May 28, 2020

Virginia COVID-19 cases rise by 1,152 as percent positivity continues trending down


RICHMOND, Va. — As of Thursday, May 28, Virginia has had 41,401 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Graphic courtesy: Virginia Department of Health

That’s a rise of 1,152 cases since Wednesday, alongside 11,447 newly reported tests, which comes out to 10.1% of the newest tests coming back positive – a lower proportion than the current total state average.

The governor and state officials have said all decisions about moving into each phase of reopening, or increasing restrictions in the case of potential spikes, are based on 7-day and 14-day trends in the data – so any data that looks like a one-day spike can be absorbed into days of lower numbers.

By this Friday, May 29, all of Virginia will be in Phase 1, when Northern Virginia and Richmond and Accomack County join the rest of the commonwealth after their local governments requested two-week delays from the start of Phase 1 for the rest of the state on May 15. It means non-essential retail is open at 50% capacity, as are places of worship; restaurants have opened up outdoor seating at 50% capacity; personal care and grooming services have opened with restrictions; and more business changes outlined in detail in the ‘Forward Virginia’ blueprint.

Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth on Tuesday for his latest COVID-19 briefing as Virginia approaches the two-week minimum time period he set for Phase 1 of his ‘Forward Virginia’ plan for reopening.

Also on Friday, a new executive order requiring Virginians to wear face coverings when entering indoor businesses will go into effect. There’s no timeline on Phase 2 yet.

Over the past week, there were 1,229 new cases (at an 18.2% positivity rate) reported from Wednesday to Thursday, 813 (at a 10.2% positivity rate) from Thursday to Friday, 799 new cases from Friday to Saturday, 495 from Saturday to Sunday, then 1,483 (at an 8.6% positivity rate) from Sunday to Monday, 1,615 (at an 18.6% positivity rate) from Monday to Tuesday, and 907 (at a 9.2% posititivty rate) from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Both the case number and the test numbers were surprisingly high from Sunday to Monday – though percent positivity was low – but it wasn’t due to a sudden spike in tests reported: it was due to a technical change in the Virginia Department of Health’s system.

According to the health department, they upgraded the health department’s servers on Sunday, which contributed to Sunday’s surprisingly low numbers. While the servers were down, no data was reported through the system, so then, when the system updated on Monday, all COVID-19 data that was reported during the maintenance time was added to Monday’s numbers as well.

Most tests still take two or three days to process, so the test results reported each day generally reflect what the situation looked like a few days before. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the day on which the highest number of tests were conducted was Wednesday, May 20, with 11,833 tests.

So far in May, on an overall “trend” level, total cases have been increasing by anywhere from 500 to 1,000 cases a day, but testing has significantly increased, so the moving 7-day average, which tracks the number of cases confirmed as a ratio of the amount of testing, has been heading down.

That 7-day average is key to any future reopening plans from the governor’s office and as testing increases, the rate of tested Virginians who received positive results has been slowly but surely dropping.

Virginia has been meeting the governor’s benchmark of steady PPE supplies and open hospital capacity for around three weeks now, with 4,508 hospital beds available and no Virginia hospitals reporting any supply problems – although at least 20 licensed nursing facilities are reporting PPE supply problems. The governor has said in recent press conferences that those facilities need to reach out to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to request more supplies from the state’s stockpile.

The commonwealth increased from around 2,000 tests a day in late April to the 5,000 range in the start of May, and now has been steadily hitting anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000. Dr. Karen Remley, head of Virginia’s testing task force, has said the goal for Phase 1 is around 10,000 tests a day. So far, that has not been consistently met.

Statewide case totals and testing numbers as of May 28

By May 28, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 39,393 confirmed and 2,008 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.

“Probable” cases are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test – also known as clinical diagnoses.

Those positive test results are out of 319,600 total tests administered in Virginia, which included 285,273 PCR tests and 34,327 antibody tests (The Dept. of Health announced last Thursday that they would start breaking testing data down by diagnostic and antibody tests, following criticism for initially reporting the two together.)

Last week, there were 6,758 test results reported from Wednesday to Thursday and 7,983 new test results from Thursday to Friday. From Sunday to Monday, 17,246 new test results were reported – though, as noted near the top of this article, Monday’s numbers included data from Sunday that was missed due to technical maintenance on the VDH system. From Monday to Tuesday, 8,366 new PCR tests were reported and 325 new antibody tests. From Tuesday to Wednesday, 9,795 new PCR tests and 88 new antibody tests were added to the state total. Now. from Wednesday to Thursday, 10,199 new PCR tests and 1,248 new antibody tests were added to the state total.

As Virginia’s community testing events offered by local health districts have increased, state health officials say the goal is to get tests to the areas in most need of them, with at-risk communities identified by the state health department (several of these events have been held in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County). Testing events sponsored by health districts are not turning anyone away.

Overall, considering testing numbers and positive results, about 13% of Virginians who have been tested have received positive results. At the start of May, that percentage was standing steadily around 17%, but with increased testing, it’s come down over time. However, some localities have much higher percentages, as outlined in our “local cases” section below.

At this point, 4,442 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 1,338 have died of causes related to the disease – a jump of 57 deaths reported to the health department in a day.

The hospitalization and death numbers are totals confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, which are always delayed by several days due to the logistics of medical facilities reporting information to local health districts, which then report it to the state health department.

The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the pandemic and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats, the VHHA offers more helpful data.

The state website shows a lot of detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county, and are broken down by zip code here, if you want to track cases on a neighborhood level.

Where are our local cases?

Overall, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s May 28 breakdown, 319,600 tests have been run for the virus in Virginia, with 41,401 positive results.

The department’s breakdown and location map, available to the public here, shows the number of cases confirmed each day, number of people tested, total hospitalizations, total deaths, demographic breakdowns, and testing numbers, as well as breakdowns by health district.

Here’s a breakdown of cases for our region as of 9 a.m. on May 28. You can find the breakdown for the entire state in the chart at the bottom of this article.

Numbers sometimes decrease day to day when the health department determines that a test initially reported in one locality was actually for a resident of another city, county, or state.

Central Shenandoah
• Augusta County – 105
• Buena Vista – 13
• Harrisonburg – 757
• Highland County – 3
• Lexington – 7
• Rockbridge County – 16
• Rockingham County – 490
• Staunton – 36
• Waynesboro – 41
Outbreaks: 15, with 6 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, 6 in congregate settings, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in an educational setting
Total tests: 7,217
Local percent positive: 20.3%

Lord Fairfax
• Clarke County – 24
• Frederick County – 319
• Page County – 213
• Shenandoah County – 414
• Warren County – 141
• Winchester – 168
Outbreaks: 16, with 7 in long-term care facilities, 3 in healthcare settings, 5 in congregate settings, and 1 in a correctional facility
Total tests: 3,683
Local percent positive: 34.7%

Thomas Jefferson
• Albemarle County – 170
• Charlottesville – 102
• Fluvanna County – 88
• Greene County – 28
• Louisa County – 76
• Nelson County – 16
Outbreaks: 8, with 4 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a correctional facility, 2 in congregate settings, and 1 in an educational setting
Total tests: 8,677
Local percent positive: 5.5%

Rappahannock Rapidan
• Culpeper County – 656
• Fauquier County – 303
• Madison County – 38
• Orange County – 92
• Rappahannock County – 13
Outbreaks: 6, with 1 in a long-term care facility, 1 in a healthcare setting, and 4 in congregate settings
Total tests: 6,538
Local percent positive: 16.9%

Local outbreaks

As numbers have climbed in parts of the Shenandoah Valley, much of the increase has been attributable to outbreaks within particular facilities. By May 28, the Central Shenandoah Health District had identified 15 outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District had 16.

Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of our outbreaks, because the Virginia Department of Health has interpreted Virginia code as treating facilities the same as “persons,” meaning their anonymity has to be protected. So information about outbreaks is only released to the public if a facility grants permission for that to be released, and that has not been often.

Of the outbreaks in our area, several have been confirmed at long-term care centers, including at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, where 22 patients died of COVID-19; Skyview Springs, where there have been 16 confirmed deaths; Ritenour Rest Home in Staunton, where Augusta Health has confirmed a “COVID situation” but no exact numbers have been provided; and three outbreaks in Shenandoah County, including one at an unnamed nursing home and two at unnamed assisted living facilities.

The largest of those outbreaks was the one at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, where 81 residents and 12 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in April. By Tuesday, May 5, the facility confirmed 22 deaths due to coronavirus. By a little later in May, the large majority of patients had recovered from the virus.

In Page County, the outbreak at Skyview Springs Rehab resulted in 59 residents and 23 staff members testing positive for the virus. By May 13, sixteen people there had died of COVID-19-related causes. The facility has 115 residents total.

Dr. Colin Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, told WHSV earlier this month that the Skyview Springs outbreak was the only major outbreak in the Page County area.

However, he said they were monitoring five active outbreaks in Shenandoah County. Due to Virginia code preventing the identification of facilities with outbreaks, he could not identify the exact locations, but said two were at businesses, two at assisted living facilities, and one at a nursing home.

Outbreaks have also been confirmed at New Market Poultry, the Harrisonburg Men’s Diversion Center, with at least 25 positive cases, and LSC Communications, which had at least six cases by the end of April but then stopped providing updates on their employee hotline so that media outlets would not have access to the information, which was not publicly provided.

On May 26, RSW Regional Jail confirmed at least 15 people at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, as the outbreak identified inside a correctional facility in the Lord Fairfax Health District. A day later, that number was up to 18 positive tests.

Elsewhere, New Market Poultry Products, which has more than 100 employees working on a daily basis, confirmed near the end of April that they had multiple employees test positive – though an exact number was not provided and no update has come since then.

None of the other Shenandoah Valley poultry plants have released any information about COVID-19 cases to the public, but 18 workers tested positive at the Pilgrim’s Pride in Moorefield, W.Va. and Cargill in Dayton has confirmed the death of one employee due to COVID-19 – though never any information on the number of cases at the facility.

Poultry plants and other meat processing facilities have been hotspots for the virus across the country and a focus of Gov. Northam’s in Virginia. State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has also referenced the situation at poultry plants in Harrisonburg leading to a disproportionate number of cases among the Latino community in the Shenandoah Valley, though, again the facilities themselves have released no information publicly.

The only exact number for poultry workers that has been provided is that as of May 20, at least 317 poultry plant workers living in the Central Shenandoah Health District had tested positive.

Many of the local outbreaks that do not have confirmed locations have been identified in congregate settings, which could include workplaces, apartment complexes, churches, gyms, or any setting with a group of people in one place. While WHSV has received reports from viewers about specific stores, for instance, if the business does not provide consent for their information to be shared, the health department cannot confirm any information about cases there.


Of the state’s 4,442 total hospitalizations, at least 118 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 2 have been in Augusta County, 1 in Buena Vista, 56 in Harrisonburg, 52 in Rockingham County, 5 in Staunton, and 2 in Waynesboro.

In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 118 hospitalizations. Forty-four of those have been in Shenandoah County and 24 in Page County.


As far as deaths, there have been 20 reported in Shenandoah County, 21 in Page County, one in Augusta County, 23 in Harrisonburg, and six in Rockingham County.

Deaths, like all health department data, are reported by a person’s listed residence.

Dr. Norm Oliver, the state’s health commissioner, has said that it often takes several days before local health districts are able to enter death information into the state database. Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, told WHSV that deaths first have to be reported to them by medical facilities, which is a major cause for delays that have often been seen on the numbers reported for our area.

Dr. Kornegay also explained that if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, that’s what goes on their death certificate. Those death certificates have a space to list secondary causes of death, and that’s where ongoing health issues like heart disease and cancer are listed. Some people have accused medical facilities of artificially inflating death tolls by doing that, but it’s the same process by which flu deaths are reported every year.


Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case. Individual health districts may track cases as “active” and “non-active,” but that data is not published anywhere in aggregate.

But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their online dashboard indicates that, as of May 28, at least 5,472 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from the hospital.

Unlike the VDH data that reports cumulative hospitalizations, their data on hospitalizations reflects people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 (whether with confirmed or pending cases), and that number is at 1,502.

The data used by the VDH to report cumulative hospitalizations is based on information reported in hospital claims. On the other hand, the numbers reported by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set.

West Virginia updates

In the part of West Virginia we cover, there have been 11 confirmed cases in Grant County, 38 confirmed cases in Hardy County, and 9 confirmed cases in Pendleton County.

Timing of VDH data

The Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 website is updating with the latest statewide numbers somewhere between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. each day. In recent days, that has steadily creeped closer to 10 a.m.

The numbers that appear on that list are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department’s numbers reflect those new results.

Reporting by local health districts

Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.

The statewide situation in Virginia

Most of Virginia officially entered Phase 1 of Gov. Northam’s plan to gradually reopen the state on May 15, but the commonwealth remains under a series of public health orders and executive orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential businesses across Virginia and established Virginia’s 10-person gathering limit, no longer applies in its original form as businesses originally deemed non-essential begin gradually reopening, but the 10-person gathering limit is still in place and still enforceable.

Executive Order 55, the ‘Stay at Home’ order signed by Northam on March 30, is now a ‘Safer at Home’ order, instructing all Virginians to continue staying home as the safest way to prevent COVID-19’s spread and specifically telling Virginians vulnerable to the virus to stay home except for essential needs.

Virginia’s state of emergency runs until June 10.

The Virginia Supreme Court’s judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, expired on May 17 and court hearings across most of Virginia resumed on Monday, May 18. In light of that, with some eviction cases resuming, Gov. Northam’s office released a list of resources to help people who may be facing eviction while still with income affected by COVID-19.

DMV offices in Virginia began gradually reopening on Monday, May 18, and will soon have 14 customer service centers around the state open by appointment only for specific reasons. During the closure, Virginia State Police have not been enforcing inspections and extensions have been granted to people with expiring credentials for themselves or their vehicles.

Elective procedures and related offices, like dentists, were able to resume on May 1 after Gov. Northam lifted the public health order that initially closed them.

Of the orders in place, Executive Order 53 is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Virginia’s local elections in May and the primaries in June have each been postponed by two weeks. Virginia officials are encouraging all voters to request absentee ballots.

What to know about preventing the virus

Most people don’t suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Avoid non-essential travel.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.

By Caleb Stewart

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