Carilion COVID-19

Carilion Clinic CEO Nancy Agee (from left); Dr. Paul Skolnik, chair of medicine at Carilion; and Dr. Patrice Weiss, Carilion’s chief medical officer, keep their distance from one another during Wednesday’s briefing to discuss the health system’s COVID-19 plans. Social distancing is known to reduce the number of cases, delay their onset and reduce the opportunity for cases to occur as clusters.

Carilion Clinic said Thursday evening that an elderly patient at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital has tested positive for COVID-19.

The woman, who is in her 80s and lives in Botetourt County, went to the hospital on Monday with symptoms of the disease. Dr. Paul Skolnik, chair of medicine, said in a video news release that the patient was tested and admitted to an isolation unit, where she remains in serious condition. The test result from a commercial lab came back positive on Thursday.

“The result was immediately shared with the Virginia Department of Health, which is overseeing the investigation to trace relevant patient contact,” he said.

Dr. Molly O’Dell, who is coordinating the local response to the virus for the Roanoke City Health Department, said they are tracing all of the woman’s contacts to see if they can find out how she contracted the virus and whom she might have encountered since then.

“It’s early. It takes a while to get a hold of everybody. The hospital is working its line list of possible exposure. We will do the same with emergency medical people and all possibility situations,” O’Dell said. “If she’s been out in the community, we hope people have been practicing their social distancing. It makes it real.”

As of Thursday, Carilion had tested 172 patients, with 69 negative results, one positive and 102 tests still pending, Skolnik said.

“For those of you in the community, we encourage you to take relevant precautions and call your doctor if you have symptoms, wash your hands often and practice social distancing to keep yourself and your community safe,” he said.

The Carilion patient is not included in the state’s Thursday reporting of 94 cases, which included a child in Gloucester County.

During Gov. Ralph Northam’s briefing in the afternoon, there were still no positive test results in Southwest Virginia. But health officials said it would be only a matter of time.

“Infectious diseases do not respect boundaries,” Northam said.

“We have at this point distinct clusters in a few geographic areas of the state, and so we are at the level where we are seeing local transmission in Virginia,” said Dr. Lillian Peake, state epidemiologist.

The Health Department reported Thursday that of the 94 people with the virus at the time, 19 were hospitalized. The number of deaths remains at two, both men in their 70s who lived in the Peninsula Health District. The child in Gloucester is recovering at home.

The state posts numbers at noon each day based on what it knows and has confirmed by 5 p.m. the previous day. The new numbers showed test results were in for 1,923 Virginians, but there is no way to know how many test results are pending at private labs.

The state has relied on the Centers for Disease Control for test supplies and has not had nearly enough to meet demand.

“I’m very happy to say today that we actually have some increased capacity at our state labs to do a bit more testing,” Peake said. “I’m really proud of our state lab staff who are working around the clock to get the different supplies that they need to run the test. They now have capacity for 1,000.”

Peake said they are also working to develop their own test so they will not need to rely on the CDC. With limited capacity, testing has been available only to people who are showing symptoms and who have been exposed to someone who tested positive, or who live or traveled in a hot spot.

With the lack of broader testing, Peake said it is not known how many Virginians might be infected.

“We are still learning about the situation. We are looking at the experience in other states and modeling,” she said. “But we are now seeing an increase in reports coming from outside labs. There seems to be capacity there. We’re happy to see that.”

Northam outlined state actions to ease financial strain by delaying sales tax payments, extending income tax payment deadlines, easing child reimbursement payments and eliminating Medicaid copays for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

He said he has talked with Virginia’s Congressional delegation, Maryland’s governor and members of the General Assembly, but the government can’t do this alone.

“This requires every single one of us to act responsibly and with common sense. Everyone needs to understand, acting in the common good is in all of your best interest,” Northam said. “We are only as healthy as the people we come in contact with. Everyone also needs to understand we are going to have to make sacrifices and changes to our normal lives.”

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