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3 new COVID-19 cases emerge in Danville-Pittsylvania district; officials say they are prepared, have necessary supplies for now

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Even though schools have closed, businesses have shut and altered services and Virginia residents have been ordered to stay home as much as possible, the coronavirus is still expected to continue its spread.

In the Danville-Pittsylvania Health District, there are three new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total up to eight, Scott Spillmann, director of the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said Wednesday. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: there will be more cases,” Spillmann said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday afternoon. “Some people, unfortunately, will have to be in the hospitals. Some on ventilators. And some, I’m sad to say, will not make it.”

Two of the new cases are Danville residents — one a female in her 70s, and another a male in his 30s, said Robert Parker, spokesman for the western region of the Virginia Department of Health.

The other case is a resident of New York who is in the area. Their case will ultimately be reported according to their address, not their current location in the Danville-Pittsylvania Health District. The lone fatality in the region was a Gretna man who was traveling through North Carolina, where he was hospitalized and died a few days later. Even though he was in North Carolina during his treatment, he was counted at his residence in Pittsylvania County.

Two people who have the virus are currently being treated in Sovah-Health Danville.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference on Wednesday that cases in Virginia could surge between late April and late May. Even with current social distancing guidelines are followed and maintained, the White House projected that there could be between 100,000 and 240,000 coronavirus-related deaths across the United States.

However, both the local district of the Virginia Department of Health and Sovah Health-Danville said they are prepared for increases and have the equipment they need.

During the virtual conference, Alan Larson, Sovah Health president and Sovah Health-Danville CEO, said that both hospitals have sufficient personal protection equipment — now commonly referred to as PPE — and ventilators to deal with their current patient load, even as there is a national shortage.

The hospital also “has access to more ventilators if we need them,” Larson said.

The number of positive cases in Virginia has skyrocketed in recent days, often jumping by more than 200 daily statewide. The current total, according to the most recent update from the Virginia Department of Health, is 1,484.

So far, the number in Danville and Pittsylvania County has remained somewhat small compared to other regions.

Viruses like this often hit the more densely populated areas before making their way into the smaller communities, said Julie Swann, department head and professor of the Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University. She has done extensive modeling for other diseases and worked with the Centers for Disease Control in their response to the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009.

“Danville may have a delay in experiencing what might be happening in New York City right now,” she said.

And not everyone who shows a symptom or thinks they may have the virus can be tested. Guidelines put forth by the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do restrict who should be tested, which limits the amount of testing.

“We continue to test appropriate patients based on CDC and VDH guidance,” Larson said. “Dozens of patients have been tested across both clinics.”

Larson said Sovah does not have “an awful lot of test kits” at this time.

The samples, some of which have been obtained at the Sovah hospitals, are not actually tested at Sovah, but sent to third-party labs or the state lab for analysis.

People can also go to private labs, which tend to have more lenient requirements for testing. The results of those tests are then reported back to the main branch of the Virginia Department of Health, which then passes necessary information on to regional departments.

Though there has yet to be a positive case in Martinsville and just two have been diagnosed in Henry County, the Martinsville Speedway is being converted into a temporary drive-thru testing center.

In Danville, patients with referrals from their physicians can visit the Brosville Clinic, which has been temporarily reopened specifically for testing purposes.

“We don’t want the public to come to this clinic thinking that they can get tested or screened.” Larson said. “They need to come with a referral.”

The local health department is also working with other community organizations to establish a drive-thru testing center in the Danville and Pittsylvania County area.

“It may not be right away, but we’re working on it,” Spillmann said.

Northam issued a stay-at-home order Monday that extends through June 10.

As of Wednesday evening, the Virginia Department of Health only reports five cases of the coronavirus in the Danville-Pittsylvania Health District. That’s because the website is updated every morning at 9 a.m. based on information from 5 p.m. the previous day.

“The website’s slower than our discussion of it,” Parker said.

Even with the grim picture of the next few months painted by officials and health experts on all levels, Spillmann remains optimistic that with effective social distancing there is an end in sight.

“This is something that is going to take months to pass, but I want to emphasize that it will pass,” Spillmann said.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.


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