The novel coronavirus that has infected more than 100,000 people and disrupted economies around the world has now been detected in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William and Spotsylvania Counties.
Virginia health officials say that six patients have tested positive for the respiratory virus officially known as COVID-19 as of Mar. 10, all of them residents of the state’s northern region.
A U.S. Marine at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico became the first person in the state to get a presumptive positive test for the coronavirus, the Virginia Department of Health confirmed on Mar. 7.
That report was followed a day later by an announcement by the state health department that a City of Fairfax resident had tested positive for the disease after being hospitalized on Mar. 5. The man’s wife is the third person who has tested positive.
A fourth presumptive positive case, meaning the results have not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was reported on Mar. 9 in Arlington County.
And now Loudoun and Spotsylvania counties have announced that residents there are now also considered presumptive positive. In Loudoun County, health officials say a man in his 40s possibly contracted the virus at Christ Church Georgetown, where a pastor is also thought to be ill.
At a press conference at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax on Mar. 8, Fairfax County Health Department officials confirmed that the Fairfax City couple was a man in his 80s and his wife, who had both recently traveled on a Nile River cruise, albeit on a different boat than the one that has been linked to several other coronavirus cases, including three travelers from Montgomery County in Maryland.
“We don’t know a lot of details about this cruise or other potential ill people who had been on this particular boat at that time,” Fairfax County Health Department director of epidemiology and population health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.
While officials have stayed vague about the infected individuals’ identities due to patient privacy and confidentiality concerns, Schwartz says the City of Fairfax residents developed symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever, coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
After tests for common respiratory illnesses such as influenza came back negative, specimens were sent to Virginia’s state laboratory in Richmond on Mar. 6, and a presumptive positive result came back on Mar. 7.
The Virginia and Fairfax County health departments are currently working with Fairfax City to identify close contacts of the resident who might have been exposed, but Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu says the couple had “limited contact with others while ill and, therefore, the risk to the general Fairfax community remains low.”
The Fairfax City couple is in stable condition at a hospital and not in intensive care, according to Schwartz.
The Pentagon reported on Mar. 5 that the Marine who tested positive for COVID-19 had recently returned overseas from official business. The individual was hospitalized at Fort Belvoir that day and underwent testing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Marine Corps Base Quantico announced on Mar. 8 that schools on the base would be closed until Mar. 11 so they could be thoroughly cleaned as a preventative measure.
Like the other two Virginia patients, the Arlington County resident developed symptoms after returning from international travel. The person is in their 60s and is currently receiving medical care and recuperating.
As of Mar. 9, Virginia has tested 50 people for COVID-19 with 38 tests coming back negative and nine results still pending, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
418 people have been put under public health monitoring since Feb. 2 based on their risk of exposure from international travel or proximity to someone confirmed to be infected with the virus, which are the main criteria for monitoring recommended by the CDC.
166 people in Virginia are currently being monitored, while 252 individuals have completed their monitoring with no additional public health action taken.
Dr. Denise Toney, the director of the Virginia Department of General Service’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, says the state laboratory has two in-house test kits that they estimate can test approximately 150 to 200 patients each, depending on the number of specimens submitted and the need for repeat tests.
Additional test kits have been ordered and could potentially arrive next week. The lab is also working with the Virginia Department of Health as well as university hospitals and private commercial laboratories in the state to determine their testing capacity.
“Currently, we have adequate capacity to test all the specimens or all the patients that we are currently receiving, so we do have the capacity to handle the volume now,” Toney said. “…We anticipate that the access to testing will continue to increase each day, so that Virginia will have capacity to test whoever needs to be tested.”
According to Fairfax County, the Virginia state lab is focusing on testing people with:
• fever or signs of lower respiratory illness and close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient within the past 14 days
• fever, signs of lower respiratory illness, a negative test for influenza, and a history of travel to a country with a Level 2 or 3 travel advisory or an area with confirmed ongoing community transmission within the previous 14 days
• fever or signs of lower respiratory illness, a negative test for influence, a negative viral respiratory panel, no alternative explanation for their illness, and a history of residing in a nursing home or long-term care facility within the past 14 days
The Virginia Department of Health recommends that individuals who think they need to be tested for COVID-19 contact their healthcare provider, rather than their local health department.
“Your healthcare provider will consult with the local health department to see if testing is necessary,” VDH says. “Test kits are very limited and there are certain criteria set by the CDC that local health departments will use to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.”
State and Fairfax County health officials say that people should adhere to the same procedures recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses:
• Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
• Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible
• Cover nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve, not hands, when coughing or sneezing
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
• Stay home when sick and avoid contact with sick people as much as possible
• Avoid non-essential travel
The CDC has been discouraging people from wearing facemasks to protect themselves, saying that masks do little to protect healthy people but are necessary for people who are infected and health workers and caretakers.
In addition to putting information on its website, the Virginia Department of Health has set up a call center for coronavirus-related questions that can be reached at 1-877-ASK-VDH3.
Fairfax County Public Schools are still operating on a normal schedule, but all international field trips and short-term international visitations have been suspended through June 30.
FCPS is developing plans for distance learning and emergency food distribution in the event of a coronavirus-prompted division-wide closure.
Outlined during the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on Mar. 9, the distance learning plan would unfold in two phases with students released one or two days prior to their school’s closure to give staff time to get training on providing virtual instruction.
Students would then participate in “self-directed learning activities” for the first through fifth days of the closure, while staff prepare materials to resume instruction virtually on the sixth day.
FCPS Food and Nutrition Services are consulting with the Virginia Department of Education to establish procedures for emergency food distribution, potentially based on the district’s existing summer meal delivery model with prepared, bagged meals and established pick-up points that students would visit at staggered times.
In the meantime, FCPS has distributed handwashing posters to schools, instructed teachers to provide time for handwashing and sanitizing, reinforced cleaning protocols for custodians, and introduced new cleaning procedures for buses that drivers are currently piloting.
Schools are also establishing locations away from their clinics for students or staff who present coronavirus-like symptoms.
“The schools are very closely monitoring this situation,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I would encourage all parents…to sign up for communications from FCPS directly. They’ve been messaging out critical information for the community for the last several days.”