How Well is VDH Managing COVID-19 Outbreaks?

by Carol J. Bova

The Virginia Department of Health data is now equipped with extensive testing capacity and a small army of contact tracers to squelch outbreaks of COVID-19 in Virginia. Recent data regarding the number of outbreaks raises questions about how well VDH is doing its job.

One concern is the validity of the data that VDH is acting upon. The total number of outbreaks reported by VDH over the course of the epidemic hit 1,010 by the end of day, September 25. The dashboard indicates 23 outbreaks in colleges and universities, accounting for 1,736 cases. But that’s only half the number of cases reported on the dashboard of just four universities in jus the past couple of months.

James Madison University reports 1,474 cases from July 1 to now, including self-reported cases since August 17. UVA’s dashboard  reports 648 cases. Virginia Tech’s dashboard shows 940 cases, and VCU reports 257. Those stats include faculty, staff and contract employees, but only a small number: 58 faculty/staff at UVa and 15 employees at Tech. And they don’t include confirmed cases from Virginia’s 65 other nonprofit colleges, community colleges and universities.

The discrepancy between what VDH is reporting and the universities are reporting raises the question of how well VDH is keeping up with the data… which raises an even bigger question of how well VDH is managing the outbreaks.

At one end of the spectrum, VDH stats indicate that much of the spread of coronavirus cases between Aug. 26 and Sept. 25 was concentrated in the 20-to-29-year-old college age bracket. 

At the other end of the age spectrum, the number of deaths remains concentrated in the 80+ age bracket: 282 deaths from Aug. 26 to Sept. 25. Also, there were 222 deaths in long-term-care facilities.

Obvious questions:

• How involved was VDH in university epidemic-containment plans, and why did those plans fail to prevent student cases?
• With the distribution of new testing equipment and the mandated weekly testing of staff, why were there 47 new long-term care facility outbreaks with 1,403 more cases since August 26?
• Why have Virginia’s correctional facilities reported 10 new outbreaks and 1,685 more cases?
• Is VDH contract tracing having any impact in reducing the spread of COVID-19?