As the number of reported coronavirus cases in Virginia neared 500, state health officials posted information Thursday saying anyone who began feeling sick after March 18 may not yet be reflected in state data.
The virus has now killed more than 1,000 in the United States, including 14 in Virginia, where unemployment claims last week topped 46,000 after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered many businesses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, hospitals around the state are preparing for an influx of patients that they fear could overwhelm the health care system. VCU moved students’ belongings from a dorm this week to prepare it as a space to treat patients who aren’t infected if the hospital is overrun with those who are.
“We’re probably testing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Bill Petri, a professor of medicine and vice chair for research of the University of Virginia Department of Medicine. “If the estimates are correct that eight out of 10 people have no symptoms with this, and maybe only the people with severe symptoms are the ones that are coming for testing, we could probably multiply the number of positives by at least 10 or something to have a better estimate of how many people are infected.”
In Virginia, where the state Health Department reported Thursday that 460 people have tested positive for COVID-19, that could translate to thousands of unseen cases. The number of confirmed cases in the state has doubled since Sunday, and has doubled every few days since the first case was reported on March 7.
On March 19, state health officials said there’s a 19-hour lag in the reporting of statewide numbers, and figures on the website might not include cases reported by individual localities or local health districts. The Health Department did not explain Thursday precisely why there could be an eight-day lag between reported symptoms and test results. A shortage of tests and testing equipment have been reported across the country this month, and Virginia has turned to private labs to help provide test results.
Sentara Healthcare, the state’s largest hospital system, said that increased test volume from Virginia and neighboring states had created a backlog that is doubling the time it takes to receive test results, from five days to 10 or more.
Sentara has been among the hospitals in Virginia offering drive-thru screening at multiple locations since last week. Initially, test turnaround time was up to five days.
“As you are aware, there is a large increase in the number of COVID-19 tests being conducted throughout the country, including Virginia and North Carolina,” Sentara said in a news release. “As a result, we are now experiencing longer turnaround times in receiving and communicating these results to patients.”
The VDH also said that 6,189 have been tested for the virus, and 65 have been hospitalized in Virginia. There are coronavirus cases in 62 of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties. Fourteen people across the state have died.
Reported cases in the Richmond area include 21 in Henrico County, 14 in Richmond, 12 in Chesterfield County and 2 in Hanover County.
The Virginia Department of Health released the demographics of the state’s confirmed cases for the first time Thursday, showing that people over 50 make up just over half of all cases. People 20-29 years old account for 16% of cases. The VDH hasn’t yet made public the same breakdown for deaths and hospitalizations.
Among new cases reported Thursday was a 70-year-old man in Prince George County who was hospitalized in stable condition; he was the second person from Prince George to test positive. A veteran tested positive Thursday at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond, according to a spokesman.
And a second Richmond police officer, a man in his 40s, tested positive.
Both officers who’ve tested positive worked in the department’s 1st Precinct, which covers most of Richmond’s East End and Manchester. A police spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether the two officers had contact with the public.
Several other officers have been asked to self-quarantine, the department said.
Thursday marked the first time in two weeks that Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t hold a daily coronavirus press conference after moving his briefings to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
VCU apologizes for moving students’ belongings
Virginia Commonwealth University brought in a team of movers to pack up student belongings in the Honors College dormitory, later apologizing for not notifying students about the plan.
VCU Health System is planning to use the dorm for overflow space, if needed, for patients who do not have the coronavirus.
A video one of the movers took showed belongings in some rooms. The possessions were boxed and taken to storage units, the university said.
Students who lived in the West Grace Street building learned the news as the video began circulating on social media Wednesday. Many said they were angered the school did not notify them.
“Unfortunately, this work began before we were able to notify students and their families of this emergency decision,” a university statement said. “We apologize for that. We are operating in a crisis situation with many moving parts. We will do better and ask for your understanding as we work through this crisis together. Our priority remains the health and safety of our students and our community.”
Two weeks ago, VCU was among the many Virginia universities that decided to close their residence halls as students switched to online instruction because of COVID-19.