Gov. Northam holds COVID-19 briefing, discusses 2020 election, absentee ballots

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 10:49 AM EDT
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Gov. Ralph Northam held a COVID-19 briefing at 2 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss upcoming plans for handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Northam began his briefing with an overview of the Virginia Department of Health’s recent COVID-19 update. Northam said that statewide, Virginia is averaging about 1,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, and the state’s percent positivity rate is at 6.8%. The percent positivity rate has been decreasing for 12 days, Northam said.

Northam said that due to the added restrictions in the Hampton Roads area, the percent positivity of COVID-19 cases in the eastern region of Virginia has decreased for 16 days. Although an increase in occupied hospital beds had occurred, Northam and his team were “very pleased with the region’s progress, and last week [they] lifted the restrictions.”

The southwest region of Virginia is seeing a rise in new cases, and percent positivity is at 8.1%. The central region of Virginia is not far behind, Northam said. Local health departments and officials continue to look at these statistics.

“It is our behavior that will get this pandemic behind us,” Northam said. “I appreciate all Virginians being responsible and being a part of the solution.”

Northam spoke briefly about the COVIDWISE app — which has had 515,824 downloads statewide.

Virginia’s moratorium on rent and utilities expires on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and Northam said he has asked that it be extended until Oct. 5. This, he said, will give the general assembly the time they need to finalize the state’s budget. Meanwhile, $42 million in CARES Act funding has been funded for additional PPE distribution, and the Virginia National Guard is continuing to help with COVID-19 testing events.

Northam then began discussing the 2020 election. Northam expects a high number of absentee voters this year; so far, the department of elections has received 790,000 absentee ballots by mail. Absentee ballots will begin to be sent out to voters on Friday, Sept. 18. Unlike past election years, you do not need to provide a reason to receive an absentee ballot. You can call or visit the website of your general registrar for your county or city to request an absentee ballot, or go online to

Absentee ballots will have prepaid postage and additional security measures, including a barcode that you can use to track your ballot. You can choose to mail your ballot or use a secure dropoff location at polling places and registrar offices on election day.

Starting Friday, Sept. 18, you can vote early in-person at your local registrar’s office, until Oct. 31. Or you can vote in-person on election day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. CARES Act funding will help to ensure that all election officers will have PPE equipment, and increased sanitation efforts and social distancing will be enforced at polling places on election day.

Northam also urged Virginians to complete the 2020 Census and to get their flu shot.

September is suicide awareness month. Northam said that 17 veterans die by suicide each day in the United States. Any veteran who is having difficulty can call the Military Crisis Line and the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

You can watch the briefing below or on the governor’s Facebook page.

The statewide situation in Virginia

As of Tuesday, September 15, Virginia has had 135,514 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

That total reflects a 943 case increase since Monday, out of 12,719 tests newly added to the system, which comes out to 7.4% of the newest tests coming back positive. 96 additional deaths were reported on Tuesday, leaving the death toll at 2,839.

For a comprehensive summary of COVID-19 cases and testing in Virginia, you can visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website and view their COVID-19 dashboard.

On Tuesday, September 1, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. made the decision to move classes online until at least Oct. 5. Also on Tuesday, Gov. Northam held a COVID-19 briefing to discuss COVID-19 numbers in the state and urged residents to fill out the 2020 Census. Virginia will not make any new COVID-19-related decisions before the Labor Day weekend.

The Virginia DMV announced on September 1 that credentials that would originally expire in August, September and October would now have an additional 60 days to renew. November expiration dates have been extended through the end of November.

On Tuesday, July 28, Gov. Northam held a COVID-19 briefing on his social media platforms to discuss the coronavirus in Virginia. According to Northam, cases remain stable in 4 out of 5 Virginia regions. Hampton Roads, however, continues to have a steady rise in cases, where more people are gathering in crowds and not maintaining social distancing guidelines. An executive order for the Hampton Roads area was placed on Friday, July 21, meaning the area’s restaurants must close by midnight and indoor dining is only allowed at 50% capacity. There are no alcohol sales permitted after 10 p.m., and private gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.

On Tuesday, July 14, Gov. Northam held a COVID-19 briefing on his Facebook page urging the commonwealth to keep practicing social distancing and to follow the mask mandate. Northam said that the eastern region of the commonwealth has seen an increase in the percent positivity rate of COVID-19 cases. The Virginia Department of Health and Virginia’s ABC teams will begin to conduct random visits to businesses and restaurants throughout the state to ensure that these organizations are following the latest COVID-19 guidelines.

Virginia officially entered Phase 3 on Wednesday, July 1. Nonessential retail businesses are permitted to fully open, along with restaurants, as long as there is no bar seating. Gyms can be open at 75% capacity, and entertainment venues can be open at 50% capacity. There is a 250-person gathering limit.

Executive Order 63 will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, making it mandatory for almost all Virginians to wear face coverings when entering businesses. You can learn how that can be enforced here.

Executive Order 55, the ‘Stay at Home’ order first signed by Northam on March 30, is now 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.

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.

More information on Virginia entering Phase 3 can be found here.

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.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you’re encouraged to check both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.