Health care workers screen a patient for COVID-19 at a drive-through coronavirus testing site on March 18, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. Fewer patients are relying on PCR tests, preferring at-home antigen tests whose results aren’t typically reported back to the state. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
With its first documented COVID-19 case, Southwest Virginia’s Dickenson County has dropped off the small list of counties still showing no confirmed presence of the new coronavirus despite the roughly 55,000 cases statewide.
Dickenson, a rural county of about 14,300 people, had been one of just three counties with no confirmed cases before reporting its first case Tuesday. The local health district would not provide any additional information about the patient.
The only two localities still showing zero confirmed cases are Bath and Bland counties.
Though the virus trends in Virginia are pointing downward, officials have warned that just because sparsely populated areas don’t show confirmed cases doesn’t mean the virus isn’t there or couldn’t quickly spread if people stop following social distancing guidelines.
“Wherever you are, we know the risk of COVID-19 is there, too,” Dr. Sue Cantrell, director of the Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco Health Districts said in a statement. “Remember that the best protection for each of us comes from personal precautions, including hygiene and physical distancing. That’s how you protect yourself and those around you. Remember, there is no safe place. There is only safe behavior.”
The Cumberland Plateau Health District – which includes Dickenson, Buchanan, Russell and Tazewell counties – now has 36 cases, two hospitalizations and zero deaths, according to health officials.
Virginia’s coronavirus numbers show a stark difference between the state’s populous areas and rural regions. For instance, Fairfax County had logged more than 13,100 cases and 428 deaths as of Tuesday, while many small localities in the western part of the state showed cases in the single digits.
Health officials said it’s not surprising that some small counties are still showing zero cases.
“That said, it would be misleading to conclude there are no cases — we only count what we test and confirm — or that residents are somehow safer and can let down their guard,” said Dr. Karen Shelton, director of the Mount Rogers Health District, which covers Bland, Carroll, Grayson and Smith counties, as well as the cities of Bristol and Galax.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state will not be entering the next phase of reopening this week, pointing to spiking numbers in other states that have reopened.
“I want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes, especially as we see surges in other parts of the country” Northam said.
As of Tuesday, the state was reporting a total of 1,570 coronavirus-related deaths.
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