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Data: Racial disparities in COVID-19 cases in Dan River Region less stark than statewide numbers

Data: Racial disparities in COVID-19 cases in Dan River Region less stark than statewide numbers

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There is a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among Latinos and Black people in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, but the discrepancy is not nearly as stark as what is happening across the rest of the state, Virginia Department of Health data shows.

“All those communities traditionally have had health challenges. There are all kinds of reasons we can say this, but a lot of it gets to years of lack of opportunity and resources,” said Scott Spillmann, health director for the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District. “It puts them in a medically weaker, more disadvantaged starting point,” he said.

For that reason, Spillmann said he has been pushing to provide more testing opportunities that target communities of color within the Danville and Pittsylvania County district. His department is trying to locate more resources and partnerships to carry out more targeted testing, which may include smaller drive-thru sites.

“Those subsets are integral parts of the community,” he said.

In the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, Latinos make up 3.6% of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, but they account for nearly 16% of the positive COVID-19 cases. In the district, Black people make up 33% of the population and account for 39% of the cases, while white people account for nearly 61% of the population and 45% of the cases.

Statewide, the gap between the percent of the population that is Latino and the share of cases among Latinos continues to widen. In mid-May, the 9% of the population that is Latino had roughly 30% of the reported cases. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, that number was 44%.

There is no race data available for many of the cases reported across the state. In the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, 30 reported cases do not have any racial data available. Spillmann explained that stems from some labs not reporting and some organizations taking the tests not getting the data.

“Not all the labs report it out as we ask them to, and not all labs receive that from the people that are ordering the tests,” he said.

There have been 41 people hospitalized due to the virus in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District. Of those, 22 are in in the 60 and up age brackets, despite that group making up significantly less than half of the local population. Both statewide and in the district, the percent of cases in those in the 80-plus bracket is relatively small, but that age bracket makes up a large share of the deaths caused by COVID-19. Statewide, 51% of the 1,816 deaths have been in the 80-plus age range.

There have been only three COVID-19 related deaths in the local health district. Two involved Danville women in the 80-plus age bracket, while the other was a 66-year-old traveling Gretna minister who died in North Carolina in April.

In terms of the age breakdown of COVID-19 cases in the local health district, there are very few in the youngest age ranges. The two age brackets between 40 and 59 years old combine to make up more than 40% of local cases.

Of the 212 reported cases in the local health district, 118 are female and 92 are male. Two case did not have the gender reported.

Growth in the number of cases in the local health district has been sporadic, which can at least partially be attributed to the way that test results come in. Within the span of two days between June 25 and June 27, 18 cases were added. Several of those cases, according to Spillmann, involved people who traveled to Myrtle Beach — a growing hotbed of cases in recent weeks.

Spillmann said that it’s too early to tell if there is any “secondary spread” resulting from those cases.

As of Thursday, 89 cases have been reported in Danville and 123 in Pittsylvania County. Chris Garrett, local health emergency coordinator for the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, said the health department is “following” 113 cases in Pittsylvania County and 53 in Danville.

There have been five outbreaks listed in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District for several weeks, and the 18 cases associated with those outbreaks have not changed in some time.

There are also 12 cases being reported among health care workers. Sovah Health-Danville spokesperson Kelly Fitzgerald confirmed to the Register & Bee that “a few” hospital staff have tested positive, at which point the hospital worked closely with the Virginia Department of Health and followed Centers for Disease Control guidance “to ensure the safety of our patients and staff members.”

One important metric in measuring the spread of COVID-19 is the percent positivity, or the percentage of tests that come back positive. After the seven-day Pittsylvania-Danville percent positivity reached a low of 2.2% in June — right after two days of drive-thru testing where over 800 people were tested — that number has continued to climb. It is now at 8.8%, compared to 6.2% across the state.

“As the [state’s opening] phases advance, more people get together, more people are traveling … they’re doing things fun like getting together,” Spillmann said. “With that comes the risk of infection.”

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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