Gloucester, Mathews record first positive COVID-19 cases
The Middle Peninsula received its first confirmed cases of the coronavirus or COVID-19 this past week, with two cases now in Gloucester County and an employee of Mathews County Public Schools testing positive on Tuesday.
The region’s first case was confirmed last Thursday, a Gloucester child under the age of 10, according to the Three Rivers Health District. The child was seen at a pediatric medical practice in Gloucester and is at home with family recovering.
“Given the nature of the current outbreak, discovering COVID-19 in our community does not come as a surprise and we expect to see more cases in the coming weeks,” Three Rivers Health District Director Dr. Richard Williams said following the first positive case.
His words soon proved true, as a second Gloucester case was confirmed over the weekend. Dr. Williams said that this second case involved a young Gloucester adult who is doing well and is recovering.
On Tuesday morning, Mathews County Public Schools was notified that an employee in the system’s transportation department had contracted COVID-19. School Superintendent Nancy Welch shared the information in a message on the school system’s website and social media.
In an email notification to supervisors and county staff, Mathews County Administrator Mindy Conner said that the 60-year-old employee, who has underlying health conditions, is currently undergoing treatment at Riverside Walter Reed Hospital. The Virginia Department of Health is in the process of contacting individuals who may have come in contact with this patient, she said.
The health department’s protocol, said Conner, is to track down everyone who may have had contact with each infected person to assess their health status and institute quarantine measures.
Williams said that the health department is investigating the possibility that both the Mathews resident and the Gloucester child contracted their illnesses within the community. He said it could indicate a local cluster of COVID-19. There is no evidence that the young Gloucester adult contracted the illness locally, said Williams, “which means they got it somewhere else.”
Dr. Williams said that the Mathews resident had been diagnosed in the controlled setting of the hospital, and the district is developing a contact list to try to determine where the disease was likely acquired. From that list, anyone who may have been exposed will be contacted, he said.
The number of local cases can be expected to increase over the coming days, said Williams, just as they will every place else in the U.S.
“This is a dreadfully dangerous situation for older people,” he said. “The numbers of people potentially dying are staggering.”
While in China, soldiers are placed on the street to prevent people from leaving their homes, that’s not the case in countries such as the U.S., said Williams, so voluntary compliance is important.
The safest thing for people to do, said Williams, is to continue to follow the guidelines that have been recommended by health authorities: wash hands frequently and practice strict social isolation by staying at home.
Residents should not engage in any non-essential travel, he said, and should not frequent places where there are more than 10 people. Contact with even one other person can spread the disease, he said.
“We should be trying to isolate ourselves as much as possible,” said Williams. “It’s the best way to protect yourself.”
Williams said he has 40 years of experience dealing with epidemics, beginning with anthrax during the first Gulf War in 1990, when he commanded a field hospital. He said he was also “in the middle of” the anthrax scare in 2001 in Washington, D.C., and he has since then dealt with SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola.
“We’ve been training for this sort of event for many years,” said Williams. “We’ve been fully cognizant that this sort of thing would happen.”
But nothing that Williams has experienced thus far has been comparable to COVID-19. While flu has been deadly, he said, it’s not as easily transmitted as COVID-19, and people do have some immunity to the flu. And while there were tragedies associated with the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, “it didn’t have the potential to run through the population like this one.”
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” he said. “This kind of virus with no immunity at all is unprecedented in modern history.”
As of Tuesday night, the Virginia Department of Health reported that there were 290 positive COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth, 45 had been hospitalized and seven had died from the disease. Only 4,470 people in Virginia have been tested as of this date, according to the VDH website, which is updated daily at noon.
The website only shows the two Gloucester cases in all of the Three Rivers Health District; information about the Mathews case had apparently not been added in time for the daily update.