Tucked in the Southside Virginia countryside along the North Carolina border, Greensville County is an unlikely place for the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in the state.
Its 12,000 residents include 3,200 inmates in state correctional facilities, but the county isn’t dealing with a coronavirus outbreak in the prison or any long-term care facilities, as other rural localities are experiencing.
Yet, seven Greensville residents have died from COVID-19, a mortality rate of 60 deaths per 100,000 people — the highest in Virginia. The adjoining city of Emporia is second with three deaths and a fatality rate of 59 deaths per 100,000 people.
“We’re appalled by the high number in our locality,” Greensville County Administrator Brenda Parson said in an interview on Thursday.
“There seems to be no explanation really for why they are so high,” Parson said of the 44 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Greensville and 47 in Emporia.
Explanations are easier to find in other rural Virginia localities that COVID-19 has invaded with deadly results.
On the Northern Neck, Richmond County has confirmed 194 cases and three deaths, the Virginia Department of Health said Thursday. But a single long-term care facility in the town of Warsaw, the county seat, has acknowledged five deaths from the disease. Haynesville Correctional Center, east of Warsaw, has confirmed 152 cases among inmates and two among staff, but no deaths.
Riverside Health System, owner of The Orchard at Warsaw, said Wednesday night that in addition to the deaths, the assisted living facility also has 17 residents infected with the disease, including three who are hospitalized, and nine employees who tested positive for the virus.
“Out of respect for privacy, we cannot provide specific details,” Riverside spokesman Peter Glagola said in an email.
Statewide, long-term care facilities accounted for more than half of the confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Virginia on Friday. They constitute 470 of the total 812 deaths; 3,172 of 22,342 confirmed cases, or 14%; and 150 of the 260 outbreaks of two or more cases in a location.
Based on the health department numbers, the COVID-19 mortality in Richmond County is 33 deaths per 100,000 people, and cases are beginning to appear outside of the prison and assisted living facility.
“We are starting to see it spread into the community,” Richmond County Administrator Morgan Quicke said Thursday.
Coggin Furniture closed its store in Warsaw at the end of April with a post on Facebook that said: “Due to COVID19 outbreak in Richmond County we feel it is necessary to close for the health and safety of our employees and customers. We DO NOT have any cases at the store, this is a preventive measure.”
The store said it plans to reopen on May 18.
“We have gotten it a little bit later [than population centers], but it’s an issue we’ve been taking very seriously,” Quicke said.
Across the Rappahannock River in Tappahannock, Food Lion confirmed that five employees of its grocery store there had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The associates will not return to work until cleared by public health officials,” Food Lion said in a statement on Thursday. “Any other associates who were in close contact with these associates are self-quarantined at home.
“In an abundance of caution, we took immediate action to notify store associates of the positive tests,” the company said.
Food Lion said it conducted “enhanced cleaning” of the store, began requiring all employees to wear face coverings and undergo health screenings, and installed Plexiglas shields at all registers.
Page County, perched over the Shenandoah Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has had 123 confirmed cases and 11 deaths from COVID-19, for a fatality rate of 46 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the health department.
One nursing facility in Luray, Skyview Springs Rehab and Nursing Center, confirmed on Thursday that 12 residents have died of COVID-19 out of the 59 who tested positive in a point-prevalence survey by the health department last month
Skyview Administrator Jill Irby said 18 employees also tested positive for COVID-19, increasing the strain on staffing at the skilled nursing facility.
“Our staffing is minimal,” Irby said Thursday. “It’s adequate, but minimal.”
Harrisonburg, in the central Shenandoah Valley, also is a hot spot. It has recorded 574 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths, for a fatality rate of 39 deaths per 100,000 people. Again, long-term care is a major culprit. Accordius Health at Harrisonburg, a nursing home in the city, has reported 81 cases and 22 deaths, according to local media reports.
Long-term care facilities also have contributed to high death rates in Colonial Heights, a small city south of Richmond, and Mecklenburg County in rural Southside.
Colonial Heights has had 65 cases and six deaths, for a fatality rate of 34 per 100,000 people, according to the health department.
At least two deaths occurred in the Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, but state health officials refuse to identify where the other deaths occurred or whether the victims were residents of long-term care.
The same is true in adjoining Chesterfield County, which has more COVID-19 deaths, at 26, but a much lower fatality rate, 7 deaths per 100,000, because of its large population. Eight deaths have been attributed to a coronavirus outbreak at Spring Arbor Senior Living at Salisbury, an assisted living facility in Midlothian that confirmed 23 COVID-19 cases among residents through April 19, the date of the last positive test.
“VDH does not release information at the locality level that stratifies by facility type,” said Dr. Alexander Samuel, director of the Chesterfield Health District, which includes Colonial Heights and the counties of Chesterfield and Powhatan.
However, out of 15 COVID-19 outbreaks that the department has confirmed in the district, nine are in long-term care facilities.
Mecklenburg, with two popular recreational lakes along the North Carolina border, has had 111 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, for a fatality rate of 33 deaths per 100,000 people, the health department said Thursday.
“Grim numbers, on the rise,” a headline warned last week in the Mecklenburg Sun, a local newspaper, which identified Sentara MeadowView Terrace, an assisted living and rehab facility in Clarksville, as a source of COVID-19 cases.
Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter declined to identify the source of the outbreak because of the policy stated by the VDH and Gov. Ralph Northam to not publicly name long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases.
“Based on the governor’s order, we can’t say where they’re at,” Carter said.
Sentara Healthcare, which owns Sentara MeadowView Terrace, acknowledged COVID-19 cases at the facility, but declined to say how many or confirm any deaths.
“Normal protocol is to report new cases and deaths to the Virginia Department of Health and we are observing that process,” said Brittany Vajda, corporate communications adviser at Sentara.
“We have taken the additional step to directly contact the families of every resident when a new case is identified,” Vajda said in an email. “We publicly acknowledged the presence of COVID-19 in our facility and the immediate steps taken to ensure the safety of residents by relocating those affected to our hospital in South Boston, and subsequent efforts at isolation, testing of residents and staff and facility cleaning.”
In Greensville, county officials are doing everything they can to identify the source of the virus and stop it from spreading.
Emergency management officials are mapping the county’s COVID-19 cases, but hasn’t found them concentrated anywhere. They’re working with Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, and officials in Emporia to set up a testing site to try to identify people who may be carrying the virus but aren’t showing symptoms.
“We’ve got carriers and they don’t know they’re carriers,” said Parson, the county administrator.
“It’s very discouraging,” she said. “It’s also very scary for our residents.”