COVID cases rising faster in Southwest Virginia than statewide

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The COVID-19 “community spread” rate has increased much faster in Southwest Virginia than the state as a whole this month, data from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reveal.

The seven-day rate of new COVID cases per 100,000 population was 76.7 for the nine-county News Channel 11 viewing area on July 30. That was barely higher than the statewide rate of 71.3 new cases.

Since then, the region’s rate has increased 226 percent, to 250.1, while the state’s rate is up 145 percent, to 174.5.

The trend mirrors earlier ones during the pandemic, when cases would increase sooner in Northeast Tennessee and eventually the numbers would follow in Southwest Virginia.

“Normally after Northeast Tennessee begins to surge we begin to see a surge in Southwest Virginia,” former Mount Rogers Health District Director Dr. Karen Shelton told News Channel 11 on July 30, a few days before transitioning to a job with Ballad Health.

Indeed, Northeast Tennessee’s rate was 151.3 on July 30, or roughly double that of Southwest Virginia.

The rate has continued rising sharply on both sides of the state line, but Northeast Tennessee is up 174 percent since July 30 — less than Southwest Virginia’s 226 percent increase.

The rate is higher in several counties closer to the Tennessee border — highest in Scott County.

Dickenson is the only Southwest Virginia county with a COVID community spread rate lower than the state average.

And while Southwest Virginia’s rate is 43 percent higher than the state’s as a whole, Northeast Tennessee’s community spread rate of 415.3 is slightly below the state’s rate of 459.3. That’s according to the latest numbers posted Tuesday afternoon by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH).

Shelton’s replacement, Dr. Noelle Bissell, released an opinion-editorial Tuesday about the COVID surge in Southwest Virginia.

The piece said the worst effects of current COVID cases are almost exclusively among unvaccinated people. The gist was that vaccination is the path to stopping the virus’s worst effects.

“This surge is entirely preventable and healthcare workers feel as if their community is letting them down,” Bissell wrote. “Many view the rejection of vaccines as betrayal, when they can see a potential end to the exhaustion, loss and sacrifice.”

As of Tuesday, just 38.4 percent of Southwest Virginians were fully vaccinated. The figure is 55.3 percent statewide, though about 10 percent of the people are “not mapped,” so the regional figure is likely a few percentage points higher.

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