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COVID-19 numbers are soaring in the Dan River Region but likely undercount the true picture

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Even amid mind-boggling COVID-19 infection rates that continue to set records in the Dan River Region, the real number of people getting sick is likely much higher.

The figures presented in a Monday-Friday dashboard report by the Virginia Department of Health only represent what’s being reported by providers and labs.

Some people don’t bother to go to the doctor or get tested, a problem observed throughout the pandemic. And now with testing supplies harder to come by, even residents who want to to get an answer aren’t able.

In fact, the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute believes in the coming weeks the infection rate will be much higher than what’s being reported.

“The sheer number of new cases may overwhelm testing capacities and drive down the case detection rate,” UVa researchers wrote in a Friday report. “As such, case rates may not be as reliable a marker of epidemic trends as they once were.”

Then there are home tests which complicate things further.

“We know we are undercounting cases due to the presence of home test kits,” Linda M. Scarborough, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, told the Register & Bee recently. “Although many of those available on the market have reporting capabilities, it’s an extra step in the process that the consumer needs to take and we know that that does not always occur.”

However, the health department sometimes gets notification from a physician or lab reports of positive home tests. When resources permit — amid the current surge — health workers will follow-up with those individuals.

Anyone who tests positive with one of the home kits should consult with their health care provider, Scarborough.

“We are exploring other ways to receive this information to use for tracking purposes,” she explained.

There’s still many levels of confusion after someone tests positive since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently altered its guidance.

“The agency is currently evaluating CDC’s recent changes to isolation and quarantine for the general public, and we will soon provide some additional clarity on how these changes may impact our guidance for the Commonwealth,” Scarborough said of the state health department’s recommendations.

For people who test positive, the CDC said they should isolate at home for five days regardless of vaccination status. The clock starts ticking when symptoms appear or a positive test result is received. Day one is the first full day after symptoms shows up or when the test was administered.

When isolating, “wear a well-fitted mask if you must be around others in your home,” the guidance states.

After five days, things get a little muddled. Officially, someone may end isolation after five full days if they had only minor symptoms and they haven’t had a fever — without using temperature-reducing medicine — for 24 hours. Originally a negative test wasn’t required, but CDC officials now say if it’s possible to get tested after five days people should.

Anyone who tested positive and had no symptoms may leave isolation after five days, the CDC states. However anyone who was “severely ill with COVID-19” should remain in isolation for the full 10-day period and talk to a doctor before ending isolation.

If isolation is ended after five days, people should still wear a mask around others, even in the home.

“Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask,” the guidance states, meaning restaurants are off the menu of options.

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