Franklin positivity nears 20%

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 2, 2020

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Nearly 20% of Franklin residents being tested for COVID-19 are coming back positive.

By comparison, the Western Tidewater Health District as a whole — which includes Franklin, Suffolk, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties — had a 12.2% positivity rate as of Aug. 26. Statewide, only around 6.4% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive.

“The caveat is, we’re only eight square miles,” said City Manager Amanda Jarratt.

As of Aug. 27, the city had 279 confirmed cases of the virus, a figure that’s more than doubled since the start of August. From the beginning of the pandemic through the end of July, the city had reported no more than five new cases per day.

That changed on Aug. 3 when the city saw 22 new cases, followed by another 16 on Aug. 7. The city surged again on Aug. 13, with 13 new cases, followed by 18 on Aug. 21 and another 15 the next day.

The surge doesn’t appear to be outbreak-related, though. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in the Western Tidewater Health District remains at 14, nine of which have occurred at long-term care facilities. Another two are linked to correctional centers. Two more are linked to congregate setting — which can refer to neighborhoods, apartment complexes, churches or other gathering places — and one is linked to a health care setting.

Health District Director Dr. Todd Wagner said the spread of COVID-19 at gatherings where people are not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing remains the predominant cause of Franklin’s surge.

While Virginia Department of Health officials have taken action against restaurants in Norfolk and Virginia Beach for not following reopening requirements, Wagner said there hasn’t been any noteworthy non-compliance among Franklin businesses.

“We are working very collaboratively with the City of Franklin leadership in a whole-community approach, to include increased messaging, mitigation and containment,” Wagner said.

Health District personnel plan to work with the city to distribute a large number of masks and hand sanitizers to residents, and plan to continue testing in Franklin in September, he added. According to Jarratt, testing has been scheduled for Sept. 8 and 21 inside Paul D. Camp Community College’s Workforce Development Center, from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

In May, the World Health Organization had advised governments to keep their percent positivity rates at or below 5% for at least 14 days prior to reopening their economies. Most of Virginia entered Phase I of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan on May 15, and the entire state is now in Phase III. While the Health District doesn’t have the authority to force Franklin back into an earlier phase of reopening, local governing bodies are allowed to mandate stricter precautions than those outlined in Northam’s plan.

“We are in daily, sometimes hourly, communication with Dr. Wagner and his team,” Jarratt said. “We have removed the basketball goals at the public parks based on Dr. Wagner’s recommendation.”

“We conducted a Facebook live event today with reminders about social distancing, masking, and staying home if you are experiencing signs or symptoms and are reaching out to key stakeholders throughout the community to ask them to help spread the message,” she added. “We will be placing signs along Armory Drive and South Street reminding individuals of these same practices.”

In response to Franklin’s surging case totals, Bon Secours’ Southampton Memorial Hospital joined with six other Hampton Roads health care systems to launch #MaskUp757, a campaign to encourage people to continue social distancing and to not only wear a mask, but wear it correctly.

“Be sure your mask fits properly, extending from the bridge of the nose to the chin, with no gaps along the sides,” said Dr. Anhtai H. Nguyen, chief clinical officer of Bon Secours Hampton Roads, in a joint statement with seven other regional health professionals. “Wear a mask whenever you visit a public indoor space. Wear a mask when you’re outdoors and unable to maintain a safe social distance of at least six feet from other people. Masks with valves do not protect others. The valve allows virus droplets to escape into the air and infect others. Cloth or medical procedure masks are better choices. Most children age 2 and older can wear a mask safely.”