RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) — Southwest Virginia’s COVID-19 new case rate reached a record Wednesday and the rural region also reported five new COVID deaths out of just 13 statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

The surge prompted area two health districts covering seven counties to suspend their practice of providing return-to-work or school clearance letters so staff can focus on contact tracing.

The nine-county region reported 589 new COVID cases — including 120 in Tazewell County, which also reported three new deaths. The seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 population is now 1,212, nearly equal to Virginia’s statewide rate of 1,226.

COVID-19 deaths per capita are more than four times higher in Southwest Virginia than statewide this month.

The region’s rate has increased by 35% in the past week, while the state’s has declined 18% as the Omicron variant, which arrived later in Southwest Virginia, has continued moving toward its peak.

Washington, Russell and Buchanan counties all have rates higher than the state average now, and Russell reported a record 90 cases Wednesday.

The rapid case increase has prompted a change in some COVID-related procedures at the Lenowisco and Cumberland Plateau health districts, where seven of the region’s nine counties are located.

The districts’ population health manager, Allie Phillips, said in a statement that the districts have suspended their practice of providing individuals with clearance letters to return to work or school following COVID-19 infection or exposure. The health departments will also stop providing written communications that exclude people from work or school due to illness or exposure.

“With case numbers exceeding our resources, both the LENOWSICO and Cumberland Plateau Health Districts will be temporarily prioritizing case investigation and contact tracing until levels decrease,” Phillips said.

Phillips urged residents of Lee, Scott, Wise, Russell, Dickenson, Buchanan and Tazewell counties to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

You can read the full release here:

The rate of new reported deaths in the region continued to far exceed statewide death totals, as it has since the Delta surge began in late summer. That gap has been even wider in January.

The region has just 3.4% of the state’s population but has reported almost five times as many COVID deaths per capita than the state in January.

The rate per 100,000 population in January is 13.5 in Southwest Virginia (39 total deaths) and 2.9 in Virginia (248 deaths).

The region continues to have vaccination rates far below the state and national averages.

Statewide, VDH reported 1,015,886 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth on Jan. 19.

According to VDH, the total number of confirmed and probable cases is 1,419,883.

VDH reports there have been 13,218 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths across the state.

Below is a complete breakdown of local COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Southwest Virginia, with new case numbers on Jan. 19:

Note: VDH does not report whether cases are active or recovered. County and community case totals can include active, recovered, confirmed and probable cases.

Bristol, Va. – 3,283 cases / 208 hospitalizations / 59 deaths (36 new cases)
Buchanan County – 3,678 cases / 181 hospitalizations / 90 deaths (36 new cases, 1 new hospitalization)
Dickenson County – 2,543 cases / 68 hospitalizations / 40 deaths (13 new cases)
Lee County – 4,590 cases / 149 hospitalizations / 72 deaths (41 new cases, 1 new death)
Norton – 923 cases / 37 hospitalizations / 20 deaths (5 new cases)
Russell County – 5,270 cases / 180 hospitalizations / 80 deaths (90 new cases)
Scott County – 4,310 cases / 193 hospitalizations / 93 deaths (29 new cases)
Smyth County – 6,372 cases / 364 hospitalizations / 142 deaths (60 new cases, 2 new hospitalizations, 1 new death)
Tazewell County – 7,667 cases / 242 hospitalizations / 126 deaths (120 new cases, 3 new hospitalizations, 3 new deaths)
Washington County, Va. – 10,665 cases / 714 hospitalizations / 186 deaths (107 new cases)
Wise County – 7,487 cases / 274 hospitalizations / 154 deaths (52 new cases, 1 new hospitalization)

For full coverage of the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, click HERE.