The novel coronavirus that has infected more than 100,000 people and disrupted economies around the world has been detected throughout Virginia, including four cases in Fairfax County.
17 patients – 12 in the north and five in the Central, Eastern, and Northwestern health districts – have tested positive for the respiratory virus officially known as COVID-19 as of Mar. 12, state and local health officials have reported.
All reported cases of the coronavirus in Virginia so far have been connected to travel or contact with a person known to be infected, and there is no evidence of community spread, meaning the virus is coming from identifiable sources, not transmitting throughout the general population, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Virginia health officials confirmed on Mar. 7 that a U.S. Marine at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico was the first person in the state to get a presumptive positive test for COVID-19, and a City of Fairfax resident became the second person to test positive for the disease the next day.
According to Fairfax County Health Department officials, who held a press conference at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax on Mar. 8, the Fairfax City resident is a man in his 80s who recently traveled on a Nile River cruise in Egypt similar to one that has been linked to other coronavirus patients, including three travelers from Montgomery County in Maryland.
The man developed a fever, coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath on Feb. 28. After tests for common respiratory illnesses like 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.
Fever, coughing, and shortness of breath are the main symptoms of COVID-19 and may appear two to 14 days after exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Virginia Department of Health announced on Mar. 9 that the man’s spouse also tested positive for the coronavirus. She traveled on the same cruise as her husband and self-quarantined after her husband was tested on Mar. 5.
The man and woman were both hospitalized and were last reported to be in stable condition.
“We know the risk of coronavirus disease increases among close contacts of infected persons,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “Based on the results of our contact investigation to date, the individual had limited contact with others outside the home while ill so the risk to the general Fairfax community remains low.”
The Fairfax County Health Department announced on Mar. 12 that two more county residents had tested positive for the virus after coming in contact with an individual in North Carolina who was identified as a presumptive positive case on Mar. 9.
The new Fairfax County patients include the spouse of the North Carolina case, a man in his 60s who became ill with respiratory symptoms on Mar. 2. Specimens were collected and sent to the Virginia state lab for testing on Mar. 10.
The other presumptive positive case is a male Fairfax County resident in his 20s who is a close contact of the North Carolina individual. He became ill with symptoms on Mar. 6.
Both individuals who were reported as presumptive positive cases for COVID-19 on Mar. 12 are isolated at their homes, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
“We strongly recommend that all residents, workers, students, and visitors take the necessary precautions to protect themselves against novel coronavirus,” Addo-Ayensu said. “Public Health will continue working with local, state, federal, and community partners to reduce the risk of community spread.”
Cases have also now been reported in Arlington, Loudoun, and Spotsylvania Counties, as well as the City of Alexandria and Virginia Beach, where a couple who returned from a Nile River cruise on Mar. 5 tested positive on Mar. 10.
The Arlington County patient, an individual in their 60s, developed fever, cough, and shortness of breath after returning from international travel. The Spotsylvania County resident is in their 50s and sought medical attention after developing the same symptoms.
The Loudoun County Health Department announced on Mar. 10 that a resident in their 40s tested positive for COVID-19 after coming into contact with a person with the disease while attending Christ Church Georgetown in Washington, D.C., which suspended services until at least Mar. 22 after its rector was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Mar. 7.
The Alexandria Health Department announced its first presumptive positive COVID-19 case on Mar. 11. The city resident had been a close contact of a Washington, D.C., resident associated with Christ Church Georgetown who is now confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.
The city health department is recommending that individuals who visited the Immanuel Chapel of the Virginia Theological Seminary, where the Alexandria patient came in contact with the D.C. resident, self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after their last visit.
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.
As of Mar. 12, Virginia had tested at least 132 people for COVID-19 with 117 tests coming back negative, but the Virginia Department of Health ceased reporting the number of pending tests on Mar. 10 after testing capacity expanded to commercial laboratories, which all report results to the state.
Dr. Denise Toney, the director of the Virginia Department of General Service’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said on Mar. 8 that the state laboratory had 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.
“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.”
Commercial laboratories LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics now have testing abilities, and Inova has said it will cover the costs of coronavirus tests for its patients, Fairfax County Health Department director of epidemiology and population health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz told the county’s board of supervisors during a briefing on Mar. 10.
Schwartz estimates that between 10 and 20 coronavirus diagnostic tests have been conducted in Fairfax County and sent to the Virginia state lab, but that does not include tests done through the private sector.
“We do rely on the result of the diagnostic tests, and unfortunately, there have not been as many available as we would’ve liked,” Schwartz said when asked about the health department’s confidence that there has been no community spread in Fairfax County. “…We’ll probably learn a lot more in the next few days, but obviously, we can’t know what we don’t know.”
The insurance provider Optima Health announced on Mar. 6 that it will waive out-of-pocket costs associated with COVID-19 diagnostic testing at in-network labs for members, who can also receive telehealth visits for the next 90 days without any copayments or cost-sharing.
The county health department is currently advising people to contact their healthcare provider if they believe they should be tested based on their symptoms and risk factors.
While the county maintains that the risk to the general public remains low, there is an increased risk of COVID-19 infection for people who have come within six feet of someone diagnosed with the disease, including healthcare workers and care takers, and people who have traveled either domestically or internationally to places where there has been community spread.
People over 60 years old or who have significant underlying, chronic medical conditions, like heart or lung disease and diabetes, appear to be more vulnerable to severe complications if they are infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC.
Current projections suggest that the disease will occur in waves that may last between six weeks and three months in any given community and infect up to 20 percent of the population with an estimated mortality rate of 2 percent based on data gathered so far, according to Schwartz.
The Fairfax County Health Department is not recommending cancellations of public meetings or events at this point, but hosts should consider whether the event could be conducted remotely and if attendees will be older or otherwise at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if infected.
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced on Mar. 10 that Mar. 16 will be designated a student holiday to give staff time to prepare and train for the possibility of distance learning in the event of a limited or system-wide closure.
Most extracurricular activities, including interscholastic contests and team practices, will proceed as scheduled that day, but the middle school after-school program has been canceled. Adult and community education classes will still be held, as will any recreational or community programs not affiliated with FCPS.
FCPS has also canceled all overnight field trips starting Mar. 11 through Apr. 12 and all trips to New York state, though day trips to other locations can proceed as scheduled.
“We recognize that the decision to cancel overnight field trips may be disappointing,” Brabrand said in a letter to families and staff. “However, the decision is made in an abundance of caution for our students and staff.”
FCPS already suspended all international field trips and short-term international visitations through June 30.
School staff shared their efforts to develop plans for distance learning and emergency food distribution in the event of school closures at a Fairfax County School Board work session on Mar. 9.
Under the presented distance learning plan, students would be 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 on procedures for emergency food distribution, which could use 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.
George Mason University suspended all international university-related and sponsored student travel on Mar. 6 through May 15, but as of Mar. 10, the university had no plans to cancel classes or modify operations. Individual events and activities are subject to organizers’ discretion.
Northern Virginia Community College has issued a travel advisory urging faculty, staff, and students to reconsider any plans to travel internationally or to areas affected by the coronavirus in the U.S.
“If you do travel, we ask you to plan for the possibility of travel delays, future quarantines, or prolonged self-isolation when returning” to Northern Virginia, the advisory says.
With scientists still working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Fairfax County health officials say people should protect themselves and their community by following the same hygiene used 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
• Cough and sneeze into a tissue or sleeve, not hands
• 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 important 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.