Most localities see record case spike

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

By Stephen Faleski and Jimmy LaRoue

Staff Writers

Is a second wave of the delta variant to blame for a New Year’s weekend spike in COVID-19 cases? Or has the full force of the heavily mutated omicron variant hit the Western Tidewater region?

According to Virginia Department of Health data, Isle of Wight County saw a record-breaking 66 new COVID-19 cases on Dec. 31, then broke that record on Jan. 2 with 68 more.

Prior to that, the county had reported 42 cases on Dec. 29 and another 58 on Dec. 30 — shattering a previous single-day record set last January.

For the week of Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, just under 40% of all COVID-19 tests among Isle of Wight County residents were coming back positive.

As of Jan. 3, the county’s 7-day average of new daily cases had risen to 126.4 per 100,000 people, another record.

Surry County, which is part of the VDH’s Crater Health District, also broke its single-day record over the weekend with 19 new cases. Surry is also reporting an even higher 7-day average than Isle of Wight, with 147.8 new cases per 100,000, and a 43.3% positivity.

According to Virginia Department of Health data, cases of the highly contagious delta variant still account for just under 83% of the state’s positive COVID-19 tests that have undergone genomic sequencing — a process public health officials use to identify mutations of the original coronavirus. The omicron variant, which was first detected in Virginia on Dec. 9, accounted for less than 0.5% of all COVID-19 cases statewide as of Jan. 3.

But it’s possible omicron cases are being underreported. Dr. Billie Blair-Taylor, interim director of the Western Tidewater Health District, told Suffolk’s City Council on Dec. 15 that it takes roughly two weeks for public health officials to determine which variant is responsible for each positive COVID-19 test, and then report that data to the VDH. The Western Tidewater Health District includes Isle of Wight, Suffolk, the city of Franklin and Southampton County.

Suffolk, meanwhile, has seen one of the biggest spikes in COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations in the region.

There, the number of cases rose from 288 for the week of Dec. 19 through Dec. 25 to 776 for the week of Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, with 37 people being hospitalized. Its 7-day average of positive cases per 100,000 people went from 28.7 on Dec. 22 to 150.9 Jan. 3, while its percent positivity jumped from 22.6% for the week ending Dec. 25 to 47.2% for the week ending Jan. 1.

There were another 208 cases and 37 hospitalizations in Suffolk Jan. 2 — the hospitalization total reaching a single-day high for the city in the pandemic.

In the past 10 days, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk went from 18 to 47, representing 22% of its inpatient total.

The city of Franklin, the smallest Western Tidewater Health District locality, is also reporting a triple-digit 7-day average of 124.8 per 100,000. But its 28.6% positivity is lower than Isle of Wight’s and Suffolk’s. Franklin saw 20 new cases on Jan. 2, nearly tying its 24-case single-day record set last September.

Southampton County, the remaining Western Tidewater Health District locality, appears to have been spared the record-breaking single-day caseloads and triple-digit 7-day averages for now. Southampton was at 20.3% positivity and a 7-day average of 57.7 cases per 100,000 as of Jan. 3.