Local Health Officials Prepare for Spike in COVID-19 Cases, Push for More Contact Tracing

Local public health officials are preparing for a possible spike in COVID-19 cases as Northern Virginia begins the first full-week of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan.

As a result, Fairfax County officials are hiring up to 400 staff to support contact tracing efforts and offer increased testing in areas where tests are needed.

The county has the largest number of cases of any Virginia jurisdiction. As of today (Tuesday), the county has 11,426 confirmed cases and a little over 400 deaths, according to state data. Overall, the rate of COVID-19’s spread has slowed as the number of new weekly cases reported decreases.

At a meeting with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors today (Tuesday), Ben Schwartz, the county’s director of epidemiology and population health, said that the actual number of cases is much higher due to limited testing.

Models produced by the University of Virginia show that roughly six percent of the county’s population could have COVID-19. Some individuals may be asymptomatic.

The county also plans to encourage more people to get tested at several health sites across the county. So far, testing capacity is underutilized, according to health department director Gloria Addo-Ayensu.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn also encouraged the county’s health department to expand testing as much as possible in vulnerable communities.

Others noted that testing sites should be targeted to communities in need instead of publicizing testing events broadly. A testing clinic over the weekend in Bailey’s Crossroads was overwhelmed with requests for tests, resulting in major traffic backups.

Addo-Ayensu said the county will no longer accept state assistance that was used to set up the testing clinic. Instead, the county will focus on smaller testing clinics that reach specific areas only using a mobile clinic. She said she was unaware that Northam would announce the recent testing clinic at a press conference, resulting in a media frenzy.

The county plans to offer more hyperlocal testing in areas where it is most needed.

Overall, the course of the pandemic in the county is unclear.

Whether or not another wave occurs depends on several factors, including adherence to social distancing guidelines, the impact of summer heat and humidity on the virus, and how quickly the state reopens, Schwartz said.

Herndon was also identified as a hotspot for transmission, according to the county’s health department.

Photo via Unplash

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