Virginia May 21 COVID-19 update: Record number of new cases reported; lag still in reporting most of Accomack’s chicken plant cases


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia reported by far its highest number of new COVID-19 cases on Thursday (1,229), after new daily cases appeared to be plateauing.


The case increase (mostly in Northern Virginia — Tidewater only reported 67 new cases) comes just less than week after most of Virginia reopened under phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan, and a day before Virginia Beach officially reopens to sunbathers.

Though most of those whose cases were reported Thursday likely contracted the coronavirus before that point. Add the average time before symptoms appear averaging about 4-5 days, per the CDC, and the lag in getting test results, it could take at least a week before someone receives a positive test result after symptoms show.

Its unclear just how much this spike in cases Thursday can be attributed to a backlog of tests.

Here’s the latest graph of daily cases, and when symptoms started occurring for each patient.

Local numbers

Here’s the latest breakdown for Tidewater for May 21:

Accomack: 709 cases, 40 hospitalized  11 deaths
Chesapeake: 412 cases, 81 hospitalized, 13 deaths
Franklin:  34 cases, 2 hospitalized, 1 deaths
Gloucester: 30 cases, 7 hospitalized, 1 death
Hampton: 167 cases,  30 hospitalized, 3 deaths
Isle of Wight: 121 cases, 10 hospitalized, 3 deaths
James City County: 189 cases, 55 hospitalized, 15 deaths
Mathews: 5 cases, 2 hospitalized, 0 deaths
Newport News: 215 cases, 38 hospitalized, 10 deaths
Norfolk: 377 cases, 59 hospitalized, 6 deaths
Northampton: 206 cases 18 hospitalized, 16 deaths
Poquoson: 7 cases, 2 hospitalized, 0 deaths
Portsmouth: 245 cases,  40 hospitalized, 11 deaths
Southampton: 138 cases, 4 hospitalized, 2 deaths
Suffolk: 278 cases, 42 hospitalized, 25 deaths
Virginia Beach: 584 cases, 87 hospitalized, 19 deaths
Williamsburg: 43 cases, 9 hospitalized, 3 deaths
York: 65 cases, 9 hospitalized, 3 deaths

Main takeaways:

  • The Virginia Department of Health still hasn’t added most of the more than 500 Accomack chicken plant positive cases reported last Friday to its website. Accomack saw no increases Thursday, and Accomack and Northampton counties’ case totals have only increased by 74 since VDH reported the chicken plant cases. The health department claimed it had to manually insert the data, and some of the workers at Accomack’s Perdue and Tyson plants lived out of state. VDH said last Friday that “about 85 of the 510 cases” had been added to the state’s data totals.
  • Northampton County, which has the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in the state, reported another death on Thursday, bringing its total to 16. 11 of its 16 deaths have been reported in the last week.
  • The rest of Tidewater is still reporting relatively low numbers of new cases and deaths. 67 new cases were reported throughout the region compared to Wednesday, with 20 new cases in Virginia Beach. Chesapeake was the only locality outside of the Eastern Shore to report a new COVID-19 death.


Virginia also reported 25 new deaths on Thursday, the third day deaths have been above the 7-day average. Daily COVID-19 deaths have mostly been trending downward since peaking at 43 on May 8.


Current hospitalizations also dropped slightly on Thursday to 1,491. Though daily cases have increased, COVID-19 patients have mostly remained around the 1,500 mark over the past month.


Virginia only reported 5,925 PCR diagnostic tests on Thursday, again below its 10,000 per day benchmark, despite Gov. Northam touting recent high numbers of PCR tests. Based on VDH data, Virginia is barely reporting more tests per average than 2 weeks ago, with an average of 5,621 “testing encounters” on May 20, and an average of 5,302 on May 6.

Those numbers exclude antibody tests, which Virginia officials admitted were included in their overall testing numbers until last week. Gov. Northam claims he wasn’t aware of the issue until it was brought up in a press conference, and said he immediately ordered the Virginia Department of Health to separate the numbers.

The Virginia Department of Health has since differentiated the daily number of antibody tests and PCR tests throughout its testing data. The issue was first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and then picked up nationally by The Atlantic magazine. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and several other states admitted to doing the same.

The percent of overall positive tests statewide is around 14%, but inflated by high percentages in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Eastern Shore, which delayed phase 1. The statewide percentage has dropped from around 18% two weeks ago.

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