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COVID-19 death toll expected to climb in city

The COVID-19 death toll of 15 in Suffolk is expected to increase by four people when the Virginia Department of Health releases its latest update Thursday.

Deputy Fire Chief and city Emergency Management Coordinator Brian Spicer said he had been informed by the Western Tidewater Health District that it would “probably be adding four additional deaths to our case count (Thursday), with three of those being attributable to a long-term care facility.”

Spicer did not specify which long-term care facility, but the Virginia Department of Health has, as of Monday, reported six outbreaks in the health district, five of which are at long-term care facilities.

Long-term care facilities with known outbreaks in the health district include two in Suffolk — the Bon Secours Maryview Nursing Care Center off of Bridge Road and Autumn Care of Suffolk off of Pruden Boulevard — and Consulate Health Care in Windsor.

To date, just one of the 15 COVID-19 deaths in the city has taken place outside of a long-term care facility, Spicer said.

Of the city’s 205 reported cases, 133 of them — 65 percent — “are noted to be directly related to a long-term care facility,” Spicer said.

In the health district, there have been 53 new cases in the past week, five hospitalizations and seven deaths, but he said for the cases that were reported previous to that, those people have likely recovered.

“With the average length of illness being between three to seven days … those folks, probably the majority of them have recovered and are doing well and are back to work,” Spicer said. “Unfortunately, some of them are in the hospital, and, even more unfortunately, a few of those have passed away. But you can see that outside of seven days, there’s a considerable amount of them that have recovered and are doing well.”

Gov. Ralph Northam and state health officials have so far declined to identify long-term care facilities that have experienced outbreaks, citing Virginia code’s section on patient privacy, and again declined to do so when asked during his Wednesday press briefing.

Statewide, there have been 244 outbreaks, 143 of which are at long-term care facilities.

Spicer told council Wednesday that more than 65 percent of all positive COVID-19 cases in the health district are associated with outbreaks in congregate care facilities. All 15 of the city’s deaths due to COVID-19 have been of people who are at least 60 years old. He said 56 percent of cases in the health district are of people age 60-plus.

Virginia’s reported positive COVID-19 case count of 20,256 as of Tuesday continues to rise due to increased testing, Spicer said. That represents 18 percent of the 112,809 people tested who have tested positive. Statewide, 713 people have died.

State health department Director Dr. Norman Oliver said technical glitches were to blame for the lack of an update to its website Wednesday.

Northam said Wednesday during his press briefing that some parts of the state could extend COVID-19-related bans on non-essential business openings and public gatherings beyond May 15, the date his executive order is set to expire. However, he said he would have the final say on any regional or localized restrictions. He also said he would provide more details on the state’s Phase I reopening Friday.