Even after a 10-day infectious period, it is possible that some people will test positive for COVID-19 for days or weeks longer.

This phenomenon is happening at Virginia Tech, where some of the population’s positive coronavirus cases appear to be the result of older infections, said Noelle Bissell, health director for the New River Health District, during a Wednesday virtual meeting with the news media.

She said the district’s investigations of the rising number of cases on campus reveal that some people are testing positive for COVID-19 beyond 10 days, but they no longer are infected with the virus. That’s because some tests are extremely sensitive and will detect fragments of viral RNA that are not infectious.

“It’s very possible that your test could stay positive for much longer than you are considered infectious and sick and much longer than you can transmit disease to someone else,” Bissell said, explaining that some people could have a positive test for as long as 90 days after an infection. The district is trying to decipher the new versus old cases.

She went on to explain that overall in the New River Health district, positive COVID-19 cases have plateaued to about 400 a week. With cases down, in particular for people ages 60 and older, it’s a signal that the district’s vaccination efforts are working, Bissell said.

The district continues to vaccinate people who fall in the state’s phase 1a and phase 1b priority groups. It could be April before the district is able to move to the next priority group, which is phase 1c.

As of Feb. 24, the district has administered 25,636 vaccines, Bissell said.

Still even with declining COVID-19 cases and vaccination efforts moving forward, people should continue to follow public health measures, such as wearing face coverings and avoiding large gatherings. Bissell acknowledged that there are COVID-19 variants in the southwest region of the state, which includes the health district, but said she could not disclose additional details.

“We want to make sure we do everything we can to keep ourselves safe and our community safe,” she said.

People can pre-register for a vaccine through the Virginia Department of Health’s statewide system website, which launched in mid-February. If people registered for a vaccine before the site launched, they do not have to register again, Bissell said.

The state is in the midst of migrating information from individuals throughout the state who previously registered for a vaccine through a local health district.

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that on March 1, the commonwealth will increase its capacity limits for outdoor sports and entertainment venues and it will allow restaurants to remain open until midnight for alcohol sales. Previously, restaurants closed at 10 p.m.

Bissell said she did not believe staying open an additional two hours would result in increased coronavirus transmissions at dining establishments.

“I think that people who are going to have their social gatherings are going to do that” regardless of whether a restaurant is open, she said.

Still, she emphasized the necessity of keeping social gatherings small and outdoors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have to push that vigilance,” she said. “This is the end to this marathon, and we can’t give up now.”

- Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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