James City County became the epicenter of Virginia’s coronavirus outbreak, having the first virus-related death in the state.
With that, Gov. Ralph Northam along with state and local officials addressed the issue during a conference call Sunday, with the governor banning all events in the state with more than 100 people.
Northam specifically addressed the situation in James City County, urging Peninsula residents to limit contact with large crowds.
“If you’re planning to go to a restaurant, church or a bar on the Peninsula, I would discourage you from doing so,” Northam said. “These are critical steps to reduce and slow the spread of this virus.”
Northam stopped short of ordering a full statewide quarantine, but urged residents, particularly people who live in the Peninsula district, to avoid crowds.
“This is a very fluid and dynamic situation. We have not mandated a quarantine, but we are strongly encouraging and urging people to avoid public gatherings of any kind,” he said.
As of noon Sunday, Virginia had 45 people who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), Northam said, citing a report from the Virginia Department of Health.
James City County had eight positive cases, according to VDH’s website Sunday.
But in an email Saturday night, Irene Ferrainolo, population health manager for the VDH, said there are a total of 10 cases on the Peninsula so far, all in James City County,
“We do not reveal the location of these cases other than the city or county in which they reside,” she added.
Northam ordered all local governments on the Peninsula to close to the public for the next two weeks, including Hampton, James City County, Newport News, Williamsburg, Poquoson and York County.
Trash services, as well as police and fire operations, will continue to operate as normal.
The first death was in James City County — a man in his 70s who acquired COVID-19 through an unknown source. The cause of death was respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said VDH is still investigating the case of the man who died because it’s unclear where he came into contact with the virus.
Oliver said the cases on the Peninsula all stem back to two original patients with the virus except for the man who died. There is currently no evidence of any sort of exposure to the virus which leads health officials to be concerned about the likelihood of a community spread.
He said this is different from spreads in other parts of the state, such as Fairfax, where all the cases came from different sources of individuals who had been traveling.
For people who live in the Peninsula district, Northam said: “If you are planning an event with several people, you should cancel it — period.”
Brian J. Moran, state secretary of public safety and homeland security, Oliver, Dr. Daniel Carey, secretary of health and human Resources and Dr. Thomas Franck, director of the Peninsula Health District gave updates about the coronavirus.
“We have activated the incident management team,” Franck said. “Our main goal right now is containment.”
Franck added his team has reached out to more than 200 people who may come in contact with people who tested positive for the coronavirus to ensure they self-quarantine.
Oliver said Franck is leading the investigation of the outbreak on the Peninsula.
Oliver said new information will be posted on the Virginia Department of Health’s website once a day, adding the department gets lab reports in the mornings.
Carey said the VDH website is updated on a daily basis and each health district has its own information officer.
Northam said the health of all Virginians is a priority and reiterated the state’s previous steps taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus such as declaring a state of emergency and shutting down all K-12 schools.
James County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Icenhour, Williamsburg Mayor Paul Frieling and all city mangers from Williamsburg, James City County, York County, Hampton, Poquoson and Newport News were also in attendance during the conference call Sunday.
“We are committed to taking necessary steps to protect the health and safety on this Peninsula,” Icenhour said.
Officials from James City County, Williamsburg, York County, Newport News, Hampton and Poquoson issued a joint statement Saturday night, urging Peninsula residents “to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. This includes church services, civic/social organization meetings, and public events and festivities.”
“We are a social society and as such, much of our daily lives include social interaction. Those critical needs such as grocery shopping, fueling your vehicle, and other essential tasks should not be neglected,” the joint statement read. “Remember to observe the hygiene steps of washing your hands frequently, sanitizing flat surfaces, and when possible avoid close contact.
Additional steps may be required in the coming hours and days as local officials try to slow the rate of infection thus allowing the local health system the capability to treat those who most need medical care.”
Dr. Denise Toney, director of the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said the state currently has the capacity to perform coronavirus testing on 370 to 470 individuals. She said there are already orders for additional test kits in place with the CDC and the state hopes to have them available next week.
She added that other opportunities have also become available for testing, such as using private labs. People can use the labs at their own discretion while tests performed by the state are only for individuals who have been investigated and approved to meet VDH criteria for testing.
WYDaily multimedia reporter Alexa Doiron contributed to this report.
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