Southampton sees 182-case surge

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2021

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Southampton County has seen a surge of 182 new COVID-19 cases over the past two days.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 77 cases Jan. 3 and another 105 Jan. 4.

But this time, cases at the Deerfield Correctional Center doesn’t appear to be the cause.

Deerfield, which is equipped with an assisted living unit for older, sicker inmates, had two separate COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020 — one in the spring and one in the fall. As of Jan. 5, the facility had seen 837 cumulative cases among inmates since the pandemic began, 348 of which occurred after Deerfield confirmed its second outbreak on Sept. 12.

But according to data on the Virginia Department of Corrections website, there are currently zero infected inmates incarcerated on-site, and zero in the hospital. Nineteen have died — a figure nearly four times higher than any other Virginia state prison.

According to Gregory Carter, deputy director of communications for the Department of Corrections, no Deerfield inmates had active cases as of 5 p.m. Monday. The number of active cases among Deerfield employees currently stands at six.

“Over the course of the pandemic, the 837 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 at Deerfield have recovered, been released, transferred out or died,” Carter said. “Once any of these things occurs, the inmate is no longer an active case.”

But the question remains — if Deerfield isn’t the cause of this latest surge, what is?

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s dashboard of outbreaks by setting, no public or private K-12 schools or long-term care facilities in the county are currently reporting active outbreaks. But that dashboard is only updated once a week on Fridays, meaning the most recent data is from Jan. 1 — two days before the surge.

According to the VDH online database, the Western Tidewater Health District — which includes Southampton County, Isle of Wight County and the cities of Franklin and Suffolk — has had 26 COVID-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began: 14 in long-term care facilities, six in congregate settings, four in correctional facilities, one in a health care setting and one in a child care setting. Of the district’s 7,889 cumulative cases, just 1,449, or roughly 18%, have been tied to a specific outbreak.

“But the issue is data can be dumped at any time,” said Dr. Lauren James, interim health district director. “So if there’s a hospital system or even an outbreak from months ago, it can be dumped at any time, because, unfortunately, computers are not perfect. So we’ve actually been seeing that across Hampton Roads, that there are days we just get a dump of cases for no known reason.”

Southampton County, which has an estimated population of 17,631 according to U.S. Census data, has had 1,353 confirmed COVID-19 cases — or one in every 13 county residents — since the pandemic began. That count includes cases at Deerfield.