RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported four new COVID-19 deaths in Southwest Virginia Friday — 22% of the Commonwealth’s total 18 reported deaths for an area with less than 4% of the population.

Over the past month the rural nine-county region has reported almost four times as many COVID deaths per 100,000 population than the state as a whole — 26.3 for the region compared to 7.7 statewide.

“Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, and the low vaccination rates in our region meant that more people are susceptible to getting very sick,” Mount Rogers Health District Population Health Manager Breanne Forbes Hubbard told News Channel 11 Friday in a statement. 

Friday’s reported deaths included one each in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties, and Bristol.

The nine-county region continued to record high new case numbers due to the Omicron variant, but the 368 new cases Friday sent the seven-day rolling average down slightly from Thursday’s record. It is now 952 compared to Thursday’s 960, but it’s also up 49% the past week.

Southwest Virginia’s COVID community spread rate has increased by 49% in the past week and 118% the past two weeks — a more rapid increase than the statewide growth rate.

That’s a faster rate of growth than Virginia’s statewide rate, which began a rapid increase about 10 days before Southwest Virginia. The statewide rate of 1,528 Friday marks a 27% increase from a week ago.

Before Omicron arrived in urban areas of Virginia, Southwest’s rate was running about double that of the state. Forbes Hubbard said from that previously elevated level, cases are now “exponentially increasing.”

“We expect cases to continue to increase as omicron rapidly spreads throughout our region,” she added. 

Southwest Virginia’s seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 has more than doubled in the past two weeks, growing by 119%. Virginia’s rate is up by 88% over the same period. Washington County has the highest rate at 1,190 and Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties all have rates above 1,000.

New hospitalizations for COVID continue at a high rate statewide, though that has slowed slightly. The seven-day rate per 100,000 is 20.7 statewide, down from 25.7 a week ago but still much higher than it ever was prior to 2022.

Southwest Virginia recorded three new hospitalizations and has a seven-day rate of 6.6, which is actually lower than it has been through much of the Delta surge.

Forbes Hubbard said VDH doesn’t have sufficient data yet on the severity of Omicron cases, but did say the region’s more at risk than the rest of the state for whatever Omicron’s results turn out to be.

“We know that as case counts rise, so do subsequent hospitalizations and deaths, especially since many in our region have factors that put them at higher risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19,” she said. 

Southwest Virginia’s percentage of fully vaccinated people remains far below the state’s — 47.5% as of Thursday compared to 68.2% statewide.

Statewide, VDH reported 966,624 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth on Jan. 14.

According to VDH, the total number of confirmed and probable cases is 1,351,417.

VDH reports there have been 13,196 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths across the state.

Below is a complete breakdown of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Southwest Virginia:

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. – 3,060 cases / 208 hospitalizations / 59 deaths (24 new cases, 1 new death)
Buchanan County – 3,450 cases / 179 hospitalizations / 90 deaths (17 new cases, 1 new hospitalization, 1 new death)
Dickenson County – 2,450 cases / 68 hospitalizations / 40 deaths (13 new cases, 1 new death)
Lee County – 4,399 cases / 149 hospitalizations / 71 deaths (29 new cases)
Norton – 878 cases / 38 hospitalizations / 20 deaths (5 new cases)
Russell County – 5,014 cases / 180 hospitalizations / 80 deaths (41 new cases)
Scott County – 4,135 cases / 192 hospitalizations / 92 deaths (29 new cases)
Smyth County – 6,115 cases / 361 hospitalizations / 140 deaths (33 new cases, 1 new hospitalization)
Tazewell County – 7,406 cases / 239 hospitalizations / 123 deaths (52 new cases)
Washington County, Va. – 10,131 cases / 714 hospitalizations / 186 deaths (82 new cases)
Wise County – 7,212 cases / 272 hospitalizations / 153 deaths (43 new cases, 1 new hospitalization, 1 new death)

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