Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department, spoke with the Times-Mirror on Monday about the county’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are some key takeaways.
As of Aug. 8, Loudoun had 5,254 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an increase in 240 cases from one week earlier. The local death toll related to the virus stood at 115, a three-death increase from July 29. The most recent figure for percent positivity in testing was 6.4 percent, a gradual uptick from the previous few days.
Improving expediency in testing remains a challenge
Goodfriend said the good news is that expediency of testing has improved in Loudoun compared to the seven- to 10-day window seen a few months back. Goodfriend hopes Loudoun providers are able to do “point of care” testing and get the results back 15-20 minutes later in the near future, “but we’re not there yet for the most part,” he said, noting that large-scale labs have redirected resources to the deeper south and the southwest to help address the significant increase in cases.
Inova Loudoun is one health care service that has had quick turnaround times, Goodfriend said, largely because they do their testing in-house.
In other parts of the commonwealth, Goodfriend said improving the expediency of the testing remains a greater challenge than here in Loudoun.
“The goal is you want to get tests back in a day or two because that’s when you can make the most difference, particularly for people who are not having symptoms,” Goodfriend said. “The quicker we can get results effects, the better.”
Vaccines expected by winter
Widespread vaccines are estimated to come as early as December and by February at the latest, Goodfriend said. Vaccines are expected to occur during the projected second wave of the virus spread.
Still, Goodfriend stressed the importance of continued social distancing, wearing masks and consistently washing your hands.
“Those steps we’re taking now will become even more important in November, December and January when we would expect the virus to be more common because general coronaviruses prefer colder weather,” he said.
Goodfriend said with winter approaching there is going to be a need for volunteers to join the Medical Reserve Corps.
The health director noted medical professionals are concerned about residents getting both the coronavirus and the flu.
“Getting both could be even more serious for individuals, but also if you have symptoms overlap … you don’t know it’s not coronavirus until you get tested,” he said.
The flu has tended to overwhelm emergency departments in previous winters, and the pandemic could exacerbate that challenge.
Goodfriend did note some good news, saying the local Medical Reserve Corps has increased to 800 new members.
Tracing has shown a spread in the virus across age groups
Older adults and people that work in essential services, grocery stores, nursing homes and restaurants led the positive cases early on in the pandemic, but as the restrictions in Virginia started to lift in May and June, children, teenagers and young adults started letting their guard down. The county noted a significant spike in cases among young people in June. Goodfriend said some of the patients attended bars, house parties and specifically “Beach Week” in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
As a result, Goodfriend said the health community has had to change its messaging and urge people to avoid those high-risk areas. One reason is to avoid the transmission to others who may be a high-risk such as someone at a grocery store.
Physical distancing will be key when schools open
Goodfriend said the health department has been working with public and private schools to accommodate their interest in reopening. Loudoun County Public Schools is reopening with 100 percent distance learning for the fall.
The health department said the keys to limiting the spread are practicing physical distancing, wearing face coverings and keeping potentially infectious students and staff out of the schools.
Some areas of concern as it relates to schools are facility barriers and buses.
Transmission remains low in region, Loudoun
Goodfriend said the transmission rate is lower compared to when the pandemic first started. He said the county is averaging about 30 cases a day.
The county’s percent positivity rate in testing was around 6 percent at the time of the interview, which was well below the county’s highest rate of 23.8% in April and below the statewide average.
Goodfriend said the goal is to be at 5 percent or under. “We’re fortunate that in northern Virginia transmission is low, but we also know from our experience a couple months ago that it’s not necessarily going to stay that way,” Goodfriend said. “If people stopped taking the steps of mask wearing and physical distancing, easily our numbers will go up again.”
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have done much better than when the pandemic started, Goodfriend said. “But similar to the community as a whole, it’s that continued focus that’s critical, because anytime you relax what you’re doing, the virus finds a way to get in,” he said.