanting to aggregate more. They’re really burned out on being isolated. That’s a real problem and it’s going to be a problem as our social activities are moving indoors more and more.”

“It’s holding its own,” Nash said of the district’s COVID statistics. “It’s not as good as we would like it to be, but it’s not as horrible as it could be. If we maintain our distance and wear our masks and everybody gets a flu shot, that will help.”

Centra has modified visitation guidelines for its facilities in the wake of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The company issued a news release Monday that it would be modifying visitation protocol effective Oct. 28 to allow only one visitor to accompany a patient at a time, with patients unable to have more than two specific visitors for the duration of their hospitalization. Centra will allow two visitors in circumstances where one of those visitors has special needs or mobility issues and requires a support person.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Prince Edward County has increased by 26 cases from Monday, Oct. 19 to Monday, Oct. 26, for a cumulative total of 746 coronavirus cases. Buckingham County is up 10 cases to 733.

Cumberland County rose six cases in the last week to 117. Charlotte rose 14 cases to 212. Lunenburg County saw a nine-case increase, bringing its cumulative total to 151.