By Brandon Martin and Debbie Hall
In a weekly briefing, Gov. Ralph Northam said the dangers of COVID-19 have not passed, and many of the previous restrictions remain in place as officials continue to look at reopening the state.
“This virus is still out there. It spreads like wildfire,” particularly in rural communities, Northam said.
Health officials on Monday announced two confirmed cases in the City of Martinsville, which previously had no cases. The number of confirmed cases in Henry County also spiked, with 17 cases now confirmed there, according to health officials.
Last week, health officials also confirmed two cases of the virus in Patrick County.
While those cases can be attributed to known exposure and/or travel, health officials in the Mount Rogers Health District in Carroll County announced a community transmission of the virus, according to The Carroll News.
Nancy Bell, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health’s West Piedmont Health District, said community transmission means the case was community-based. She noted that not all cases have a clear indication of where/how the virus was contracted.
In the briefing, Northam noted that many social distancing guideline and other strategies aimed at prevention will remain in place.
“The guidelines are working. We’re very optimistic we will be able to open up our hospitals Friday to elective procedures,” Northam said. “While there are some individuals out there who may not believe what we’re saying, I think the majority of Virginians get it and have followed the guidelines and I’m very appreciative that they have.”
Still, many wonder how the new virus compares with the flu.
While there are some similarities between the coronavirus (COVID-19) and influenza (flu), for instance, both are categorized as infectious respiratory illnesses, the difference in the two is reflected in data collected and provided by the Virginia Health Department.
Sharon Ortiz-García, West Piedmont Health District Epidemiologist, said that the flu is tracked differently than COVID-19.
“Influenza surveillance efforts in Virginia include collecting and analyzing data on visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness, laboratory results of confirmatory tests, suspected and confirmed outbreaks, and pediatric and adults’ deaths,” she said.
The activity levels for the flu fall under the following five categories:
* No activity – No influenza-like illnesses (ILI), outbreak, or lab activity above threshold.
* Sporadic – One confirmed outbreak or lab activity without elevated ILI.
* Local – Lab activity with either elevated ILI or more than one outbreak in one region.
* Regional – Lab activity with either elevated ILI or more than one outbreak in two regions.
* Widespread – Lab activity with either elevated ILI or more than one outbreak on three or more regions.
Based on data from an April 23 report by VDH, there were 11,883 flu infections during the 2019-2020 season. Of that number, influenza A made up 6,814 cases and influenza B accounted for 5,069 cases. The department also reported 2,695 pneumonia and influenza-associated deaths during the same season.
The COVID-19 outbreak is ongoing but it is being tracked on an individual case basis. According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), as of April 27 there were 13,535 cases in the Commonwealth with 458 deaths.
“Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away,” according to the center’s website. “Doctors and scientists are working on estimating the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be higher than that of most strains of the flu.”
For a broader comparison of the two viruses, the U.S. reported 54,877 deaths as of April 27. During typical years, the flu accounts for 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S, according to data provided by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Based on that report, the total number of flu cases in a given year, 9.3 to 45 million cases, dwarfs the number of COVID-19 cases which as of April 27 was 965,933.
Restrictions due to COVID-19 have prompted many to ask how the new virus compares with the flu. Although both are categorized as infectious respiratory illnesses, health officials said that data is collected and presented differently.