Virginia sees lowest rate of new coronavirus cases since pandemic arrived

With just 3.5% of standard nasal swab tests coming back positive for the coronavirus last week, Virginia is experiencing its lowest rate of new infections since the pandemic arrived.

The seven-day average for new daily cases was 555 as of Friday, the lowest statewide in over 10 months. And Virginia just recorded its lowest tally of new coronavirus hospitalizations at 684.

The steep decline is likely tied to the fact that about 80% of Virginians over 65 years old, those considered among the most vulnerable to death and serious illness, have received at least their first vaccine dose.

Still, data scientists studying the pandemic’s trends believe a summer surge is possible with the level of U.K.-variant infections spreading in the state. In a worst-case scenario, they project a peak in late August higher than the one in January, according to a report by the UVA Biocomplexity Institute.

To reduce the impact of another possible surge, public health officials are cautioning residents to continue wearing masks, keeping 6 feet from others and washing their hands frequently if they haven’t been vaccinated.

Little by little, though, fewer people might be seen wearing face coverings or observing social distancing practices. In a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed guidance for fully vaccinated people Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

Gov. Ralph Northam lifted Virginia’s universal indoor mask mandate Friday to align with the new guidance. He also plans to ease all social distancing and capacity restrictions May 28, two weeks earlier than planned.

Virginia’s state of emergency will continue through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and to support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Masks will continue to be required in K-12 public schools because of low rates of vaccination among children.

So far, there have been about 521,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10,991 suspected deaths across the state.

During the past week, 27 people were reported to have died of the virus in Hampton Roads: eight in Virginia Beach; five in Chesapeake; three each in Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and Suffolk; and one each in York County and Norfolk.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States rose to 32.9 million last week, according to Johns Hopkins University, and about 585,000 Americans have died. Around the globe, 161.3 million people have had confirmed infections, with 3.3 million deaths.

Virginia Beach’s case counts have continued to be Hampton Roads’ highest, with 216 newly confirmed positive cases in the past week, followed by Norfolk with 132 and Newport News with 101.

High caseloads are expected in bigger cities, but sometimes localities with fewer people see greater rates of new cases per capita. For the past three weeks, Portsmouth has led the area with the highest rate, with about nine per 100,000 people. Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk had similar rates of eight per 100,000 people.

In Eastern Virginia, about 73% of hospital beds are occupied, according to data from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Intensive care unit hospitalizations have decreased for seven weeks, and emergency room visits for coronavirus-like symptoms have fallen for about a month.

Health experts maintain that vaccines will be the most powerful tool in ending the pandemic.

Over the past month, Virginia’s average vaccination rate has slowed way down. In mid-April, the state was administering some 78,000 shots a day. That rate has fallen to less than 47,000.

About 3.1 million Virginians, or 37% of the population, had been fully inoculated as of Friday. Those figures don’t include the 376,000 people in the state who have been vaccinated through the military, Veterans Affairs and federal prisons. About 48% of Virginians have at least one shot.

All Virginians ages 12 and older are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, now that Pfizer has received emergency use authorization for the younger age group. Pediatricians, pharmacies, state and federally run clinics and some school-based events will offer shots to older children and young teens.

The Northam administration expects all adults who want shots to be able to get at least their first dose in the next two weeks.

Here’s a look at the pandemic around the region for the past week:

Virginia Beach reported 216 new cases, with a daily case average of 31, down from 45.

Norfolk reported 132 new cases, with a daily case average of 19, down from 25.

Newport News reported 101 new cases, with a daily case average of 14, down from 17.

Chesapeake reported 92 new cases, with a daily case average of 13, down from 23.

Portsmouth reported 58 new cases, with a daily case average of eight, down from 17.

Hampton reported 77 new cases, with a daily case average of 11, down from 18.

James City County reported 22 new cases, with a daily case average of three, down from six.

York County reported 13 new cases, with a daily case average of two, down from four.

Suffolk reported 40 new cases, with a daily case average of six, down from seven.

Williamsburg reported four new cases, with a daily case average of one, flat with the previous week.

For other pandemic data, go to

The links to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder website, which has a searchable map-based tool to find vaccination appointments. For phone assistance, call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA.

Elisha Sauers, 757-839-4754,