Optimism the coronavirus pandemic is finally on a downward trend is mixed with harsh reality of a death toll that continues to grow.
Five more Danville residents have died from COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health revealed in new data Saturday. They were among 99 new fatalities across the state recorded in the official pandemic logs when the health department's dashboard refreshed Saturday morning.
The three woman and two men ranged in ages from his or her 50s to 80 or older.
It's not clear when the fatalities actually occurred since the health department relies on death certificates for official verification. That process can take weeks or longer.
Out of the 153 Danville and Pittsylvania County residents who have died from COVID-19, 41 of those deaths were announced this month. More than half came Feb. 8 when Pittsylvania-Danville Health District workers spend the previous weekend inspecting a backlog of death certificates. On of those newly recorded deaths actually happened in April.
By statistics, February has been the deadliest month in the local health district.
Cases and testing
A Friday report from the University of Virginia places the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District back into what's known as a slow growth phase. That designation means cases are increasing — based on a 100,000 population scale — but not at a level that would be considered a surge.
UVa's evaluations are data driven and sometimes delayed by a few weeks. That would coincide with a rise in cases around Feb. 11. Since then, the 7-day rolling average has declined in Danville and Pittsylvania County.
On Saturday, the local district added 35 new cases — the exact same number for the past three days — of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. That brings the average caseload to about 33 a day.
That's a dramatic improvement from the January surge, but it matches the numbers seen in late November.
One stubborn figure that shows little signs of budging is the positivity rate in Danville and Pittsylvania County. It's currently at 13.3%, a slight increase over the plast few days.
The positivity number is used to gauge the virus' spread in a community. A rate above 5% shows COVID-19 isn't under control in a locality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
The percent is a calculation of positive results with the number of overall tests administered. Overall the number has steadily dropped in Virginia to 8.2%.
There are far fewest tests administered over the last week compared to January. Currently, there are about 265 tests provided to Danville and Pittsylvania County residents each day. It was nearly 500 in mid-January.
Even though caseloads throughout Virginia are still high, overall hospitalizations, and deaths are declining from the January post-holiday surge, Friday's UVa report said.
"The model results are encouraging again this week," researcher wrote noting Virginia's peak was the last week in January.
The only obstacles standing in the way of a continued steady decline are new variants and residents relaxing behaviors amid optimism with fewer cases and more vaccines.
If that happens, one model shows another small peak in the spring. That in itself is encouraging: last week's model predicted a spring peak larger than what was witnessed in January.
"To avoid another peak, we must give vaccines time to have an impact, especially as new variants become more prevalent across the nation," researchers wrote.
Based on key pandemic indicators, Virginia has weathered the illness better than other states.
But, to keep that position, the UVa report says residents need to get a vaccine when they are able and continue to wear mask and keep distanced or avoid social gatherings.
"With further emergence of variants looming, these prevention practices are as important as ever," the report concluded.