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Gov. Northam speaks about voter registration deadline, his COVID-19 experience at Tuesday’s briefing

(WHSV)
Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 10:05 AM EDT
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Gov. Ralph Northam held a COVID-19 briefing to discuss upcoming plans for handling the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. Northam also addressed voting in the commonwealth, and the fiber cut that has caused the websites of the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Elections Citizen Portal, among others, to slow and crash this morning.

This was the governor’s first briefing since his and First Lady Northam’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

Northam began the briefing with a quick update on his wellbeing since testing positive for COVID-19 in late September. Northam said it has been several days since he and First Lady Pamela Northam’s last symptoms. Health officials have cleared the two to return to work.

Northam added details about the room the briefings take place in — a large room, that sometimes functions as an auditorium, with 10 feet between each individual. Masks are required by officials and visitors, with the exception of the speaker at the microphone and the hearing interpreters.

Northam said that he and his wife were in quarantine for 18 days following diagnosis, and everyone in the governor’s office was tested. 65 staff members were told to quarantine, and all of them tested negative for the coronavirus, according to Northam.

Northam emphasized the importance of wearing masks, especially in his workplace. Looking into the future and towards the winter months, Northam urged Virginians to use caution. Outdoor gatherings will soon dwindle due to dropping temperatures and the sun going down sooner in the day.

“As always, it is entirely up to you to make smart choices — wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands," Northam said before thanking Virginians for their hard work during the pandemic. “On behalf of Virginia, I say thank you,” Northam said.

Northam also addressed CARES Act funding towards schools and the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. Northam said Juneteenth, a holiday to celebrate the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S., is now a permanent statewide holiday.

Due to Tuesday’s fiber cut that caused the commonwealth’s voter registration portal to experience an outage, elections remained an important topic of Tuesday’s briefing. Northam reiterated that Tuesday was the deadline to register to vote.

Due to a roadside construction project in Chesterfield County, a Verizon fiber was cut, and although technicians are working to get the fiber up and running, Northam said he is looking at options to extend the voter registration deadline. Northam said it does not appear that he has the ability to change the deadlines — instead, this decision is up to the courts.

Meanwhile, over 550,000 Virginians have voted early in-person as of Monday, Oct. 12.

It was also recently reported that members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Northam during a June meeting in Ohio, according to an FBI agent. Northam addressed this briefly for the first time during Tuesday’s briefing.

“Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, I will not take questions or make additional comments,” Northam said. “I want to emphasize the First Lady and I are safe... There is no imminent danger to me or my family.”

Towards the end of the briefing, the Virginia Department of Health’s website updated and began running again. You can learn more about Tuesday’s COVID-19 numbers for the state of Virginia here.

“I want to close again with thanking everyone for their well wishes,” Northam said before asking for questions. “It is too easy to think, ‘Oh, this will never happen to me.’ But it can. Please take this virus seriously... This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I know everyone is frustrated, but we’re not out of the woods.”

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

The statewide situation in Virginia

As of Monday, October 12, Virginia has had 159,570 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

That total reflects an 854 case increase since Sunday, out of 15,523 tests newly added to the system, which comes out to 5.5% of the newest tests coming back positive. Three additional deaths were reported on Monday, leaving the death toll at 3,361.

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.

Gov. Ralph Northam said during his Sept. 15 COVID-19 briefing that $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 expects a high number of absentee voters this year; as of Sept. 15, 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 vote.elections.virginia.gov.

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.