Cluster of cases in Virginia region concerns health officials

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WDBJ7) -- Concerns of a bigger coronavirus outbreak is on health officials' minds.

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The state is investigating the spread of the virus in the peninsula area. “Virginia has 45 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus," Governor Ralph Northam said at a Sunday news conference.

Northam addressed the public for the first time since health officials announced the state's first COVID-19-related death.

The victim was a man in his 70s who died of respiratory failure after acquiring the virus through an unknown source.

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman says the death occurred in James City County.

Officials say they are reaching out to all identified contacts of people who have tested positive for coronavirus and are giving them instructions on how to protect themselves and others.

Right now, the Peninsula District, where the victim lived, has what medical professionals call a “cluster” of cases.

But concerns of a bigger outbreak became real after their latest findings.

As of Sunday, medical experts identified eight cases of coronavirus in the Peninsula District.

All but one is traced back to an exposure source. “There are eight identified cases and upwards of close to 300 contacts that we’re doing investigations on," explained the state's health commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver. “We were unable to find any source of exposure, and it’s that case that makes us concerned for the likelihood of community spread in the peninsula.”

Community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control, means people have been "infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected."

In other words, community spread means a person possibly contracted the virus from a random or unknown person or surface, versus a known source of exposure.

For example, health officials said although there are 10 confirmed cases in Fairfax County alone, all those cases can be traced back to a specific source or person, thus, the threat for "community spread" is not apparent at this time in that locality.

In response to the potential for community spread, the Governor has ordered all local government agencies in the peninsula region to close down for two weeks. “This closure will limit contact between people as we work to stop the spread of this virus in our community.”

Statewide, the Governor has banned all public gatherings of more than 100 people.

The ban does not apply to restaurants, bars and offices, but Northam says the best way forward is social distancing. “If you’re going to a crowded bar or a large church, I would urge you to rethink those plans. Ask yourself if it’s really important to go out now. Social distancing now, can save lives later.”

At this time, there are no known cases of the virus in the southwest portion of the state.

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