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Franklin County officials say COVID-19 cases are low, but governor warns Southwest region is experiencing highest numbers in the state

Franklin County officials say COVID-19 cases are low, but governor warns Southwest region is experiencing highest numbers in the state

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It’s officially been six months that Virginia has been in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the one thing that is consistent is the constant change.

Most, if not all, festivals and big events locally and nationally have been canceled, unemployment rates are still high, though not as high as they were in April, schools reopened as did many businesses. However, there is still no vaccine or end in sight to the pandemic.

West Piedmont Population Health Manager Nancy Bell said she can’t quantify what Virginia Department of Health has learned throughout these past six months but the partnerships developed during the pandemic have been invaluable.

“We have worked with municipal governments, businesses and other health care entities to provide testing events and to plan, and this has been essential,” Bell said. “The contacts we have made and the relationships formed will serve us well in the future.”

At press time, VDH reported 287 cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County, up from 259 this time last week, with 15 hospitalizations and three deaths.

Bell said during a Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Zoom event Tuesday, the additional deaths reported in the numbers this week are not new, but were misreported under the City of Franklin when they were actually Franklin County residents. She did not have any further information immediately available.

Cases in Virginia topped 137,460 this week, up from 130,525 cases this time last week.

The state reports more than 10,400 hospitalized due to the virus, and 212 additional deaths were reported this week more than four times the 54 deaths reported last week, bringing the state’s total deaths to 2,920. VDH’s website states there is a backlog regarding death data, which could contribute to the numbers increasing more this week.

Elsewhere in the West Piedmont Health District, Henry County has had 983 cases, with 106 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.

Martinsville has had 370 cases, with 58 hospitalizations and 11 deaths. Patrick County has reported 269 cases, including 51 hospitalizations and 24 deaths.

Franklin County Public Schools reported four staff members and three students who have tested positive as of Thursday, Sept. 17 and due to possible exposures to other staff members at Henry Elementary school, administrators opted to have students go all-virtual for for the remainder of the week. Superintendent Dr. Mark Church confirmed at least one postive case at Franklin County High School as well. Letters went out to parents and staff.

“Those with possible exposures were notified and areas have been thoroughly cleaned and disenfected,” Church said.

The latest data from Ferrum College’s COVID-19 dashboard shows the school has four active cases on campus and seven students in precautionary isolation. Since Aug. 12, 10 students have tested positive as have two staff members. Those students/staff do factor into Franklin County’s COVID-19 numbers if they are living in our area, including on campus.

There have been no changes with respect to available testing in Franklin County. There are still three sites listed on VDH’s website in the county — Velocity Care in Hardy, CVS Pharmacy on Franklin Street in Rocky Mount and the Free Clinic of Franklin County. However, CVS is testing by appointment only, and the online screening questionnaire restricts appointments to those who have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms. The Free Clinic of Franklin County stipulates that patients must be uninsured and have symptoms or known exposure.

“We are contracting with Carilion to deploy their testing team in Franklin County as needed,” Bell said, adding as far as testing rates, there is no reliable data in this region.

“There is often lag time, and with multiple entities doing testing, it’s difficult to capture,” Bell said. “We do receive every positive case directly from CDC for every positive test in Franklin County for case management purposes. Even if they test positive in another state or region, the data is sent to us, as the local for the home address on record.”

She said the health district is tracking every positive case and providing case management for every positive person.

“Fortunately, Franklin County has a decreasing and relatively low rate of COVID cases,” she added.

However, she said Martinsville/Henry County has more than 1,300 cases they have had to perform contact tracing for, keeping them busy on top of advising businesses, schools and groups and educational outreach., a website VDH uses to gather infection rates and information from, shows Franklin County experiencing “slow disease growth” with an infection rate of 7.9 per 100,000 of daily new cases. Virginia, as a whole, has a daily new case rate of 11.9 per 100,000 and has a status of “at risk of an outbreak,” which means COVID cases are either increasing at a rate likely to overwhelm hospitals and/or the state’s COVID preparedness is below international standards.

During the chamber’s Zoom meeting, Carl Cline, vice president of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, said Carilion has tested 46,000 patients system-wide, with approximately 2,000 testing positive for the coronavirus. He said as of Sept. 15 Carilion had 33 total patients in its hospital system who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 patients under investigation awaiting test results.

Cline said there had been some silver linings found in the pandemic with the digital transformation for patients to receive care through technology when they could not get to their doctors, as well as opportunities for innovation. Cline explained innovation program to help staff and nurses to develop innovative ideas stemming from the coronavirus. He said out of 45 ideas two have immediate commercial potential. Workforce training versatility and strengthening community partnerships were also positive developments to come out of the pandemic, he said.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam cautioned Southwest Virginia is seeing more new cases per day on average. The region has an 8.1% rate of positive cases, with 229 new cases per day, more than any other region of the state, he said.

“Since Southwest Virginia has fewer people and fewer hospitals with fewer ICU (intensive care unit) beds and capabilities this continues to be concerning to us,” Northam said.

Northam implored Virginians to get their flu shots as the season approaches. Bell said flu shots are more important than ever with symptoms that closely mirror COVID-19.

“These numbers for COVID have got to stay down as we approach flu season because if they are allowed to rise at a time when the flu comes on … it’s a perfect storm for making sure our doctors and our hospitals cannot handle the capacity,” Bell said. “If you get COVID or you get the flu your immune system is compromised and it could be deadly.”

She said there will be flu shot clinics in Franklin County but did not have dates available yet. They will be posted on the West Piedmont Health District’s social media, she said.

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