As the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District reached a grim milestone of 50 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, a new Virginia model changed course and now predicts the peak daily caseload is more than a month away.
That latest fatality from the illnesses caused by the novel coronavirus — a Pittsylvania County man in his 60s — appeared in Saturday morning's data update from the Virginia Department of Health. It's not certain when the death actually occurred because the health department has to wait for a death certificate before entering the information into an online database.
That process takes time, according to Dr. Scott Spillmann, director of the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, because "physicians are delayed in signing, or refuse to sign the death certificate."
The local health district had 2,308 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday morning: 1,113 in Danville and 1,195 in Pittsylvania County. That amounts to an increase of 124 cases in a week.
Combined, Danville and Pittsylvania County are averaging about 18 new cases a day. But those daily numbers can fluctuate dramatically. For example, there were 31 new cases in the local district reported Saturday, but only two new cases were added Friday.
Friday's data report was particularly unusual because it was the first time cases were removed from a locality. In this case Pittsylvania County's case count dropped by two.
Robert Parker, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, couldn't provide an exact reason for the change.
"I don't have any specific details, but typically this occurs because of a reassignment due to an address correction," he wrote in an email to the Register & Bee.
Deaths and COVID-19 cases are assigned to a person's place of residence.
In what has sometime amounted to a roller-coaster ride in projection swings, the latest University of Virginia COVID-19 Model forecasts an increase in cases in the coming months.
For the last few weeks the model suggested that both Virginia and the local health district had already passed peak levels for daily virus infections. Friday's update changes course.
Weekly rates have increased in Virginia overall but remain below accelerating national numbers. Five health districts, including one with Martinsville and Henry County, entered surge trajectories. A week ago there were no health districts experiencing surges in cases, which is generally defined as a 2.5 increase based on a 100,000 population formula.
The Pittsylvania-Danville Health District is now in a slow-growth category, meaning that cases are on the rise but not at a rate to be classified as a surge.
Throughout the state, the number of localities with declining numbers also dropped, another sign infections are spreading.
"While early, national and global trends suggest concerns about winter case growth and schools reopening may be founded," researchers wrote in Friday's UVa report to explain the increase.
Each week the same warning appears in predictions: The document is only designed to show what could happen based on trends occurring now, but it's not a true forecast into what will happen.
"Behavioral responses drive changes in current trends," researchers caution.
The model predicts state infections will now peak around Nov. 22 at 8,394 weekly cases. But even with a large surge possible, hospital capacity isn't expected to be exceeded in any region of Virginia through the end of the year.
Locally, Danville and Pittsylvania County may reach a peak of 250 per week on Dec. 6, the latest model shows.
The most recent data puts the percent positive rate in the local health district at 6.9%, a drop from about 10% in the first week of October. Generally speaking, health officials recommend the rate — the amount of positive virus results calculated against the number of overall tests administered — should remain below 5%. The commonwealth as a whole has achieved that goal and currently stands at 4.9%.
Although the number of tests throughout the state has grown to more than 18,000 a day, testing appears to be on a decline in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District.
Locally, about 242 tests are administered per day, according to recent data, a drop from 322 daily tests in September.
Health leaders say a robust testing system is needed to control the spread of the virus.
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