COVID “Backlog” Adds 96 Deaths to Virginia Total

By Brian Carlton

September 16, 2020

Computer glitch delays reporting, while officials also raise concerns about the Southwest region

RICHMOND-On Tuesday, Virginia saw a spike in deaths caused by COVID-19, with 96 more added to the total. That doesn’t mean these were 96 new cases, however. Instead, it turns out a computer error prevented deaths from being reported correctly. 

“While deaths were still being reported to VDH [the Virginia Dept. of Health] from local health districts, death reports from VDH’s central office — which independently verifies death certificates and matches them with disease data — were not reaching the epidemiological team,” Health Dept. spokesperson Melissa Gordon told Dogwood. “This backlog was caused by a system error that has since been addressed and will be regularly reviewed going forward.” 

Gordon said the backlog included deaths that occured over several weeks, rather than the last few days. 

“Due to the normal delay in the death certification process, we expect these individuals died over the past three to four weeks,” Gordon said. 

Counting the 96 added Tuesday, Virginia reported 2,839 COVID-19 related deaths from March 7 to Sept. 15. Overall, the commonwealth had 135,514 cases during that same period, including both confirmed tests and clinical diagnoses. On Aug. 7, Virginia had 1,897 new cases in one day. Since then, the daily average dropped below 1,000. It’s a slight change from last week, when the Health Department reported 6,747 new cases in a seven day period.

Cases Remain High in Southwest Region

One area of the state sends up red flags, however. While most of Virginia has a positive test rate between 6% to 7%, the Southwest region stands at 8.1 percent as of Tuesday. The region currently sees 229 new cases on average each day, higher than any other part of the state. The Eastern region, by comparison, stands at 6.2 percent and has been decreasing for 17 days. In a press conference yesterday, Gov. Ralph Northam said what’s concerning is the fact that area just doesn’t have the hospital or ICU capability to handle a major outbreak. Southwest Virginia includes a lot of rural counties and some don’t have a fully operating hospital. Even if the buildings are still in use, some facilities operate more as an emergency department or urgent care. The problem isn’t that people don’t know the guidelines. They’re just not practicing them. 

“We have seen, especially in some businesses, a lack of compliance,” Northam said, adding that he understands people want to send their kids back to school, to hold concerts and sit in the stands at football games again. But in order to get back to normal, there’s one way to make that happen. It involves following guidelines. 

“If we can do what we know works, and that is wearing facial protection, that’s not too much to ask, and practice social distancing, that’s not too much to ask,” Northam said. “It’s the behavior that will get this health crisis behind us.” 

Unless something changes, the University of Virginia forecasts the commonwealth will reach 208,000 cases by Thanksgiving. That’s based on multiple districts reopening schools and the beginning of flu season.

You can click here to see Virginia’s COVID-19 dashboard, which gets updated daily.

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