At least one death is linked to an outbreak at a preschool facility in Danville, the Virginia Department of Health reported Friday.
The Community Improvement Council Head Start notified health officials of an outbreak Sept. 14. There are 14 cases and at least one fatality associated with it, a weekly dashboard indicates.
“CIC-Head Start takes seriously the health and well-being of its entire community, which includes more than 250 students and employees,” Executive Director Tara K. Martin told the Register & Bee via email Friday. “We remain committed to following all public health protocols, and we are diligent in reporting any COVID-19 exposure to the local Department of Health immediately.”
Martin said since the school year started in August, 10 members of the school community have contracted the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“These instances have been spread over the course of nearly two months, not clustered together in any large number,” she told the Register & Bee. “In addition, to the best of our knowledge, the majority of these cases are not connected to one another.”
Martin said the health department’s figure includes family members of “our community members who have tested positive, even if they are never physically in our buildings.”
A note on the Facebook page indicated the facility was closed last week, “Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases amongst students, staff, families, and our community.”
The post said the agency would use that time to perform deep cleaning of the buildings and buses.
“We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause, however, your child’s safety is top priority,” the post said.
On Sept. 3, the Community Improvement Council reminded parents via Facebook that when children are exposed to COVID-19 they should quarantine for 14 days and aren’t allowed to attend school during that time.
When there are fewer than five cases or deaths with an outbreak, the online dashboard — only updated once a week — displays an asterisk and does not give the specific number in an effort for health officials to protect anonymity. Community Improvement Council Head Start’s death column is represented by an asterisk.
Friday was the first time details surfaced surrounding this outbreak and two others in Danville Public Schools.
There are two outbreaks at O.T. Bonner Middle School reported Sept. 3 and another at Westwood Middle School, the dashboard shows.
Health officials learned about the Westwood outbreak on Sept. 10 where a dozen cases were noted. Fewer than five cases are listed for both outbreaks at Bonner.
System officials closed Bonner for two days and also quarantined specific classes, Danville Public Schools spokesperson Lanie Davis told the Register & Bee on Friday afternoon.
“For Westwood, we identified the exposed student populations and advised the unvaccinated students in seventh grade and specific eighth grade classes to quarantine,” she wrote in an email.
When a case pops up, officials contact trace to see how many students or staff members are involved. They then get in touch with those who were exposed to explain the situation.
“This work is done in conjunction with the health department, and we follow their guidance on how to proceed,” Davis said.
When asked how the cases spread at the two schools, Davis said “close contact” was a factor, but did not elaborate.
“We are still encouraging vaccination as the number one mitigation strategy and will be hosting a clinic in October in partnership with PATHS,” Davis explained. “In the meantime, we are continuing to use our proven mitigation strategies.”
Two other outbreaks in congregate settings also emerged Friday morning. Because that category encompasses things like businesses, churches and community gatherings, details aren’t disclosed by the health department.
The city school system reported seven active cases in students and four in employees as of Friday morning, its online dashboard showed. Since schools opened in early August, 152 students and 21 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
There are 47 active cases — 42 students and five employees — in Pittsylvania County Schools. The county’s dashboard does not indicate the total number of students and staff members who have been infected since school started.
“The presence of an outbreak at a school does not reflect a school’s ability to educate its students or to protect the health and safety of its school community,” Virginia Department of Health leaders wrote on the outbreak website. “Schools and local health departments work together to identify best practices to prevent and control COVID-19 in schools and to promote a healthy learning environment for students and staff.”
It’s not uncommon to have more than one outbreak happening at the same time. As an example, the health department said a hospital may have multiple outbreaks in two different units.
An outbreak is determined when at least two people contract the virus in the same setting. Even with the dozens of COVID-19 cases involving students and school workers, the vast majority of those aren’t spread in the schools.
“If an employee, resident, student, client, or patient tests positive for COVID-19 but their exposure to the virus was determined to be outside of the setting, and they did not pass the virus on to anyone in the facility, then this case will not be counted on this dashboard,” health leaders wrote on the outbreaks dashboard.
COVID-19 cases have declined in recent days and even dipped into the negative territory Friday morning. The Virginia Department of Health didn’t immediately respond to questions after 15 cases were removed from the logs for Pittsylvania County and Danville. This has happened before after a review process determined cases weren’t assigned to the proper locality.
“This is most likely the result of cases either being assigned to other districts following a review of home addresses against county of testing or removal of redundant entries and notifications,” Chris Andrews, a epidemiologist with the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said. “Local district offices are not notified as to why these changes are made by data managers.”
This is sometimes due to ZIP Code confusions. For example, someone may have a Danville mailing address but reside in Pittsylvania County. If a lab goes by the ZIP Code, that result lands in Danville instead of Pittsylvania County.
Also, when a lab doesn’t have a person’s address they’ll use the location the test was administrated. A routine data review will catch discrepancies and funnel those to the proper localities.
Even before Friday’s slide into the minus column, local cases were down by about 30% compared to the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Still, the positivity rate — 25% in Pittsylvania County and 16% in Danville — has stayed elevated, CDC data show. Those figures calculate the percentage of positive tests against the overall tests administrated. It’s used as a gauge to determine community spread. The federal agency views any figure above 5% to mean the virus is spreading uncontrolled in a locality.
Even with a decline, caseloads remain at levels not seen since February. Nearly all areas of Virginia are in the highest-risk category for COVID-19, according to the CDC and the state department of health. In these areas, masks should be worn when inside public facilities, both state and federal officials urge.