Gov. Northam announces Rent and Mortgage Relief Program
Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth on Thursday for his latest briefing amid both the COVID-19 pandemic and continued calls for racial justice and police reform sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Last Thursday, the governor outlined the plan for Phase 3 and allowed other speakers to present a Spanish language on COVID-19 and how Virginia is addressing the disproportionate effects on Latino communities.
Now, on June 25, Northam spoke about plans for Virginia’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Northam addressed economic activity, along with the public school system and the moratorium on eviction in Virginia.
As of Thursday morning’s latest COVID-19 numbers for Virginia, the ‘percent positivity’ rate of how many Virginians are testing positive for COVID-19 is continuing a declining trend of around the past two months, with lower daily case totals and increased testing.
As of June 25, Virginia had 59,946 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, with 1,675 total deaths and 5,995 cumulative hospitalizations.
According to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, there are currently 854 Virginians hospitalized with either confirmed COVID-19 tests or pending COVID-19 test results and 7,818 patients who were hospitalized and have recovered.
The commonwealth is still working to overcome an earlier backlog in testing and catch up to the national average of how much of the population has been tested, although state health officials say their focus is getting tests to the most vulnerable and most affected people.
You can watch each of the governor’s briefings through WHSV’s livestream at whsv.com/livestream2 or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps. You’ll also be able to watch it live in the video player above during the briefing.
The latest updates from Gov. Northam’s June 25 briefing
Northam said today’s ‘percent positivity’ rate is the lowest it has been in weeks. Hospitalization for COVID-19 cases and rate of infection has also gone down. Northam’s team reported testing for COVID-19 is at 10,000 tests per day in the commonwealth, a rolling average of 3 to 4 percent of Virginia’s population.
Northam said Virginia has been a national leader when it comes to housing stability. With the moratorium for eviction coming to a close on June 28, Northam announced that he has asked Circuit Court judges to extend this date. He announced the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program to help struggling families cover rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic, which will launch on June 29.
The governor also touched again on what Phase 3 will look like for the commonwealth. He mentioned briefly that new legislation will take effect on July 1, the same day as Phase 3 will begin. Some of these new laws include more transparent policies for how police departments use body cams and laws that make it easier to vote, including removing the need for a photo ID at polling centers and making election day a holiday.
Delving deeper into what Phase 3 will look like, many businesses will utilize an appointment tool, Northam explained using the Virginia DMV as an example. Customers will register for an appointment time online before visiting in person.
As Virginia enters Phase 3 in the heart of summer, crowd limits will still be in effect. For sporting events, spectator count can be as high as 1,000 people, depending on the rules and regulations venues have put into place. For amusement parks such as Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion, who recently reported they would not reopen next week, the 1,000 person-limit stands, despite the additional space in the parks due to the amount of surfaces that must be cleaned.
For fall, school board officials will be the ones to decide whether or not a school will offer in-person classes, online or a combination of the two. Beyond Phase 3, education could include a path where all students can come to school every day, and further decisions will be made on athletics.
House of Delegates Republican Leader Todd Gilbert blasted the governor for Thursday’s announcement on school plans after his administration’s earlier rollout of a comprehensive guidance plan that they said schools need to follow.
“Any parent of a school-aged child in Virginia who saw today’s briefing by Governor Northam is probably livid right now, and they have every right to be. Earlier this month, the Governor rolled out a 100+ page ‘guidance’ document for the reopening of schools. Our local systems were mandated to comply with this guidance, and were told to submit their plans for approval.”
”Predictably, the Governor’s school reopening plan came up woefully short of being realistic, and parents and local school divisions are rightfully angry.”
”Today, Governor Northam sent his Chief of Staff to the podium, ostensibly to help address any confusion. ‘Guidance is not law,’ he said, before blaming these unworkable plans on local school boards -- even as the Govenor’s mandate appears to remain very much in place.”
”Decorum prevents me from saying what I really think, but I will say this: If you need an example of incompetence and untruthfulness in one package, look no further than Governor Ralph Northam.”
Northam ended the briefing with the announcement that today’s Facebook Live event would be the last of his coronavirus updates. The governor said the briefings will now only be held as needed and the Virginia Health Department’s data will be updated daily on their website.
The statewide situation in Virginia
Most of Virginia officially entered Phase 2 of Gov. Northam’s plan to gradually reopen the state on June 5. Richmond and Northern Virginia joined Phase 2 a week later on June 12.
Phase 3 is set to begin on Wednesday, July 1, with every region of Virginia included, and it will mean reopening for a lot of businesses and opening up further for many more.
Executive Order 63 will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, making it mandatory for almost all Virginians to wear face coverings when in indoor public places. You can learn how that can be enforced here.
Under Phase 2, Executive Order 53 was modified extensively, with Virginia’s 10-person gathering limit increased to a 50-person gathering limit, and in Phase 3, it will rise to a 250-person limit.
That limit, like the original 10-person limit, is enforceable by law.
Executive Order 55, the ‘Stay at Home’ order first signed by Northam on March 30, was changed to and remains a ‘Safer at Home’ order, encouraging Virginians to continue staying home whenever possible as the safest way to prevent COVID-19′s spread and specifically telling Virginians vulnerable to the virus to stay home except for essential needs.
Virginia's state of emergency, which was originally set until June 10, was extended by Governor Northam on May 26 to run indefinitely.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, expired on May 17 and court hearings across most of Virginia resumed on Monday, May 18. But a few weeks later, on June 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia acted on Gov. Northam’s request to halt all eviction proceedings through at least June 28.
At the end of June, eviction proceedings can once again start back up in Virginia.
DMV offices in Virginia began gradually reopening on Monday, May 18, and continue to open up more customer service centers around the state for appointments to handle business that can only be carried out in-person.
Extensions have been granted to people with expiring credentials for themselves or their vehicles, like licenses and registrations, and Virginia State Police have not been enforcing inspections.
Statewide case totals and testing numbers as of June 25
By June 25, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 57,384 confirmed and 2,562 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
"Probable" cases are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test – also known as clinical diagnoses.
Those positive test results are out of 654,500 total tests administered in Virginia, which included 590,404 PCR tests and 64,096 antibody tests (The Dept. of Health announced in May that they would break testing data down by diagnostic and antibody tests.)
This week, from Sunday to Monday, there were 12,421 new PCR tests and 470 antibody tests reported; from Monday to Tuesday, 10,228 new PCR tests and 213 new antibody tests; from Tuesday to Wednesday, 8,178 new PCR tests and 670 new antibody tests; and from Wednesday to Thursday, 16,391 new PCR tests and 2,013 new antibody tests.
A lot of the testing has been conducted through health department-sponsored community testing events around the commonwealth, through which state health officials have said the goal is to get tests into areas in the most need, and those events do not turn anyone away, regardless of symptoms.
Overall, considering testing numbers and positive results, about 9.2% of Virginians who have been tested have received positive results. At the start of May, that percentage was standing steadily around 17%, but with increased testing and decreased case rates, it’s come down over time. However, some localities have higher percentages, as outlined in our “local cases” section below.
At this point, 5,995 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 1,675 have died of causes related to the disease.
The hospitalization and death numbers are totals confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, which are always delayed by several days due to the logistics of medical facilities reporting information to local health districts, which then report it to the state health department.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the pandemic and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats, the VHHA offers more helpful data.
The state website shows a lot of detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county, and are broken down by zip code here, if you want to track cases on a neighborhood level.
Where are our local cases?
Overall, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s June 25 breakdown, 654,500 tests have been run for the virus in Virginia, with 59,946 positive results.
The department’s breakdown and location map, available to the public here, shows the number of cases confirmed each day, number of people tested, total hospitalizations, total deaths, demographic breakdowns, and testing numbers, as well as breakdowns by health district.
Here’s a breakdown of cases for our region as of 9 a.m. on June 25. You can find the breakdown for the entire state in the chart at the bottom of this article.
Numbers sometimes decrease day to day when the health department determines that a test initially reported in one locality was actually for a resident of another city, county, or state.
Central Shenandoah: 1,951 total cases
• Augusta County - 178 (+4 from Wednesday)
• Buena Vista - 14
• Harrisonburg - 907 (+6 from Wednesday)
• Highland County - 3
• Lexington - 10
• Rockbridge County - 27 (+3 from Wednesday)
• Rockingham County - 674 (+11 from Wednesday)
• Staunton - 68
• Waynesboro - 70 (+3 from Wednesday)
Outbreaks: 18, with 7 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, 8 in congregate settings, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in an educational setting | 568 cases associated with outbreaks
Total tests: 17,100
Local percent positive: 11.4%
Lord Fairfax: 1,898 total cases
• Clarke County - 47 (-1 from Wednesday)
• Frederick County - 464 (+3 from Wednesday)
• Page County - 266 (+2 from Wednesday)
• Shenandoah County - 552 (+5 from Wednesday)
• Warren County - 269 (+3 from Wednesday)
• Winchester - 301 (+1 from Wednesday)
Outbreaks: 24, with 9 in long-term care facilities, 5 in healthcare settings, 9 in congregate settings, and 1 in a correctional facility | 638 cases associated with outbreaks
Total tests: 18,996
Local percent positive: 10.0%
Thomas Jefferson: 852 total cases
• Albemarle County - 367 (+8 from Wednesday)
• Charlottesville - 193 (+9 from Wednesday)
• Fluvanna County - 107
• Greene County - 57 (+2 from Wednesday)
• Louisa County - 112 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Nelson County - 18
Outbreaks: 13, with 4 in long-term care facilities, 2 in correctional facilities, 6 in congregate settings, and 1 in an educational setting | 177 cases associated with outbreaks
Total tests: 19,235
Local percent positive: 4.4%
Rappahannock Rapidan: 1,423 total cases
• Culpeper County - 803
• Fauquier County - 415 (-2 from Wednesday)
• Madison County - 43
• Orange County - 142 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Rappahannock County - 20 (+1 from Wednesday)
Outbreaks: 8, with 3 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, and 4 in congregate settings | 118 cases associated with outbreaks
Total tests: 13,638
Local percent positive: 10.4%
Like in many parts of Virginia and the nation, many of the Shenandoah Valley’s cases have been attributable to outbreaks within particular facilities. By June 25, the Central Shenandoah Health District had identified 18 outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District had 24.
Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of our outbreaks, because the Virginia Department of Health, for months, interpreted Virginia code as treating facilities the same as "persons," meaning their anonymity had to be protected. So information about outbreaks is only released to the public if a facility grants permission for that to be released, and that has not been often.
However, on June 19, the Northam administration reversed course and released comprehensive, facility-specific information on the outbreaks around Virginia at long-term care centers.
Outside of long-term care center outbreaks, outbreaks in our area have also been confirmed at New Market Poultry, the Harrisonburg Men’s Diversion Center, with at least 25 positive cases, and LSC Communications, which had at least six cases by the end of April but then stopped providing updates on their employee hotline so that media outlets would not have access to the information, which was not publicly provided.
On May 26, RSW Regional Jail confirmed at least 15 people at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, as the outbreak identified inside a correctional facility in the Lord Fairfax Health District. A day later, that number was up to 18 positive tests.
New Market Poultry Products, which has more than 100 employees working on a daily basis, confirmed near the end of April that they had multiple employees test positive – though an exact number was not provided and no update has come since then.
None of the other Shenandoah Valley poultry plants have released any information about COVID-19 cases to the public, but 18 workers tested positive at the Pilgrim’s Pride in Moorefield, W.Va. and Cargill in Dayton has confirmed the death of one employee due to COVID-19 – though never any information on the number of cases at the facility.
Poultry plants and other meat processing facilities have been hotspots for the virus across the country and a focus of Gov. Northam's in Virginia. State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has also referenced the situation at poultry plants in Harrisonburg leading to a disproportionate number of cases among the Latino community in the Shenandoah Valley, though, again the facilities themselves have released no information publicly.
The only exact number for poultry workers that has been provided is that as of May 20, at least 317 poultry plant workers living in the Central Shenandoah Health District had tested positive.
Many of the local outbreaks that do not have confirmed locations have been identified in congregate settings, which could include workplaces, apartment complexes, churches, gyms, or any setting with a group of people in one place. While WHSV has received reports from viewers about specific stores, for instance, if the business does not provide consent for their information to be shared, the health department cannot confirm any information about cases there.
Of the state’s 5,995 total hospitalizations, at least 153 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 8 have been in Augusta County, 1 in Buena Vista, 69 in Harrisonburg, 67 in Rockingham County, 7 in Staunton, and 3 in Waynesboro.
In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 162 hospitalizations. Fifty-seven of those have been in Shenandoah County and 28 in Page County.
As far as deaths, there have been 28 reported in Shenandoah County, 24 in Page County, two in Augusta County, 23 in Harrisonburg, and nine in Rockingham County.
Deaths, like all health department data, are reported by a person's listed residence.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state's health commissioner, has said that it often takes several days before local health districts are able to enter death information into the state database. Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, told WHSV that deaths first have to be reported to them by medical facilities, which is a major cause for delays that have often been seen on the numbers reported for our area.
Dr. Kornegay also explained that if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, that's what goes on their death certificate. Those death certificates have a space to list secondary causes of death, and that's where ongoing health issues like heart disease and cancer are listed. Some people have accused medical facilities of artificially inflating death tolls by doing that, but it's the same process by which flu deaths are reported every year.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case. Individual health districts may track cases as "active" and "non-active," but that data is not published anywhere in aggregate.
But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their online dashboard indicates that, as of June 25, at least 7,818 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from the hospital.
Unlike the VDH data that reports cumulative hospitalizations, their data on hospitalizations reflects people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 (whether with confirmed or pending cases), and that number is at 854, which is one of the lowest points since the start of the pandemic.
The data used by the VDH to report cumulative hospitalizations is based on information reported in hospital claims. On the other hand, the numbers reported by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set.
Previous updates from Gov. Northam’s June 25 press conference
Where Virginia stands
Governor Ralph Northam began Tuesday’s briefing the way he has begun many COVID-19 briefings throughout the pandemic: by recapping Virginia’s latest data metrics.
Northam said the commonwealth is in a good place now, with a strong plan to address disparities in effects on minority communities, more contract tracer hiring underway (with 1,000 already on board as of Monday, he said), and continuing declines in patients hospitalized with positive or pending COVID-19 tests.
While deaths increased on Tuesday, when Northam was asked about that, he discussed how, as previously has been explained by health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, deaths are a “lagging indicator” that don’t necessarily track the most recent occurrences and are dependent on a reporting process that goes through multiple facilities and people.
Citing the number of tests delivered each day from 8,000 to 12,000 a day since June 2, and the continuing decline in Virginia’s percent positivity, the governor said testing has been a wide-scale success.
He also reviewed PPE supplies, and the stat that no hospitals have reported PPE problems for weeks, and that the number of long-term care centers with supply problems has dropped significantly, down to just two.
Since last Friday, Northam said, Virginia has distributed a total of 38 PPE shipments, with many of them to long-term care facilities and places of education, as well as to correctional facilities, thanks to a donation from the Reform Alliance.
He also highlighted Virginia’s more than a dozen contracts with companies manufacturing PPE.
Phase 3 next Wednesday
Considering each of those data metrics, Gov. Northam said Virginia is in a good place for him to feel comfortable planning Phase 3 to officially start on Wednesday, July 1.
The governor outlined Phase 3 in his Thursday press conference last week and quickly reviewed it again on Tuesday, going over the changes it will bring and the things that will stay the same, like the need to wear masks and physically distance.
While Richmond and Northern Virginia each enter Phases 1 and 2 later than the rest of Virginia, Northam said each locality will enter Phase 3 with the rest of Virginia unless their local government leaders specifically request a delay, as they did to start with.
Guidance for long-term care centers
The governor also went over plans on Tuesday to provide more in-depth guidance and support for Virginia’s long-term care centers, some of which have been hard-hit with outbreaks of COVID-19.
He recapped how his administration is providing additional funding directly to long-term care centers to support their response and his move last week to reverse course and direct the Virginia Department of Health to release details on outbreaks at long-term care facilities across the commonwealth.
The decision to release specific data on long-term care center outbreaks
According to Northam, his decision to have the health department release the facility-specific data after months of the health department stating Virginia code prevented them from doing so was not due to a change in how the state interprets the code.
Dr. Oliver has repeatedly said in recent months that Virginia state code treats facilities as “persons,” and so the health department cannot release data on cases at facilities because it would violate patient privacy.
But Northam said the reversal to release the data now was to address federal data being released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Governor Northam said some of the federal data that has been released is incorrect and he made an exception to their original policy to make the state data available to address inaccurate federal information.
Northam called it “misinformation from Washington,” and said his goal is to always be as transparent as possible, though the numbers on long-term care center outbreaks had been repeatedly requested for months before the recent decision.
The governor said long-term care centers are a top priority of his administration, which is why they’re putting so much money from the CARES Act to the facilities.
He also said he understands that it’s been difficult for families to not be able to visit family members in long-term care centers and encouraged everyone to visit the ‘Forward Virginia’ guidelines to learn about the guidelines in Phase 3 for people to be able to visit their loved ones.
Virginia’s economic recovery
Governor Northam said Virginia is starting the steps to economic recovery while getting through the health crisis of COVID-19, using the state’s new economic resiliency program launched by GO Virginia, a recently announced hemp processing facility under construction, a new IT firm in Henrico County, and a new ship repair company in Newport News as positive examples of economic boosts.
Northam then said he’ll have a lot more about next steps on economic recovery this Thursday, adding that they’re seeing a lot of encouraging signs.
Ongoing protests in Virginia
The governor said he wanted to take some times to address the protests after the death of George Floyd that remain ongoing across the commonwealth.
Northam said his administration has counted 482 total demonstrations in communities across Virginia that he said have helped focus on issues of racial justice and injustice that need to be addressed.
With focused attention, Northam said he’s confident action is coming, and highlighted some of the new Virginia laws that will take effect on July 1, passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, that he said reflect his “commitment to reform.”
While the vast majority of Virginia protests have remained peaceful, Northam did particularly address the situation in Richmond, where there have been daily protests around the Robert E. Lee monument for weeks.
On Monday, the state government announced that they would be shutting down the grounds around the Robert E. Lee during overnight hours for the foreseeable future.
Northam said that decision was made because while the protests during the days have remained largely peaceful, he said there appears to be “a different agenda at night,” when there have been frequent clashes between protesters and Virginia State Police.
“These nightly conflicts cannot continue indefinitely,” Northam said.
He said he’s hopeful that meaningful conversation can ensue about specific policy changes that protesters would like to see.
General Assembly special session
Governor Northam said the General Assembly will meet in August, and at that re-convened session, will discuss the possibility of changing the section of Virginia Code that originally led the Department of Health to conclude that they couldn’t release specific data on COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care centers.
What about specific data for other businesses?
Now that the Virginia Department of Health is releasing specific COVID-19 data on long-term care care centers, Gov. Northam was asked by reporters if his administration will consider re-interpreting the Virginia code to also release specific data on outbreaks at other businesses, like meat processing facilities or retail stores.
However, Northam said they made no change to the Virginia code and returned to his justification for the change on long-term care center data due to the federal data that’s been released, which he said included misinformation.
The governor said any future decisions on releasing data about specific businesses within other industries would depend on the the public health impact.
Northam said outbreaks at long-term care centers pose credible risks to public health, and the release of data was to benefit public safety, but the administration is monitoring other industries to address their data, if necessary. But for now, he said no other industries affect public health in the same way, according to his team’s conclusions.
Northam’s response to police response at protests
Asked for his response to the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police during protests in Richmond, Northam said he “won’t direct police how to do their work.”
He again emphasized that the great majority of protests have been peaceful and strongly encouraged Virginians to keep them that way, asking people to “abide by the law” while exercising their First Amendment rights.
Future help for long-term care centers
Dr. Forlano, heading up one of Virginia’s COVID-19 task forces, said they are in frequent communication with staff at long-term care facilities across the commonwealth and are scheduling trainings statewide on the latest guidance for Phase 3.
She said now that the public health data on specific facilities is available, they encourage families to check that. She also noted that on that list, the facilities where data is suppressed is to protect patient privacy where numbers are low.
Is the governor prepared to roll back reopening plans if necessary?
Asked if he’s prepared to bring Virginia back to previous phases in the worst-case scenario of a surge in Virginia, the governor said his team is ready to make difficult decisions, but he’s hopeful that Virginians will keep following the state’s guidelines to wear facial coverings, thoroughly wash hands and sanitize surfaces, and continue social distancing.
Northam also said he’s confident in hospitals with their staffing levels, PPE supplies, ventilator supplies, and more.
He also cited the state’s testing capacity, which has been around 8,000 to 12,000 a day since the start of June, and said he’s confident that will only improve to allow Virginia to keep steady on the reopening plan.
With hospital and testing capacity at some of their highest points, the governor said he believes Virginia could look at areas by health district in the case of any new spikes to make changes as needed, especially with increased contact tracing in Virginia as well.
But the virus is still out there, he reminded Virginians, and people still need to take it seriously, because if they don’t, changes will have to be made.
Reaching out for help
The governor also strongly encouraged any employees who need help getting access to PPE for their workplace to reach out to Virginia’s COVID-19 Task Force and let them know about the situation to get it addressed.
When Northam will speak with protesters
Last week, while addressing protests in Virginia, Gov. Northam said he had spoken with Virginia’s chiefs of police and would soon speak directly with protesters as well to hear from a range of perspectives.
Now, Northam said he is listening to the concerns and demands of protesters, is very supportive of peaceful protests, but told a reporter he didn’t have his schedule with him to say when he has a meeting scheduled with protesters.
He said he can’t condone unlawful protests, but he wants to hear from individuals on what exactly they want to be done and what policy changes can be worked on moving forward.
Refusal to return to employment
Megan Healy, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief workforce development adviser, answered a question about the thousands of Virginians who have refused to return to work from unemployment.
She said while they track the number, they do not have specific details on if anyone refused to return because they earned more while on unemployment.
They do ask each person who refuses an offer and expedite services if they lack childcare to be able to return or have other similar life complications.
More response to protests in Richmond
Northam said his worries recently have been about “what happens after the sun goes down” in Richmond and he ordered the grounds of the Lee monument closed for the safety of protesters, who have pulled down monuments elsewhere around Richmond during overnight hours.
He mentioned the fact that the statue is 12 tons and said it’s a safety issue.
While encouraging people to remain peaceful and hold their gatherings during the day, he also called it “unfortunate” that his move to remove the Lee monument was held up in the legal system.
Northam said his intention was to take the statue down within days, but he’s confident the state will get through the legal process and get the monument taken down.
Updates from Gov. Northam’s June 18 briefing
Governor Ralph Northam hosted Thursday's press conference from a government meeting space in Fairfax County, with elected officials from around the Northern Virginia area around the podium to join him, as well as leaders from the Latino community in northern Virginia specifically.
The press conference began with an update from the governor on the latest data metrics, followed by Northam presenting a slideshow outlining the plan for Phase 3 guidelines, and then the majority of the event was meant to address the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Latino communities around Virginia, but especially in northern Virginia, including Spanish language updates.
The plan for Phase 3
Gov. Northam began his update about Phase 3 on Thursday by reiterating his point from Tuesday that Virginia is not entering Phase 3 this week.
While Virginia's COVID-19 metrics have been steadily improving, with daily case totals, hospitalizations, deaths, and percentage positivity all decreasing, Northam said his administration needs more time to be able to further evaluate the data.
However, while he announced no date for Phase 3 to begin, he did outline what Phase 3 will mean for Virginia businesses.
To start, he explained that Phase 3 will encourage Virginians to follow many of the same guidelines that have been recommended for Virginians throughout the pandemic, including:
• Virginia's 'Safer at Home' order asking people throughout the commonwealth to stay at home when possible, especially if vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19
• The commonwealth's recommendation for people to continue to telework if at all possible to reduce exposure to the virus
• Executive Order 63, the face covering mandate, will stay in effect
Gov. Northam said Virginians need to remember that face coverings are "the right thing to do" to protect others around them.
However, Phase comes with key changes, including:
- Virginia's 50-person limit on gatherings established in Phase 2 (that was an increase from the original 10-person limit) will expand to a 250-person limit
- Non-essential retail establishments' capacity limit will be lifted, but physical distancing still required
- Restaurants' capacity limit will be lifted, but physical distancing still required
- Entertainment venues (including museums and zoos) will have their capacity limit raised to 50% with a maximum of 1,000 people in any space
- Gyms and fitness centers will have their capacity limit raised from 30% to 75%
- Personal grooming services will still need to follow all existing distancing requirements
- Childcare services can reopen across Virginia
- Overnight summer camps remain closed in Phase 3
- Public pools will be allowed to open up to 75% capacity, with distancing requirements in place
The governor said more detail on the guidelines will be posted on the Governor of Virginia website soon.
Facial coverings will still be required in all public indoor spaces and on public transportation, and Gov. Northam reminded Virginians that it's essential to not just wear them, but wear them properly.
He said he is proud of all Virginians who have shown responsibility for their neighbors by wearing masks.
When can Phase 3 happen?
Asked for a specific earliest date for Phase 3, Northam said next Friday, June 26, would be the earliest Virginia could begin the stage.
However, he said the commonwealth will have to continue tracking the latest data to make sure the step is taken safely and responsibly when it's appropriate.
Northam emphasized that the commonwealth is not moving to Phase 3 yet, though health data remains positive, and said his team is also monitoring other states to consider what's happening with cases and surges around the country.
Northam said he's speaking with other governors around the U.S. weekly to compare and contrast strategies.
He also reminded people that, even once the commonwealth moves into Phase 3, "just because something is allowed doesn't mean it's required," effectively describing how businesses don't have to reopen if their staff does not feel comfortable doing so.
"Just because there are more places to go doesn't mean you have to go there," he also said, asking Virginians to keep considering wants vs. needs and continue being careful when in the public.
While saying restrictions may ease, Northam said the virus has not gone anywhere, and said it will be even more important in Phase 3 for people to be cautious when going out in public.
Keep using common sense, the governor said, staying physically apart, wearing facial coverings, and washing hands frequently – all CDC-recommended strategies.
The effects of COVID-19 on Virginia’s Latino community
Gov. Northam continued by saying that also essential as Virginia moves into Phase 3 is acknowledging the disproportionate way in which COVID-19 has affected minority communities.
Specifically, in Virginia, the Latino community makes up about 45% of all COVID-19 cases and 35% of COVID-19 hospitalizations while only representing 10% of the state's population.
Northam attributed some of those numbers to Latino Virginians being more likely to work in jobs that place them at higher risk of contracting the virus and a higher likelihood of not having insurance, both of which are compounded for people who are undocumented, he said.
To help address the effects on Virginia's Latino community, Northam said his administration is releasing all coronavirus guidelines in Spanish and broadcasting updates in Spanish media as well.
That's in addition to the work of the Health Equity Working Group, which is designed to connect with communities across Virginia at higher risk of catching the virus.
The group has distributed dedicated COVID-19 care kits for hard-hit communities, including thousands distributed in Harrisonburg.
Northam also cited the state's move to bring in an expert to manage Latino outreach, Virginia's Medicaid expansion, and said all community testing events do not require proof of citizenship so that the priority can be on testing and care, rather than checking identification and causing potential fear.
He also thanked Prince William County for their move this week to abolish the county's 287G program, through which local law enforcement had been collaborating with ICE to report the immigration status of anyone arrested.
Northam said he hopes that can set a new tone of trust with Latino communities.
Then, he thanked the Supreme Court for ruling on Thursday that the Trump administration could not halt the DACA program, drawing applause from those in the chamber.
Northam said it's critical for Virginia to reach people where they live, and called for people in hard-hit communities to share their knowledge of what's most needed on the ground to reduce disparities for black and Latino Virginians who are disproportionately affected.
Spanish language updates
While for the past few weeks, each of the governor's press briefings have been translated live on certain platforms, on Thursday, the governor invited several speakers from around the Fairfax County area to address Virginians directly in Spanish about the pandemic.
A doctor on the state's advisory board spoke about the efforts taken in Fairfax County to limit the spread of the virus there and help address the disproportionate effect on Latinos locally and across the country.
He focused especially on communication efforts to help in the area.
Throughout his address, he cited northern Virginia communities, as well as Norfolk and Harrisonburg, as key examples of localities in Virginia that have faced high impacts on Latino communities.
In Harrisonburg, throughout the pandemic, the Latino community has been disproportionately hit hard by the virus, partially tied to outbreaks at poultry plants.
Jeff McKay, the chairman of Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, also addressed the health disparities between demographics, saying they recognized it from "Day 1 in Fairfax County" to address the situation with high testing numbers by relying on community partners, private health providers, the state, and others.
He cited more than 25 locations offering COVID-19 testing around Fairfax County currently and ran through the county's plan to hire more contact tracers in the weeks to come, as well as details on a multi-lingual call center available for citizens.
Leaders said the Latino community is struggling and community leaders need to be out in neighborhoods, providing masks, food, and more to help ensure everyone is safe and supported.
Why the Spanish language update today?
Asked why he decided to focus on the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 in the Latino community on Thursday, Northam said Virginians got a chance to "witness Virginia's greatest strength: diversity."
He said he believes it's key that all Virginians can be taken care of, and focused in on making sure contact tracing and PPE capacity is available in all communities.
The governor said his team has "heard and listened" to local community leaders to work to improve the COVID-19 response in Virginia.
"The virus is still here," Northam said, and said people need to do everything possible to keep all Virginians healthy while promoting diversity in the state.
Potential surges and spikes
Asked about a UVA coronavirus model that shows a worst-case scenario of a surge in cases in late July, Northam said his team looks at models, but focuses especially on current data for Virginia.
He said they're also paying close attention to the situation in other states, with more than 20 seeing recent spikes and resurgences.
Northam is asking all Virginians to keep following the guidelines, but said in the case of resurgence, they've "prepared for that," with a stockpile of PPE ready and preparations to do more testing.
The governor used restaurants as an example of how Virginia has handled reopening differently than other states, citing the restrictions on capacity, distancing, and mask-wearing that some other states have not had.
Using Florida as a bad example, he mentioned a group of people that had gone to a restaurant there in a crowd, without masks, all of whom contracted the virus.
Virginia is watching other states and their practices to learn and "take our time," the governor said.
He also noted that a lot of people had suggested in March and April as the pandemic hit the U.S. that warmer weather in summer could help eliminate the virus – but many of the states now seeing resurgences in June are southern parts of the country, where the heat and humidity has not made the virus go away.
How is Virginia supporting minority communities with PPE?
Asked specifically how Virginia is helping communities with PPE, Northam fell back to a statement he's frequently used, describing the situation at the start of the pandemic in which governors had to compete for PPE supplies, and said Virginia's Health Equity Commission has worked to get those available supplies now to vulnerable communities.
Dr. Janice Underwood, Northam’s chief diversity officer, said the group has been working with communities down to the zip code level to provide resources in hard-hit areas, including Harrisonburg, Richmond, Fairfax County, and Prince William County.
Those resources included tens of thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer, masks, and flyers in each area.
Asked about unemployment numbers and the future of employment while reopening, Northam emphasized a statement he's used at many briefings: "We have to get the health crisis behind us" to address the economic crisis.
He said the General Assembly will work to discuss priorities for budgeting when lawmakers re-convene around August for a special session.
The injunction on the Lee monument
Following Governor Northam’s use of a previous press conference to announce a plan to remove Richmond’s Robert E. Lee monument from Monument Avenue, a judge ruled Thursday that a 10-day injunction blocking the monument’s removal would be extended indefinitely, barring removal until a court case can work through the system.
The governor said it’s the one monument the state has direct control over, with local governments gaining control to remove their monuments through a new law passed this year, and that he looks forward to having the monument removed as soon as they get through the court process, which he said he’s confident will work out in the state’s favor.
What to know about preventing the virus
Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.
It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Avoid non-essential travel.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.