Virus outbreaks increase, especially at restaurants

As rules relax, some ignore warnings to use protection and risks increase. Infections are going back up.
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

As new infections and hospitalizations from the COVID-19 Coronavirus continues to increase in our area, at least five restaurants in the Roanoke Valley report outbreaks of the virus as health officials feel businesses are opening too much too soon.

“We are seeing cases definitely from opening up activity, when you have five of our outbreaks in restaurants,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell, leader of the pandemic response for the Roanoke and Alleghany health districts, in her weekly briefing Tuesday. “We’ve opened up restaurant capacity more, and we are seeing that’s a place where transmission is occurring. The more opportunity for transmission, the more our cases will go up.”

Roanoke’s daily case count rose to 270 Tuesday and went up another seven Wednesday with 12 people hospitalized and 10 deaths. Roanoke County currently has 148 cases, 11 in hospitals and five deaths while Salem reports 48 cases with 3 in the hospital and 3 dead.

In Floyd County, another case emerged this week, bringing the rural area to 10 with tw0 hospitalized and 1 dead.

Carroll County has 177 cases with 15 in hospitals and five dead.

Because of the increases in Southwest Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam has delayed implementing Phase III of the recovery.

While the rate of increases in cases have lessened in some areas of the Commonwealth in recent days, the increases in our area, particularly in restaurants, worries health officials.

O’Dell says her two district recorded 34 cases in the week after Virginia began phase I of relaxing rules, then rose to 51 the week after and 79 for the week ending on June 7.

Outbreaks among staffs in restaurants that began serving sit-down diners increased from three to five last week.

In her briefing, she noted:

What needs to happen when there is an outbreak, is everybody has to get in there and do a significant clean. If it’s a small restaurant, and they don’t have enough employees to manage and have everybody appropriately in isolation and quarantine, they may need to close. Some of these larger restaurants have a deeper source of personnel so even if there are 10 or 12 people in isolation and quarantine, they may be able to draw on other personnel who were never in the facility during the time ill people were there.

Citing privacy rules, O’Dell did not identify the Roanoke-area restaurants. She also notes that states rules require all restaurant employees are required to wear face masks and gloves, health department officials have found that not all do. Her jurisdiction does not include any Floyd County eating establishments.

She adds:

Restaurant owners need to understand, they need to have a good screening process for their employees. As businesses reopen they need to become comfortable with rigorous adherence to basic practices of screening and social distancing and appropriate face coverings.

Obviously not everybody is complying, but I think the great majority of Virginians understand what we are up against. They understand the importance of the social distancing, the wearing of the masks. We have got to accept this is the new normal until we have either a vaccination or treatment.

Restaurants are not alone in seeing outbreaks. O’Dell says a church, a manufacturer and others are experiencing outbreaks.

(This article includes information from Luanne Rife of The Roanoke Times and reports by the Virginia Department of Health.)

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