HearSay with Cathy Lewis Featuring VDH’s Christy Gray

HearSay with Cathy Lewis

Sept. 2, 2020 – Check out National Public Radio’s program (in collaboration with WHRO radio), “HearSay with Cathy Lewis,” which featured the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Director of the Division of Immunization, Christy Gray, MPH, CHES, CHTS-CP. This segment covered state health policy and information regarding influenza vaccinations and the VDH’s vaccination response efforts to the pandemic.

Part of staying healthy and safe means staying up to date on your vaccinations and getting your flu vaccine each year,” said Christy Gray, director, Division of Immunization.Symptoms of flu are very similar to COVID-19, so I like to say, ‘Let’s take flu off the table.’

Local health departments are hosting flu shot clinics now. To learn more about a flu shot clinic near you, contact your local health department for more information: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-department-locator/.

Listen to the interview here: https://mediaplayer.whro.org/program/hearsay/e/hearsay-wednesday-september-2nd-2020.

National Preparedness Month 2020

Are you Prepared?

Disasters and emergencies can come in many forms and at any time.  It’s important for you to be prepared for such events. September has been designated as National Preparedness Month. Take this month to do the following:

Prepare Your Health

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to maintain childhood immunization when possible. These vaccinations protect your children from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity to children who may be exposed to life-threatening diseases. Vaccination is the best protection. You have the power to protect yourself and your family against vaccine-preventable diseases.

For more information on vaccinations and immunizations visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/ and www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/index.html.


Launch of Pediatric Coronavirus Serology Study and Interim Adult Serology Study Findings show an Estimated 2.4% of Adult Virginians Have Covid-19 Antibodies

August 13, 2020 – Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will conduct a pediatric coronavirus disease serology study in Northern Virginia. Interim results from Virginia’s ongoing adult serology study show an estimated 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. The new pediatric study, completed in collaboration with Inova Health System, will measure the proportion of children and teens with antibodies to COVID-19.

Northern Virginia was selected for this project due to the number of confirmed COVID-19 pediatric cases reported in the region. Northern Virginia’s population is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and race, which provides an important comparison to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Inova Children’s Hospital will recruit up to 1,000 participants aged 0 – 19-years-old who live in Northern Virginia and seek care at participating clinical sites. Participants’ blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, which indicate that a person had a COVID-19 infection in the past.

VDH will use the information collected from this project to estimate the total number of children and teenagers that have been infected with the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia and statewide, including those who may have had mild or asymptomatic infections. VDH will also analyze children’s risk factors for COVID-19 infection, including age, underlying health conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, history of COVID-19 infection within households and childcare exposures. Preliminary results are expected by mid-September.

Read the full press release and Adult Study: Interim Results: www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/august/headline-859892-en.html.

COVIDWISE Exposure Notification App Launced to Help Contain COVID-19

August 5, 2020 – Governor Ralph Northam announced the launch of COVIDWISE Exposure Notification App to help contain COVID-19. COVIDWISE is an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

National Immunization Awareness Month

Each year in August, National Immunization Awareness Month highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines throughout your life. You have the power to protect yourself and your family against serious diseases, like whooping cough, cancers caused by HPV, and pneumonia, through on-time vaccination.

This year’s National Immunization Awareness Month theme focuses on a national effort, “Catch-Up to Get Ahead” to address the alarming declines in routine childhood immunization that have happened as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) supports families in the community to catch-up children on their recommended vaccines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers are taking extra precautions to keep you and your family safe. Don’t delay getting the recommended vaccines.

Remember, vaccines aren’t just for young children. The VDH encourages everyone to talk to their doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional to ensure that they and their loved ones of all ages are up to date on all recommended vaccines.

Specific immunizations are recommended for tweens and teens entering middle school and college, anyone who may be traveling abroad, those with certain underlying health conditions and adults aged 60 and over. Immunization schedules for all stages of life may be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/.

Extreme Heat Safety Tips

Summer temperatures in Virginia normally climb into the upper 90’s and even reach over 100 degrees at times. The hot temperatures and high heat indexes can cause ill health effects.

The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause cramping, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death. It is important to stay hydrated and seek cool temperature environments until the heat subsides.

Here are some tips to avoid heat-related illness during the summer:

Drink water. When the temperature rises, it is important to drink plenty of water. Drinks that contain caffeine, large amounts of sugar or alcohol should be avoided because they can cause you to become dehydrated.

Keep cool indoors. On hot days, prevent illness by keeping cool indoors. If your home is not air conditioned, try to spend the hottest hours of the day in a cool public place such as a library, movie theater, or store.

Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella. Always apply sunscreen to exposed skin.

Limit physical activity. Avoid excessive physical exertion in hot temperatures, especially in the middle of the day. If you must work outdoors, stay hydrated by drinking 2-4 glasses of water each hour and take frequent breaks in a cool place. Even a few hours in an air-conditioned environment reduces the danger of heat-related illness.

Do not keep children or pets in cars. Temperatures inside a car with windows up can reach over 150 degrees quickly, resulting in heat stroke and death.

Check on your neighbors. Although anyone can suffer heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. People aged 65 or older are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications that can result during periods of high temperatures and humidity.

Heat-Related Weather Terms:
Understanding heat-related weather terminology can help you and your family prepare for hot weather.

  • Heat Index: is a measure of how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature.
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks: Issued when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.
  • Excessive Heat Watches: Issued when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories: Issued when an excessive heat is expected in the next 36 hours.

Signs & Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness:
Several heat-related health conditions can cause serious health problems. When temperatures are on the rise, watch for the following symptoms:

Dehydration— Dehydration is caused by the excessive loss of water and salts from the body due to illness or from prolonged exposure to heat. Severe dehydration can become a life-threatening condition if not treated.

Heat Cramps— Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy physical activity in hot environments. Muscles most often affected include those of your calves, arms, abdominal wall and back. If you are suffering from heat cramps, rest for several hours and drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink.

Heat Exhaustion— Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and salt from sweating during hot temperatures. The elderly, people who work outside and people with high blood pressure are most at risk of heat exhaustion. Continued exposure may lead to heat stroke, which is life-threatening.

Heat Stroke— Heat stroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or by doing physical activity in hot weather. Sweating has usually stopped and your body temperature becomes too high; body temperatures can reach as high as 106 degrees in 15 minutes. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and you should seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is suffering from heat stroke.

For more information:

Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard to Include More Detailed Race and Ethnicity Data Starting Today 

June 15, 2020

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will change how race and ethnicity data are presented, beginning today. This update will provide a more detailed look at the effects of COVID-19 on minority populations across Virginia. VDH will combine race and ethnicity information into one category and will expand the number of racial identities from three to seven.

Previously, race data was reported as one of three categories: White, Black or African American, and Other.  Ethnicity data identified individuals as either Hispanic or Latino or Not Hispanic or Latino.

The new reporting method will expand racial and ethnic categories to the following:

  • Asian or Pacific Islander – Non-Hispanics who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • Black – Non-Hispanics who identify as Black or African American
  • Latino – Individuals of any race who identify as Hispanic or Latino
  • Native American – Non-Hispanics who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native
  • White – Non-Hispanics who identify as White
  • Other Race – Non-Hispanics who select Other Race
  • Two or More Races – Non-Hispanics who identify as more than one of the above race categories

“We have been working diligently for the last several weeks to provide more detailed race and ethnicity data. This updated format allows us to get a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting minority communities in Virginia,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.

“We see, for instance, that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Virginia’s Latinx population. Although Latinx people make up 10 percent of the state’s population, they account for 45 percent of the COVID-19 cases, 35 percent of the hospitalizations and 11 percent of the deaths. Factors such as access to health care, poverty, geography, occupation and racism drive these disparities. Our health districts across the state are working hard to expand testing and outreach in these hard-hit communities,” Dr. Oliver said. “One of our biggest challenges is the large amount of missing data on race and ethnicity in the disease reports we receive. We continue to encourage individuals, health providers and laboratories to report race and ethnicity data.”

The updated reporting of accurate race and ethnicity data is considered to be an essential step toward better measuring COVID-19 infection rates as well as the overall impact of the pandemic.  In addition, this updated method of presenting data will allow researchers with the Office of Health Equity to identify health inequities while providing information to develop tracking and reporting guidelines for future health crises.

“The leadership of the Health Equity Working Group (HEWG) group is committed to building visible equity by leveraging sincere stakeholder engagement and the diverse perspectives represented within this historic body, which includes the many dimensions of diversity we have represented in the Commonwealth,” said Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Janice Underwood, Ph.D.

“As a partner in the pursuit of justice for all and advancing equity across several determinants of health, the HEWG advocated for expanding racial data collected for COVID-19 to include those of Asian and Indigenous Virginia Indian or Native American heritage,” said Dr. Underwood. “We are pleased that these updated reporting changes will ensure a more complete picture of the impact this pandemic is having on our residents.”

The new categories are aligned with race and ethnicity standards used by various state and federal agencies.  This data collection method allows for the integration of various data sources and is based on reporting from the Office of Management and Budget Standards.

To help preserve individual privacy of groups with relatively small population numbers, data for several health district will be combined as follows:

  • Asian or Pacific Islanders
    • Cumberland Plateau Health District and Lenowisco Health District
    • Eastern Shore Health District and Three Rivers Health District
  • Native American
    • Cumberland Plateau Health District, Lenowisco Health District and Mount Rogers Health District
    • Pittsylvania/Danville Health District and Southside Health District
    • Eastern Shore Health District and Three Rivers Health District
    • Alleghany Health District and Roanoke City Health District

In addition to changes to the Demographics dashboard, the options for data downloading for public use will include a single dataset with the seven categories. This combined dataset will replace the previous Race and Ethnicity datasets. The more granular presentation of race data is the result of collaboration with various groups, including the Office of Health Equity and Health Equity Working Group.

The Virginia Department of Health’s June 12 Data to Show a Sharp Increase in PCR Tests – New Numbers will Reflect Roughly 43,000 PCR Tests

(Richmond, Va.) — Today, COVID-19 diagnostic testing data reported by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will reflect a sharp increase in PCR SARS-CoV-2 tests completed in Virginia.  Today’s testing report includes 43,000 PCR tests.  Two laboratories began electronic reporting to VDH this week, allowing a backlog of negative tests to be included in today’s testing report.  Positive test results from these labs were hand entered into the system when they were received to support follow-up by public health staff.  The addition of these negative tests will result in a decrease in the percent of positive PCR tests.   One lab had roughly 18,000 results and the other had around 13,500 results.  The remainder of the figure reflects regular daily reporting.  VDH reports labs by lab report date on our website. These results will be presented based on the actual date the laboratory reported the test result.

All labs in the Commonwealth are considered disease information reporters.  Therefore the names of the labs are considered confidential by the Code of Virginia sections 32.1 -36 and 32.1-38 so VDH cannot release this information.

Statement Regarding Upcoming Increase in COVID-19 Testing Data for June 9 

June 8, 2020

(Richmond, Va.) — Starting on June 9, the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) COVID-19 data dashboard will reflect 13,000 additional tests that were backlogged. Over the next couple of days, this new information will be slowly added to the current data, which will result in an influx of results.

A Richmond area laboratory had previously been providing test results via fax, which had to be entered manually by VDH staff, contributing to the backlog. VDH staff had prioritized positive test results, which means the remaining backlog largely includes negative tests. The lab is now submitting test results electronically. 

This change alleviates by half the reporting backlog of test results. VDH continues to work to eliminate that backlog.