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.

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.

Virginia Department of Health to Add COVID-19 Contact Tracing Data

Weekly Reporting of Four Data Points Available Today

(Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) began reporting information related to efforts to notify people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Information related to notification efforts — referred to as contact tracing — is available on the COVID-19 Data Insights webpage, located at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-data-insights/. The state-level data will be updated weekly on Fridays.

The ability to report this information is the result of a new data management system that VDH recently implemented. The data being reported includes the following:

  • Percent of cases (individuals diagnosed with COVID-19) reached within 24 hours
  • Number of contacts of cases who are undergoing public health monitoring
  • Of contacts reached, percent contacted within 24 hours
  • Percent of contacts that — after multiple attempts — were unable to be reached or have yet to be reached

A seven-day average will be provided in the “Percent of cases reached within 24 hours” category.

Contact tracing involves finding people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and providing guidance to prevent them from spreading it. Contact tracing is one of many trusted public health tools used to prevent further spread of contagious diseases. It has long been used for other contagious diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB). Currently, contact tracing is one important part of how Virginia can slow the spread of COVID-19.

As Virginia began to see increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, VDH expanded its staff of contact tracers and case investigators in its 35 health districts from a few hundred to more than 1,200 at the end of June. This number represents a suggested ratio of 15 contact tracers per 100,000 population.

This contact tracing data is the latest publicly available COVID-19 data including the daily COVID-19 Cases in Virginia dashboard, Virginia’s Key Measures of COVID-19 Data and COVID-19 Case and Testing Data by ZIP Code.

For the latest information on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia, go to the VDH coronavirus webpage at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/.

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. 

Virginia Department of Health Shares Information on Publicly Available COVID-19 Tests

June 4, 2020

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) wants to ensure all Virginians, including those participating in ongoing protests, know how to access publicly-available COVID-19 tests.

The nature of large protests means the virus may spread more easily there, especially if protesters are not wearing masks. VDH has communicated with Local Health Districts where protests have occurred. We are encouraging those districts to share information with protesters about community testing events and pharmacy locations where COVID-19 tests are available.

Individuals who have attended protests may be at higher risk of infection of COVID-19. VDH suggests protesters wear masks, wash hands frequently, stay six feet apart from others in crowds, and, if symptoms appear, stay home and call their health care provider.

All Virginians may get tested if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 or if they believe they have been exposed to others with infections.

“We support the right to protest, and we also want people to be safe. People can have COVID-19 and not show symptoms or have only mild symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus to others. For some people, particularly those with underlying health conditions, the virus can be life-threatening. We urge people who have symptoms such as fever and cough to stay home and to get tested,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.

VDH encourages individuals to talk with their health care provider about questions. The Department will continue to monitor and respond to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak while supporting Virginians’ right to engage in civic action.

Access VDH’s online symptom checker, CovidCheck at www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/.

Find publicly-available tests at www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-testing/covid-19-testing-sites/.

Virginia Department of Health Revises Method of Reporting Test Data – Updated Information Available Beginning May 30 

May 29, 2020

(Richmond, Va.) — To provide more accurate information about COVID-19 testing at the community level, Saturday the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will begin reporting COVID-19 data on testing encounters by health district using more accurate ZIP Code information. The new data will impact 37,362 test results that were previously not assigned a health district designation because incomplete patient address information was reported to VDH.

Since May 1, VDH has reported testing encounters, which counts an individual person once per day as a measure of testing frequency and testing capacity. Because VDH often receives laboratory reports with incomplete information, those results were included in the statewide total, but were listed as missing geographic data and, as a result, did not appear in local health district counts.

Beginning May 30, VDH will report test encounter data using a tiered approach. If a test record is missing a patient address ZIP Code, the ordering provider’s ZIP Code will be used. If neither ZIP Code for the patient or ordering provider is available, the testing laboratory’s ZIP Code will be used.

By using the new data reporting method, testing encounter numbers will increase the health district figures as follows:

  • Alexandria by 699
  • Alleghany by 1,309
  • Arlington by 187
  • Central Shenandoah by 334
  • Central Virginia by 119
  • Chesapeake by 1,213
  • Chesterfield by 393
  • Chickahominy by 194
  • Crater by 892
  • Cumberland Plateauby 208
  • Eastern Shore by 312
  • Fairfax by 3,072
  • Hampton by 829
  • Henrico by 622
  • Lenowisco by 234
  • Lord Fairfax by 6,414
  • Loudoun by 1,234
  • Mount Rogers by 197
  • New River by 618
  • Norfolk by 2,536
  • Peninsula by 1,435
  • Piedmont by 106
  • Pittsylvania-Danville by 33
  • Portsmouth by 165
  • Prince William by 933
  • Rappahannock by 296
  • Rappahannock Rapidan by 454
  • Richmond by 3,541
  • Roanoke by 6,453
  • Southside by 212
  • Thomas Jefferson by 573
  • Three Rivers by 444
  • Virginia Beach by 187
  • West Piedmont by 330
  • Western Tidewater by 584

This improvement in how VDH presents data on testing encounters does not impact case data.