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February sets record for COVID-19 deaths in West Piedmont Health District
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February sets record for COVID-19 deaths in West Piedmont Health District

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A somber moment at the White House last night. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a moment of silence for the 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.Five hundred candles were placed on the steps and balcony."As a nation, we can't accept such a cruel fate. While we've been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," said President Biden. "We have to resist viewing each life as this as a statistic or a blur or on the news. And we must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the lives of those left behind."To grasp the scope of that number, it's more than the U.S. death toll from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. Even with that context, a half-million deaths can be hard to imagine. But there are signs that things are turning around. For the third week in a row, the number of deaths from COVID dropped. Deaths fell more than 35% last week. New cases have also declined and hospitalizations are at their lowest since the first week of November with 55,000 people fighting the virus from the hospital now. 

February is now the deadliest month of the pandemic in the West Piedmont Health District.

COVID-19 has claimed eight more residents – four each in Henry County and Martinsville – and 45 this month, three more than the record set in January.

That’s also the second-highest single-data total for deaths in the district, with the record 10 being hit twice (on Jan. 28 and Sept. 15).

West Piedmont Health District rolling death report

How the daily death rates have rolled in West Piedmont Health District.

Reasons for the deadly spike? Officials say it’s both following the post-holiday surge in cases from January and the continual data updates as records are checked.

The Virginia Department of Health included these deaths in its data report from Tuesday morning for information collected by 5 p.m. Monday, but deaths could’ve occurred just about any time.

VDH clears cause through death certificates, and backlogs could take weeks to catch up. In fact, officials say continued search of vital records has linked more deaths to the virus. We only know for sure that VDH tracks all data by a person’s place of residence.

Sharon Ortiz-Garcia mug

Ortiz-Garcia

“These reported deaths were identified as a result of the ongoing review of Vital Records death certificate data by VDH central office,” District Epidemiologist Sharon Ortiz-Garcia said in an email forwarded by spokesperson Nancy Bell.

But she also said that, “Yes, most associated with the surge of cases in January.”

There were a record 2,723 cases in the district last month, and although the case count has slowed to its lowest point in months – there were 30 reported Tuesday – the death toll now has climbed to 220, with now 92 of those victims from Henry County and 50 from Martinsville

The 7-day average for deaths is up to 3.0, second only to the record 3.7 set on Sept. 20.

We know scant info about those eight deaths, but we can tell you that one of them was between the ages of 40 and 49 years old, only the eighth victim in that age bracket.

There was also a 15th victim between 50 and 59, but only 25 of the 220 have been younger than 60, and three of these were in their 70s and three more were at least 80.

Six of them were men and two women. Five were white, one was Black and one race was reported as “Other,” which means also not either Asian or Latino.

That’s now 113 victims older than 80, and most by far are white and male.

West Piedmont Health District's latest figures

Unknown field 1 Cases Hospitalizations Deaths Positivity rate Vaccine doses Fully vaccinated
Henry County 4,140 277 92 8,902 1,718
Martinsville 1,490 125 50 158 21
Patrick County 1,171 89 34 1,915 367
Franklin County 3,660 125 44 8,249 2,427
West Piedmont total 10,461 616 220 8.40% 19,224 4,533
Danville 4,240 228 99 9,874 2,391
Pittsylvania County 4,684 159 58 14.20% 7,620 1,742
Virginia 567,039 23,698 4,658 8.30% 1,101,433 440,339

An automatic question relative to this surge is the impact of the three ongoing outbreaks at long-term-care facilities in Martinsville and Henry County.

Responding to a question about Mulberry Creek Nursing & Rehab, where 11 people had been reported dead as of Friday, Ortiz-Garcia said that “one more for this specific facility who has five or more reported deaths associated with COVID-19.”

That means she wasn’t talking about outbreaks at Martinsville Health & Rehab and the King’s Grant Retirement Facility in Henry County. Each has had deaths, but VDH does not disclose how many until the figure has reached five.

“Health departments are not authorized to disclose the number of deaths that are 5 or less,” Ortiz-Garcia said.

There are 225 cases associated with those three outbreaks as of Friday, with 151 of them from Mulberry Creek, 39 from King’s Grant and 35 for Martinsville Health & Rehab.

Tuesday’s overall data report from VDH was a particularly bad one for Henry County. In addition to four deaths, the county had 22 new cases and three more hospitalizations.

That was the majority of 30 new cases in the district, where the rolling 7-day average is down to 22 and 16 per 100,000 population (dramatic decreases from January’s record highs).

Martinsville had five new cases, and Franklin County had four. Patrick County’s total actually decreased by one, which sometimes happens in statistical review.

The positivity rate among tests in the district – a forerunner of surges and outbreaks – has declined to 8.4%, which is barely higher than the state average (8.3%), on 59,000-plus tests.

Since the first case on March 20, the district has had 10,461 cases, with 616 hospitalizations and the 220 deaths.

Steven Doyle is editor of the Martinsville Bulletin and the Danville Register & Bee. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, ext. 245.

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