Gov. Northam declares state of emergency as COVID-19 cases rise to 17 for Virginia

Published: Mar. 12, 2020 at 12:43 PM EDT
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Seventeen patients have tested "presumptive positive" for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Virginia.

The newest developments

As of Thursday, March 12, the Virginia Department of Health confirmed 17 cases


The total number of cases includes 10 in northern Virginia, 2 in central Virginia, 4 in eastern Virginia, and 1 in northwestern Virginia (not the Shenandoah Valley).

According to a newly available VDH breakdown, the cases include 4 in Fairfax County, 2 in Virginia Beach, 2 in Williamsburg, 2 in Loudoun County, 2 in Arlington County, 1 in Fredericksburg, 1 in Prince William County, 1 in Prince Edward County, 1 in Hanover County, and 1 in Alexandria.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency for Virginia.

The state of emergency will help provide ongoing support for vulnerable populations and multi-state coordination by freeing up funding for state support.

Northam also ordered the cancellation of state-sponsored conferences and events for 30 days and urged local governments to do the same. He said state officials have gotten mixed messages from the federal government, so he's urging states to step up in the fight to stop the spread of the virus.

“Our top priority is to make sure Virginians stay safe and healthy, and that our response to this situation leaves no one behind,” said Governor Northam. “From our health department, to our schools, to our hospitals, to our transit systems, Virginia’s agencies and institutions have been thoroughly planning for every scenario. This emergency declaration will ensure we can continue to prepare for and appropriately respond to Virginians’ needs during this time.”

According to Northam, 15 of the presumptive positive cases were tested in Virginia, while two Virginians currently in Texas also tested positive.

The Virginia Department of Health emphasized that they have still not seen any signs of community spread of the virus in Virginia. All positive cases are believed to have been transmitted elsewhere.

When it comes to schools, Northam said it's up to each division and individual locality to make their own decisions. based on CDC and VDH guidelines, about the future.

For state employees, Northam said there will be no out-of-state work travel for the next 30 days.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is also adjusting cleaning schedules for all airports, Metro, buses, and rail.

The latest on testing kits in Virginia

“Whenever a case is identified, the local health department will work with that person to understand who may have come into contact with that person and then they put measures in place to monitor anybody who could have been in contact or symptoms. They may ask them to stay at home until we get through a period of time where they would develop symptoms,” said Virginia Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake.

Two additional testing kits arrived at the state Department of Health on Wednesday, bringing total testing capacity to between 500 and 600 patients. Northam said the state believes that's enough for now, but they believe more will be soon available, despite a limited CDC supply chain of testing kits.

According to Dena Potter, Director of Communications with the Virginia Department of General Services, that testing capability is in addition to the number of patients they've already tested in Virginia.

Testing at a state level began on Feb. 29. Potter also said that the approximate number of individuals tested per kit is determined by how many reactions are provided in the kit (some kits are 1,000 reactions and some are 500 reactions).

The state is looking to develop its own test kits and use private labs to do more testing.

Virginia is also looking to other states and could consider "drive-thru" testing of the virus for possible patients.

"Our responsibility to take this seriously and do our part to help limit the spread of this disease," Northam said.

The Virginia Department of Health has also expanded its testing criteria to ensure that anyone who has symptoms and is in a nursing home is top priority and gets immediate testing and asked nursing homes and senior care facilities to update policies for more visitor screening.

Previous updates and more info on specific cases

Previously, the ninth case identified by the

was confirmed by the Chickahominy Health District on Wednesday.

The patient was identified as a teenager living in the Ashland area. According to the Chickahominy Health District, the teen returned to the United States on March 4 and following guidelines to stay home for 14 days to monitor conditions.

He developed symptoms on March 8 and tested positive Wednesday, March 11.

“Confirming a case of COVID-19 in a Hanover resident does not come as a surprise given international travel from an affected area,” said Chickahominy Health District Director Dr. Thomas Franck, MPH. “The resident followed guidelines to stay home and limit contact with others and we believe the risk to the general community remains low.”

The patient is currently doing well and is isolated at home.

According to the Hanover Health Department, this patient does not attend Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS). However, Hanover County Public Schools will be following response plans to ensure residents are as prepared as possible.

Cleaning efforts have been increased in all schools within Hanover County as well as buses. Additional disinfectants have been added in areas where there have been higher instances of student absences due to illness.

Hanover County Public Schools says all school and school division supported trips such as field trips, athletic trips, etc. outside of Virginia have been canceled through April 13. These trips will include Washington D.C and staff travel to meetings and conferences.

If families are traveling to a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice such as China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, the CDC guidelines state, "Travelers should stay home for 14 days after returning to the United States and practice social distancing.”

“We are asking that all families and staff traveling to these countries strictly adhere to the CDC guidance,” Hanover County Public Schools states.

If students are staying home for 14 days, please notify your school immediately to allow the school administration to assist with getting work to students who are self-quarantined.

How Virginia is responding

In an address to the public on Wednesday, Northam said that his team was not declaring a State of Emergency at that time, but was prepared to do so if necessary when the time was right. A day later, on Thursday, with escalating cases in Virginia and national sports associations and universities across the country making major changes to schedules, Northam said the time was right.

The governor said they are asking private businesses to explore teleworking and other methods to reduce person-to-person contact as a way to prevent the spread of the virus.

He stated the commonwealth is planning for every scenario and preparing hospitals, schools and other institutions.

A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health said the state lab in Richmond currently has novel coronavirus testing kits for 300-400 patients and more kits are expected to arrive on Wednesday, increasing testing capacity by another 200. More orders have been placed as well.

Another key point covered in Northam's Wednesday address was the vast amount of misinformation about the disease widely circulating on social media. He urged people to rely on the

for reliable information, as well as the


Northam emphasized that there have been an alarming number of people projecting unfair stigmas on the Asian-American population, which is unacceptable and not an approach that benefits anyone's health. None of the confirmed cases in Virginia have any established link to Asia.

Each of the cases so far is listed as presumptive because while Virginia's state lab returned a positive test result for the virus in each case, they are not listed as confirmed positive cases until they're confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a federal level.

All of the cases in Virginia have been either in northern, eastern, or central Virginia. No cases have been confirmed in the Shenandoah Valley. You can find a rundown of the other reported cases so far below.

At this point, all of the cases reported in Virginia have been travel-related and there remains no evidence of community transmission in the commonwealth.

This is a rapidly changing situation. You can always find the latest factual information on the coronavirus spread in the U.S. from the

and, locally, from the


Falls Church

The U.S. Navy announced that a civilian employee at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Falls Church has tested "presumptive positive" for the virus.

According to a release from the Navy, the person is at a hospital in northern Virginia under medical care, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The Navy has notified all personnel who the person had close contact with to have each of those people self-isolate at their homes.

The U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery is located at 7700 Arlington Blvd. in the greater Falls Church area.

According to the Navy, military health professionals are conducting an investigation to determine if there any other people the person may have potentially exposed and may take precautionary measures depending on the result of that investigation.

Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach Health Department reports two people in their area have tested "presumptive positive" for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The Virginia Department of Health says these two cases are travel-related and that there is no evidence of community transmission.

“We are aware that exposure for these two individuals are travel related,” said Virginia Beach Health Director Dr. Demetria Lindsay. “The Public Health Department is in close communication with the two travelers and their care providers, and is conducting a thorough investigation of potential exposures. The two individuals are in stable condition and remain in isolation at this time.”

The VDH reports the two patients (a male in his 60s and female in her 50s) traveled on a Nile River cruise, where they were likely exposed to the virus, given other recent positive tests from people who were on the same cruise.

The two returned to the U.S. on March 5 and were tested at a Virginia Beach hospital on Sunday, March 8.

The reports, like each of the others from Virginia, are pending confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Loudoun County

Earlier, Loudoun County health officials, in northern Virginia, reported what was then the sixth person in Virginia who tested positive for coronavirus.

That presumptive case is a resident of the county in his or her 40s. The person is believed to have come in contact with a person with COVID-19 while attending Christ Church, Georgetown in Washington, D.C., where the

, resulting in a mass request for hundreds of people who attended the church to self-quarantine.

The Loudoun County resident was brought to the attention of the Loudoun County Health Department early Tuesday morning, following testing for the novel coronavirus by the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in Richmond (Virginia's state lab). The positive test result is considered a presumptive positive, pending confirmatory testing by CDC.

The patient is said to be doing well and is isolated at home.

“We know the risk of coronavirus disease—or COVID-19—increases among close contacts of infected persons,” said Loudoun County Health Department Director David Goodfriend, MD, MPH. “In this case, based on the results of our contact investigation to date, the risk to the general Loudoun community remains low.”

“We anticipated that a case of COVID-19 would be diagnosed in our community at some point,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall. “It is important that we all follow the prevention guidance issued by the CDC to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.”

Cases announced on Monday

Late Monday night, Virginia health officials announced they had discovered two new cases of the novel coronavirus in the commonwealth after initially announcing three earlier in the day. Those were the first five cases to test positive in the commonwealth.

That brings the total number of cases confirmed by state authorities to nine: the Chickahominy Health District case, the Virginia Beach cases, the Loudoun County case, the two cases announced Monday evening, and three cases previously announced.

The Virginia Department of Health said in a news release the two presumptive positive cases confirmed by the state late Monday were in separate parts of northern Virginia: Fairfax and Spotsylvania County.


The person who tested positive in Fairfax lives in the same home where another person tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. It is not a matter of "community transmission," according to Virginia's Department of Health.

"The individual traveled on the same Nile River cruise as her husband. On March 5, when her husband was tested, she was asked to self-quarantine, stay home and avoid contact with others and has been compliant. When she developed minor respiratory illness symptoms, the Health Department determined that testing was warranted and specimens were sent to the Virginia state laboratory on March 8. The resident is currently doing well but was hospitalized while testing was completed," a press release stated.

The health department says risk to the community is low because she complied with requests to self-quarantine.

Spotsylvania County

Meanwhile, the fifth patient, in their 50s, who tested positive in Spotsylvania County, was not connected to the cases in Fairfax and is under medical care and stable, according to the physician providing care.

Investigators are tracing the contacts of the Spotsylvania County resident to determine where they may have been exposed to the virus and who may be at risk.

Health officials say the Spotsylvania patient sought medical attention after developing a fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Cases confirmed earlier

Earlier on Monday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that three patients by that point had tested positive for COVID-19, with one of the three in Arlington County. According to a press release, the positive result returned by a state-level test on Sunday evening is considered a 'presumptive positive,' pending confirmation by the CDC.

The patient was identified as an Arlington County resident in their 60s who recently returned from international travel and developed fever, cough and shortness of breath after getting home. The person is receiving medical care and is recovering. Officials say the individual had limited contact with others.

The other two cases involved a Marine Base Quantico resident and a Fairfax City resident. All three initial cases were exposed through international travel.

What to know about COVID-19

Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly (One of the 2 Fairfax City patients has been identified as being his 80s) and people with existing health problems.

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. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

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.