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Gov. Northam extends business closures, calls for Virginians to adapt to 'new normal'

(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 15, 2020 at 1:43 PM EDT
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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth at 2 p.m. on Wednesday for his latest briefing on Virginia's response to COVID-19.

The governor has been providing regularly scheduled briefings at 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to provide the latest updates.

On Monday, he

, and said he would have a decision by Wednesday on how long to postpone the re-opening of non-essential businesses.

Last Friday, he

, proposed the release of inmates with less than year left in their sentences, and emphasized a need for volunteers.

On April 8, he

to November by the General Assembly.

You can watch each of those briefings through WHSV's livestream at

or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps.

The latest updates from Gov. Northam's April 15 briefing
Modeling and social distancing

The governor started out Wednesday's press conference by emphasizing that now is not the time to stop social distancing measures.

According to Virginia-specific modeling by the University of Virginia, we are projected to hit our peak of COVID-19 cases in late April or early May. However, the modeling also projects that if measures like social distancing and the Stay at Home order are lifted suddenly and too early, Virginia would see a second spike in cases in the summer that could potentially surpass what Virginia hospitals are prepared to handle.

As of right now, though, with current projections affected by the orders in place, Northam said hospitals will have the bed and ventilator capacity needed to handle our expected surge.

Business closures extended

As of March 24,

ordered non-essential services, including all recreation and entertainment services, to close, as well as any non-essential businesses, like hair salons and massage therapists, that can't feasibly social distance.

is also the order that banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Virginia and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery, rather than in-house dining.

On Wednesday, Gov. Northam announced that he was extending the end-date of

by two weeks. It initially took effect for 30 days, set to expire on April 23. Now, the order is set to expire on May 8.

That means, effectively, that until May 8, gatherings of more than 10 people are banned and all businesses that had to initially close due to the order have to remain closed until May 8 at the earliest.

“As we have seen from our data and models, social distancing is working, and we are slowing the spread of this virus,” said Governor Northam. “But it is too early to let up. By extending this order to keep certain businesses closed or restricted, we can continue to evaluate the situation and plan for how to eventually ease restrictions so that our businesses may operate without endangering public health.”

The Stay at Home order, which was issued through Executive Order 55, remains in effect until June 10, as it was originally set.

The governor said he and his team will continue to monitor health data over the coming weeks to determine what happens next, after the May 8 expiration date.

Executive Order 53 covers three categories of businesses:

1. Recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys and theaters, which must close their doors by midnight on Tuesday.

2. Non-essential retail stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they can limit patrons to 10 at most, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, and follow CDC guidelines on sanitation.

3. Restaurants and food service establishments, which can remain open for carry-out, curbside pickup, or delivery, but not in-house dining.

Hair salons, barbers, massage therapists and similar non-essential services who can't feasibly carry out social distancing were required to close.

Dining and on-site alcohol establishments are allowed to keep operating through delivery and takeout services, but had to close on-site dining to the public. That includes restaurants, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and tasting rooms.

Grocery stores, health services, businesses in supply chains, and other essential businesses will be able to remain open no matter what. Virginia ABC stores are also considered an essential service, Northam clarified in response to a reporter's question.

The construction industry and construction supply stores are also considered essential services.

Here's a comprehensive list of businesses considered essential that may remain open during normal hours:

• Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;

• Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;

• Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;

• Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;

• Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;

• Lawn and garden equipment retailers;

• Beer, wine, and liquor stores;

• Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;

• Retail located within healthcare facilities;

• Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;

• Pet stores and feed stores;

• Printing and office supply stores; and

• Laundromats and dry cleaners.

All essential businesses must still adhere to social distancing as much as possible and implement enhanced sanitation practices.

The following list of businesses were required to close to the public as off 11:59 p.m. when Executive Order 53 was issued:

• Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;

• Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;

• Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;

• Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;

• Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

Professional businesses not in any of the above lists must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines.

Businesses violating the governor's order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Republican leaders in Virginia's House of Delegates – including House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, Republican Caucus Chair Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, and Republican Caucus Whip Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake – issued the following statement in response to the governor's executive order extension:

Regional coordination

According to Gov. Northam, he and his office have been talking regularly with leadership in Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. to make sure each of the states in the region is moving forward in a coordinated way for what they determine is best for the health and safety of the public.

Why did Virginia see an increase of 41 deaths in one day?

According to

provided on Virginia's confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, 195 people have died of confirmed COVID-19-related causes.

That number reported by the VDH on April 15 was a jump of 41 deaths from the day before, which marked the biggest recorded one-day rise in deaths in the commonwealth.

Gov. Northam and his staff were asked what contributed to that number, and the response essentially was that a lot of the data reported to and confirmed by the state is delayed.

According to Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's state health commissioner, much of the data on deaths lags several days behind when the deaths actually occurred.

That's because, on the local level, due to the many steps in the process of local health districts entering data into the state system, the process can take a few days.

Dr. Oliver mentioned how the same people in local health districts responsible for tracing hundreds of people anyone with a confirmed case had contact with are the ones who have to handle data entry into the VDH system.

Often, he said, they are focused on that critical contact tracing part of their job, so data entry may not happen for a day or two, which causes the state numbers to lag behind.

Essentially, he said the numbers released at 9 a.m. each day on the VDH site reflect prior history, and not necessarily what happened on the day before.

As for the conditions of those who died, state health officials said many were elderly and had pre-existing conditions that made them especially vulnerable populations.

Testing capacity

Data reported by Johns Hopkins University on testing across the country shows Virginia having the 2nd lowest rate of testing for COVID-19 in America, behind only California.

While Virginia has tested significantly more people than a number of other states, when the numbers are considered as a factor of population, the rate of testing is under half a percentage point.

State health officials said they are working to address the lack of capacity by trying to optimize testing capacity in Virginia's state labs and commercial labs, as well as at medical centers like VCU, UVA, and Carilion.

They acknowledged that many health care providers have often been caring for patients with presumed cases of COVID-19 without necessarily confirming the diagnosis with a laboratory test, and said they're working to get more of those patients tested.

Officials said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has three categories of cases, and Virginia has been focusing on people hospitalized with symptoms and health care workers. They are now adding those in long-term care facilities to the list of patients who get priority for available tests.

They also said they're evaluating with medical providers to broaden the criteria of who can get tested to get a better sense of exactly what's happening, with goals of outbreak intervention and public health surveillance.

Overall, it was acknowledged that more testing clearly needs to be made available, but that the goal of testing for diseases like COVID-19 is to understand the virus' trend – not necessarily to count every single cases.

Dr. Forlano said they key word in epidemiology is "trend" and that counting every single case of a disease is only possible for extremely rare diseases, like Ebola in the U.S., and that the goal is to understand overall trends for COVID-19 in Virginia.

Clinical diagnoses

Dr. Norm Oliver acknowledged that many medical providers have made clinical diagnoses of COVID-19 – doctors saying that a patient has the virus based on symptoms without having a laboratory test to confirm their diagnosis.

He said that those diagnoses have been reported to the Virginia Department of Health and that the department has encouraged medical providers to do so.

But while they're collecting that information, until a national guideline is established defining what counts as "suspect" coronavirus case, based on clinical diagnosis instead of lab testing, those numbers are not being reported to the public with the rest of the VDH data.

When will we go back to normal?

UVA modeling data indicates that even if Northam's Stay at Home order is lifted on its current date of June 10, if all activity returns to pre-coronavirus levels, Virginia would likely see another spike of coronavirus cases that wouldn't peak until August.

However, Gov. Northam said, as of now, he has no intention of extending the Stay at Home order.

In fact, he said that what he would like to be able to do is move that date back, if at all possible. That is dependent on people following the executive orders and following the CDC's social distancing guidelines in a way that decreases Virginia's curve of cases.

But he emphasized that decisions have to be made on current data, and the data changes every day, which requires decisions to be made on a day-to-day basis.

While acknowledging that that's frustrating, the governor said his team is focusing on how to help Virginia's economy, which was booming up through March, recover.

But he said it's key for people to realize, based on the science, that we won't just one day go back to "being normal again," at least in the near future.

So long as we don't have a vaccine and don't have a treatment, it's difficult to say when people can go back to normal life, Northam said.

Wearing a mask and social distancing, as well as other CDC-recommended measures, will have to continue for our society on a day-to-day basis until more is learned about the virus and we have those options for treatment and prevention available, the governor said.

While things will not go back to exactly how they were before, he said state leaders and everyone are figuring out together how to build a new normal, with tools like tele-working, social distancing, small gatherings, and more.

"We have to weigh what we want versus what we need," Northam said.

He pointed to health care workers, grocery store employees, volunteers, and more who are risking their health every day, saying that their sacrifices are helping to slow the spread of the virus, but that "we're in all this together" to help protect those workers' families.

On the topic of families, the governor also announced that Virginia is receiving $70 million through the CARES Act to help provide childcare for children of essential workers.

The statewide situation in Virginia

New positive COVID-19 test results have accelerated rapidly in the past week, with Virginia crossing 2,000 cases on Friday, April 3; 3,000 cases by Tuesday, April 7; 4,000 cases by Thursday, April 9; 5,000 by Saturday, April 11; and 6,000 by Tuesday, April 14.

On April 10, Governor Ralph Northam

, allow releases of inmates with less than year left in their sentences, and emphasized a need for volunteers.

On April 8, in Northam's daily coronavirus briefing,

that he was postponing statewide June primaries by two weeks, which moves them past the end date of the Stay at Home order, and recommending that the General Assembly postpone May's local elections until November, to be held at the same time as national elections.

On March 30, Gov. Northam

by signing

, effectively instructing all Virginians to stay home except for essential needs.

Virginia remains under a state of emergency until June 10, and Northam's order that closed many non-essential businesses,

, remains in place for that length of time as well.

That order is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. You can learn more about what police enforcement of Northam's executive orders looks like

.

All elective surgeries have also been postponed in Virginia hospitals through a public health order signed by Northam on March 25, designed to help preserve critical equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear.

Case totals as of April 15

By April 15, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 6,500 cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.

Those positive test results are out of 44,169 people that have been tested in Virginia, which comes out to about 14.7% of Virginians tested for the coronavirus receiving positive results.

At this point, 1,048 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and 195 have died of causes related to the disease. That's a jump of 41 deaths from the day before.

The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the outbreak and not the total number currently in the hospital.

Recovery

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.

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

indicates that, as of April 15, at least 752 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from the hospital. Their data on hospitals is more current than VDH data, though, so they also show 1,298 patients currently hospitalized due to the virus.

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.

Timing of VDH data

The

is updating with the latest statewide numbers at 9 a.m. each day.

The numbers that appear on that list are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department's numbers reflect those new results.

Local cases

In our area, as of April 15, there were at least 18 confirmed cases in Augusta County, 101 cases in Harrisonburg, 67 cases in Rockingham County, 6 cases in Page County, 27 cases in Shenandoah County, 2 cases in Staunton, 6 cases in Waynesboro, 73 cases in Frederick County, 21 cases in Winchester, and 3 cases in Rockbridge County, along with 3 in Lexington.

The Central Shenandoah Health District has 4 identified outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District has 7.

While health department officials have not specified the locations of those outbreaks, WHSV

is the location of the Central Shenandoah Health District's outbreak in a long-term care center. We're working to identify the locations of the other noted outbreaks as well.

Of the state's total hospitalizations, at least six have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District, which

, but would not identify the exact location of that death.

Just to the east, there have been at least 53 cases in Albemarle County, 38 in Charlottesville, 5 in Greene County, and 5 in Nelson County. There have been 15 hospitalizations there.

In the part of West Virginia we cover, one case has been confirmed

, two cases

, and one case in Grant County.

The numbers provided here are a blend of the data provided by the Virginia Department of Health and case updates provided directly by our local health districts.

Why do some cases that have been confirmed in my area not appear on the state map?

The VDH numbers always lag behind the numbers reported by local health districts because of multiple factors.

First, they're based on the test results that healthcare providers and laboratories submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so any positive cases announced in the late afternoon or evening, as well as on the day of the case count update, cannot appear on the department's list.

In addition, representatives for local health districts have told us their first priority when a new case is confirmed in their district is to

to let anyone who may have potentially been exposed to the virus know. With that as the priority, sometimes reporting of local cases to the Virginia Department of Health falls lower on the ladder and those results may not show up on the state tally for another day or two.

Plus, the exact locations of cases can sometimes appear differently on the state map than they do for local health districts that know their localities better.

Considering all of those factors, as an example, the April 2 state website update did not show one case in Staunton that the Central Shenandoah Health District

, though it had updated to show two cases confirmed in Augusta County at the same time.

There was also, for the first few weeks as cases began to rise in Virginia, a glitch in the system for updates from the Lord Fairfax Health District being sent to the Department of Health that caused some of their numbers to not display correctly. However, as of April 6, Dr. Greene, representing the district, said that issue had been resolved.

With those lapses between local case reporting and the VDH, while we report every morning on the latest statewide totals, we're also reporting local case numbers based on results directly confirmed to us by local health districts.

Reporting by local health districts

Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.

Updates from Gov. Northam's April 13 briefing
Severe weather

Governor Northam started out Monday's briefing by addressing the severe weather that rolled through much of the state Sunday night into Monday morning, hitting southwest Virginia especially hard.

According to Northam, as of noon, there were more than 166,000 households that remained without power across the state due to the storms.

He advised that, with high winds continuing throughout the afternoon, any Virginians facing tornado warnings should take shelter immediately.

Northam noted that shelter from life-threatening severe weather takes precedence over social distancing.

The latest modeling

Northam said that he and his staff have been watching national models throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to make key decisions like closing schools for the rest of the school year, issuing a Stay at Home order, and closing non-essential businesses.

Those models included the University of Washington and CHIME models, which have been heavily relied upon.

The governor noted how those models change on a daily basis and said that Virginia leadership wanted to take into account Virginia-specific data, including data on how Virginians have responded to the coronavirus.

In response, researchers with the University of Virginia have developed a specific model for the commonwealth.

It will change each day based on behavior in Virginia, but the modeling has been designed as of April 13 and was demonstrated to many reporters just before the governor's 2 p.m. briefing.

The new UVA model shows that social distancing measures are working to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Northam said, and also show that Virginia hospitals have sufficient capacity to handle the expected surge in patients.

However, the model also shows that if the Stay at Home order and other restrictions are lifted too soon, cases across Virginia would surge and threaten the available capacity at medical facilities.

Specifically, the models suggest another wave of illness in mid-July or August if we don’t slowly ease back into normal life.

"And we can't afford that," Northam said.

He reiterated that modeling data shows that the key is for "us to keep doing what we're doing" and stopping any time soon would put Virginians in danger.

Continuing education

As K-12 schools remain closed throughout Virginia until the end of the school year, teachers and school division leaders have been working hard to adapt to the situation to keep providing educational opportunities for their students.

Gov. Northam said they're all doing their best to address inequities in education to ensure all students are able to keep learning, but to help them, the state is making additional education resources available.

That includes expanding "Virtual Virginia," which is a statewide online learning system, to allow every public school teacher in Virginia to host line classes through June 30.

For students who don't have internet access, Virtual Virginia content can be loaded onto devices and used offline as well.

In addition, Northam highlighted the new

program, through which four public media TV stations have partnered with the Virginia Dept. of Education to provide education over the air.

The department also convened a task force on continuity of education to develop guidance on how to ensure that there are no gaps between who gets an education as the pandemic wears on.

Long-term care facilities

The governor said, along with budget amendments he approved by the state constitutional deadline over the weekend, was an amendment to increase rates given to long-term care facilities by $20 per Medicaid recipient per day to assist the facilities' responses to COVID-19.

The governor also said that they are looking into using Virginia's reserve corps of volunteers to help provide more staffing at nursing homes and long-term care centers facing staffing shortages, as many across the country have in the face of coronavirus.

According to the task force established last Friday on long-term care facilities across Virginia, there have been at least 554 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths identified across the state.

Data on the number of identified outbreaks, including if they were in these especially vulnerable facilities, is now available on the

.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner for public health at the Virginia Department of Health who's been heading the task force, said that, over the weekend, when a new outbreak was identified at one long-term care center, which she did not identify, the health district reported it immediately and worked hand-in-hand with the task force to respond to the situation. She said UVA offered testing kits and increased testing capacity to test residents at the center.

She said they will continue to work with their local partners across the state to sustain that kind of response in the future.

While Dr. Forlano did not identify the specific facility or health district, the Central Shenandoah Health District reported a new outbreak in a long-term care facility this past weekend. They have declined to identify the facility to WHSV or other media outlets.

Budget amendments

Governor Northam said, among the bills he signed by the state constitutional deadline Saturday night, was the state budget, to which he and his team proposed more than 100 amendments.

According to the governor, 49 of those amendments are language amendments that would give agencies greater flexibility as to how they conduct business during the pandemic. Another 83 of the amendments, he said, would unlock new discretionary spending for state agencies to continue their response.

Easter

The governor thanked everyone who found a way to celebrate Easter on Sunday while maintaining safe social distancing measures.

When can businesses reopen?

With data changing every day and state officials monitoring the latest models, including the new Virginia-specific model, Gov. Northam said there are no known answers at this point on when Virginians' lives will be able to return to the way that they knew them before.

He said we have to get people's lives back to normal, but we have to do it safely rather than as soon as possible.

On that topic, the governor was asked when arts and recreation businesses, as well as non-essential businesses that can not provide social distancing – like barber shops – can reopen.

As of right now, the original executive order that closed those businesses is in effect until April 23.

The governor said he and his staff are looking at extending that date because modeling projects Virginia not hitting its COVID-19 peak until late April or early May, so reopening businesses in the midst of the peak would worsen the situation substantially.

Northam said he will have an announcement in Wednesday's briefing on a new date to which that order will be extended.

Challenges

When asked about a statement by President Donald Trump on hospitals doing well amid the crisis, Gov. Northam said we're nowhere near where we want to be in supplies. While Virginia hospitals remain prepared in terms of bed capacity, when looking at modeling on surge data, he said they're facing challenges on staffing, PPE, and ventilator supplies, like many hospitals across the country, and that those challenges need to be addressed in terms of reality.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 10 briefing
Task force to respond to outbreaks at nursing homes

The governor announced in his briefing that he has appointed Dr. Laurie Forlano, currently the deputy commissioner for public health at the Virginia Department of Health, to head up a task force on responding to outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care centers across Virginia.

The move was especially prompted by the

, where dozens of people have died in recent weeks.

Northam said Dr. Forlano will head up a coalition of public health officials that will work to make sure all facilities have access to testing, PPE, and the cleaning supplies they need to respond to the pandemic.

Dr. Forlano said as staff at all these facilities are dedicated to protecting the people that live there, she and the task force will ensure long-term care facilities are prioritized and get the funding they need, as well as needed information.

The task force will also track data specific to long-term care facilities in Virginia.

For instance, on Friday, Dr. Forlano said the state has identified 45 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the state, which makes up about 55% of all outbreaks identified in the state.

They've also identified 525 cases among those facilities.

Proposed amendment to make inmates eligible for release

The governor also announced on Friday that he is proposing a state budget amendment to give the Virginia Department of Corrections the authority to release inmates who have one year or less remaining in their sentences.

That's because most correctional facilities across Virginia face serious overcrowding

The authority granted to the department would allow them to release inmates who don't pose a threat to the safety of themselves or anyone else and also meet good behavior standards.

Under the amendment, the Dept. of Corrections would handle re-entry planning for about 2,000 inmates who meet the standard of having a year or less in their sentence.

The department, which has never before had the authority to release inmates, would need to plan for inmates to have somewhere to go upon their release and have necessary medications for at least three months.

The authority would last for the duration of Gov. Northam's executive orders, which are currently set until June 10.

However, for it to happen, the General Assembly will need to approve the amendment at their special session on April 22.

Unemployment changes

According to Governor Northam, more than 191,000 payments went out through the Virginia Employment Commission over the past week.

Next week, through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Virginia's unemployment insurance will offer payments boosted by about $600 a week to everyone who qualifies.

Through the CARES Act, people who previously did not qualify, like gig workers, can also now apply through the VEC and get benefits.

You can learn more about the coming unemployment insurance changes

.

What about hope?

Governor Northam was asked why, while President Donald Trump says "he's a glass half full kind of guy" and hopes to reopen the country soon, he instead provides somber updates.

Northam said while he wants everyone to get life back to normal as soon as possible, "we have to face reality."

The governor, who was a doctor before taking office, said his leadership style comes from his time in the medical field, so he's "a big believer in telling people the truth."

He said he looks at the data every day, looks at admissions to Virginia hospitals, looks at the number of patients now on ventilators, and bases public health decisions on the data and the recommendations of his staff.

"My job as your governor is to keep Virginians safe," Northam said.

He used an analogy of doctors making a treatment plan with a cancer patient, letting them know guidelines to follow and medicines to take. In a situation like that, we know that stopping the plan early just because it seems to be working is not the right course of action, because the cancer returns.

The governor said ending the Stay at Home order or social distancing guidelines because models appear to project peaks earlier would be largely the same, and people need to keep staying home and staying safe to get through this.

"This is a biologic war that we're fighting," the governor said, and Virginians all need to follow the guidelines set based on data.

The governor said we have to get through the health crisis before he sees a path to fully address the economic crisis.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 8 briefing
Elections

Gov. Northam announced in his Wednesday briefing that, due to the effects of COVID-19 and potential impacts to voters and election workers, he is using his authority as governor to postpone the June 9 primary elections to June 23.

The authority granted to the Virginia governor gives them the ability to postpone primary elections by up to two weeks, so Northam is using the extent of that power.

As of right now, Virginia's state of emergency and 'Stay at Home' order each last through June 10, one day after the previously set date for the primary elections, which include a Republican primary for U.S. Senate and several primaries for regional House of Representatives races,

“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Making these decisions now will help election officials prepare and implement the necessary changes. This is about protecting the health and safety of Virginians during this pandemic and ensuring our citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair, and uniform manner. I urge the General Assembly to do their part and take action to move our upcoming elections.”

The Virginia GOP and local-level Republican parties had

while implying in some statements that the June 9 date for Gov. Northam's executive order had been purposefully tied to the primary date, though the day also has elections for House of Representatives primaries.

The primary elections, in our area, will determine Virginia's Republican nominee to run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Warner. Virginia's presidential primary, which only included Democratic candidates because the state Republican Party chose to choose a presidential nominee at convention instead, happened on Super Tuesday at the beginning of March. Other areas of Virginia will have primaries for House of Representatives races, including Democrat and Republican nominees.

Northam is also recommending that Virginia's local elections in May be delayed to November, when they would be held along with national elections on Nov. 3. However, that change can only be made by the General Assembly, so the governor said legislators will need to consider the recommendation when they re-convene for a special session on April 22.

The governor's full recommendation proposes a plan for one ballot in November that includes both national elections and the local elections that would have been held in May. All voters qualified for November voting would be able to vote, including voters who weren't registered in time for May elections, giving people more time to register if they couldn't due to COVID-19.

Local officials whose terms are currently set to end on June 30 will continue in their roles if that plan is approved until their successors are elected on Nov. 3 and qualified to serve.

Northam said his recommendations and his order on the primary were made after discussing the changes with Virginia's congressional delegation, as well as leaders in the state House and Senate.

New Virginia ABC license and fee changes

Northam said in Wednesday's briefing that he has directed the Virginia ABC to defer all fees for licenses and permits that are up for renewal through June as a way to assist restaurants and Virginia businesses.

Many restaurants that have been forced to close due to COVID-19 still have active Virginia ABC licenses for serving alcohol, and Northam said the change would help more than 6,000 businesses that would otherwise have to pay fees for licenses they can't use right now.

But for those restaurants still open and offering takeout, Northam announced other ABC change as well.

Restaurants and facilities with mixed beverage licenses through the state board will be allowed to serve mixed beverages for takeout as of midnight Thursday morning, effectively allowing locations that serve takeout to include mixed drinks with someone's takeout order.

UVA Health working on modeling for surge in Virginia

When asked about the status of a model Gov. Northam mentioned on Monday that UVA Health researchers are working on to develop projections with Virginia-specific data for a peak in cases, the governor said researchers are continuing to collect data to put that model together as quickly as possible, but it is still in progress.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 6 briefing
Guidance on face coverings

Northam discussed the latest CDC guidance on face covering recommendations, reminding Virginians that they are an effective way to reduce spread of the virus from people who may have the disease without showing symptoms and knowing. Masks make it less likely that droplets from a sneeze or talking will get out to potentially infect others.

The governor encouraged people to go online and find instructions for how to make masks, adding that there are guidelines online even for people who can't sew, mentioning that securing a bandanna with a rubber band is an easy option.

He also added, though, that people should not assume that wearing a face covering means that they can do anything, and they should remember that social distancing remains critical.

Northam demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask, covering both your mouth and nose, using his own mask, which was one of the series of masks produced by the Virginia Department of Corrections.

When asked why he and none of the state cabinet officials present at the briefing were wearing face masks, Northam said they are following guidance not wearing masks inside the building, but are wearing them when outside in the public, as encouraged for everyone.

Gov. Northam emphasized that police will not be enforcing Virginia's

throughout the pandemic.

Genetic testing

State health officials said the Virginia state lab — the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) — is working with the CDC, private labs, and Virginia health systems to analyze genetic data on COVID-19 cases.

The lab is using next-generation sequencing to genetically decode some Virginia samples that contain the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, according to a press release issued after the briefing.

Looking at that genetic fingerprint can help public health officials track how the virus is changing and how it spreads.

“Advances in genetic sequencing allow us to track and analyze COVID-19 better than previous outbreaks,” said Governor Northam. “This innovative technology, combined with the work of our public health laboratory and epidemiologists around the Commonwealth, will help us understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change. And that will give us more tools to fight it.”

Modeling

Gov. Northam responded to a question about recent models, including one from the University of Washington that projected an earlier peak in cases at April 20, by saying that models from different sources change day by day, so they're considering data from a range of sources for their guidance.

The governor again mentioned that they are working with partners at UVA to develop a Virginia-specific modeling system for state-level projections.

He also said he had just had an hour-and-a-half meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and governors from across the country before the press briefing, where they discussed the latest projections and guidelines.

Northam said the message from the Vice President was for governors to continue what they're doing, encouraging social distancing, hand washing, and staying at home to defeat the pandemic together as a nation.

New data

Gov. Northam said some of the latest data from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association shows that the coronavirus was introduced in Virginia in multiple communities around the same time, rather than beginning from a single source in the state.

He said the kind of data being collected and analyzed by the Virginia Department of Health will help people understand how the virus has been spreading and determine the best tools to fight that spread.

Testing

Public health officials for the state reiterated a point made in past briefings – that they, like officials in all states, have not been able to get the volume of materials needed to provide for widespread testing.

However, Northam said Sentara announced on Monday that there are beginning to roll out in-house testing to make process quicker, rather than sending tests off to the state lab or to commercial labs elsewhere.

When asked about why the

shows such a large number of test results still pending for hospitalized patients, state officials said it's a result of the lack of widespread rapid turnaround testing.

In-house testing, like what is being offered at UVA Health, VCU, and increasingly at Sentara, can help address all the patients sick at hospitals who don't yet know if they have COVID-19.

It means finding out results quicker, which means less PPE required for medical workers and, generally, more resources freed up for patients who do have the virus.

The Virginia Department of Health says the state lab is working through the backlog of tests there and that more private, commercial labs in Virginia are now offering testing, which can be used to divert some of the testing load from the state.

When asked about the introduction of new tests with turnaround times of 15 to 30 minutes, officials said the problem hospitals still face is the shortage of the reagents needed to run those tests — so that remains a critical barrier to quick testing on a widespread level.

What about recovery numbers?

Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's state health commissioner, was asked about why the Virginia Department of Health does not include recovery numbers on their

, which tracks positive cases, total tests, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Dr. Oliver said that the data on recoveries is not reported to the state health department, so it's not data they have available to provide.

Only test results, hospitalizations, and fatalities are reported.

In addition, Dr. Oliver said the hospitalization numbers are based on discharge info reported by hospital claims, which results in the number being a cumulative number from throughout the crisis — not the number of people hospitalized at any given moment.

On the other hand, the

are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set from the VDH information.

Sending supplies to hot spots?

Gov. Northam, when asked if we will be sending supplies, like ventilators, to New York or other hot spots, as some states have done, said Virginia is working with other state governors and federal leadership to track inventory needed.

However, he said that Virginia has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in patients in our hospitals.

Construction companies

Asked about why construction and road work continues throughout much of Virginia, Northam said construction companies have all been advised by state officials to adhere to social distancing and Executive Order 53, which ban gatherings of more than 10 and requires sanitation procedures to be in place for any non-essential business to continue operating.

Essentially, construction companies and firms are supposed to limit large gatherings and provide for proper social distancing of at least six feet between workers, if possible, while providing appropriate sanitation and cleaning.

The governor said he hasn't heard any complaints about firms not following those guidelines. However, WHSV has heard complaints from many people about construction firms throughout the area not following those guidelines.

As with any business not following Executive Orders 53 or 55, people can report non-compliant businesses and firms to their local law enforcement agency's non-emergency number and/or the Office of the Attorney General.

Pardons?

Gov. Northam was asked if he will consider issuing an executive order to change the state protocols and allow more people to be paroled or released, or if he would issue pardons to help limit exposure in correctional facilities.

At this point, 19 inmates and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in Virginia correctional facilities.

Northam said state facilities must continue to follow their established protocol and release people according to guidelines, as many prisons and jails already have, including Middle River Regional Jail.

The decisions on releases aren't made by the facilities under those guidelines, but by local commonwealth's attorneys, in partnership with others.

Northam said he does not plan to release an executive order on the subject, and Secretary Brian Moran mentioned the Supreme Court's past ruling against former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, which established that governors cannot issue blanket orders granting clemency to a large number of people but have to consider cases on an individual basis.

Details of the 'Stay at Home' order

In Northam's Monday briefing, he announced that he was immediately implementing a 'Stay at Home' order for Virginia, taking effect from March 30 until June 10, unless it's later amended or rescinded.

The move came after Maryland's governor announced a similar order in the morning. West Virginia and North Carolina each already had similar orders in place before Monday.

The order Northam announced in his press conference is

.

What does a 'Stay at Home' order mean?

It, essentially, means that Virginians can only leave home for food, supplies, work, medical care, or exercise/fresh air purposes.

Only leave home if you have an essential reason to do so — Going to visit a friend for a poker game would not be essential. Going to visit a friend to help care for them because they have a broken leg would be essential. Exercise common sense about what is or isn't essential, and if it isn't, then don't go out.

You're still free to leave the house to get groceries or go to the pharmacy. You're also still free to go on a run or go for a hike, so long as you're following social distancing. But if you're not doing something essential and if you're not following social distancing orders, then just don't do it.

“Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing," Northam said.

It doesn't mean you have to be barred inside your home and cannot leave at all; but it does mean you should limit leaving homes as much as possible.

Possible consequences

Anyone holding a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor while the order is in place. That's through the previous Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential business across Virginia.

Any violations of the parts of the order requiring the cancellation of in-person college classes, the closure of public beaches, and the closure of short-term stays at overnight campgrounds can also be charged as Class 1 misdemeanors.

What about non-essential businesses?

The language from Gov. Northam's previous executive order, Executive Order 53, remains in place, which allows restaurants and "non-essential" brick-and-mortar retail stores to continue operating, so long as they limit people in any space to 10 and stick to delivery, takeout, and pickup services at restaurants.

Any business that cannot follow the social distancing order of 10 patrons or fewer is required to close, according to Northam.

Previous updates on the situation across Virginia
Elective procedures postponed

Gov. Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA directed all Virginia hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries and procedures in order to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment.

The direction came in

.

The order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient and does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs.

“Hospitals and medical facilities in Virginia and around the country are in desperate need of additional masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment,” said Governor Northam. “While we work to increase our supply, it makes sense to decrease the demand on that equipment where we can. Postponing elective surgeries allows us to divert more PPE to the medical staff who are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak so we can better protect the men and men on the front lines of this public health emergency, fighting to keep us all safe.”

Licensed inpatient and outpatient surgical hospitals, free-standing endoscopy centers, physicians’ offices, and dental, orthodontic, and endodontic offices may perform any procedure or surgery that if delayed or canceled would result in the patient’s condition worsening.

Outpatient surgical hospitals are encouraged to work with local inpatient hospitals to assist with surge capacity needs.

State parks

Gov. Northam announced that all Virginia state parks will be day-use only, meaning that all cabins, campgrounds, and bath houses at state parks will be effectively closed.

That order will last until at least April 30.

According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, all reservations for stays at state parks will be canceled and reservation holders will receive automatic refunds.

The parks themselves will remain open as "an essential good to the general public for day-use activities such as hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and exercise."

Anyone using the parks in those ways is asked to keep the following in mind:

• Stay close to home.

• Guests should bring their own soap and hand sanitizer to use during day-use visits.

• Groups and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and these restrictions will enforced by park staff.

• Guests should keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others at all times. While on trails, alert others of your presence and step aside to let others pass at a safe distance.

• Parking fees remain in place. Guests should be prepared to self-pay with cash or check at the contact station.

Schools closed for the rest of the academic year

In Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 2 p.m. press conference on March 23, he announced that all K-12 public schools across the commonwealth would be ordered to remain closed at least through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

Previously, Northam had

and said that the commonwealth would reevaluate as that date got closer.

By Monday afternoon, bordering states to Virginia, including North Carolina and West Virginia, had already taken similar measures to close schools.

“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said Governor Northam.

According to Northam and state officials, the Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance to help individual school districts execute plans to carry on instruction for students while ensuring that everyone is served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs.

Officials say that will include options for instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.

This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.

Individual school districts will determine next steps as to how to proceed with graduation for seniors.

The state has already applied to the Department of Education

.

School districts across our area have stepped up in recent weeks to continue providing meals to students while they're at home. You can find

.

Business restrictions

Northam also announced on Monday that he would be signing

, which would take effect at the end of Tuesday (11:59 p.m. on March 24) ordering some non-essential services, including all recreation and entertainment services, to close.

The order covers three categories of businesses:

1. Recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys and theaters, which must close their doors by midnight on Tuesday.

2. Non-essential retail stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they can limit patrons to 10 at most, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, and follow CDC guidelines on sanitation.

3. Restaurants and food service establishments, which can remain open for carry-out, curbside pickup, or delivery, but not in-house dining.

Hair salons, barbers, massage therapists and similar non-essential services who can't feasibly carry out social distancing must close.

Dining and on-site alcohol establishments are allowed to keep operating through delivery and takeout services, but must close on-site dining to the public. That includes restaurants, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and tasting rooms.

Grocery stores, health services, businesses in supply chains, and other essential businesses will be able to remain open no matter what. Virginia ABC stores are also considered an essential service, Northam clarified in response to a reporter's question.

The construction industry and construction supply stores are also considered essential services.

Here's a comprehensive list of businesses considered essential that may remain open during normal hours:

• Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;

• Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;

• Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;

• Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;

• Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;

• Lawn and garden equipment retailers;

• Beer, wine, and liquor stores;

• Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;

• Retail located within healthcare facilities;

• Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;

• Pet stores and feed stores;

• Printing and office supply stores; and

• Laundromats and dry cleaners.

All essential businesses must still adhere to social distancing as much as possible and implement enhanced sanitation practices.

According to a press release issued by Northam's office following the briefing, the following list of businesses must close to the public as off 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday:

• Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;

• Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;

• Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;

• Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;

• Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

Professional businesses not in any of the above lists must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines.

Businesses violating the governor's order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

"I know the next several weeks will be difficult," Northam said. "These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”

The order will remain in effect for at least 30 days in Virginia.

Unemployment updates

State leaders said that the Virginia Employment Commission received more than 40,000 applications for unemployment from March 16-23.

They reiterated that the state's 1-week waiting period to receive benefits has been waived, as well as the regular work search requirement while so many employers remain closed due to the coronavirus.

You can find more information on unemployment claims at

.

also outlines policies for workers that have been temporarily laid off or discharged during the public health crisis.

Stress and anxiety

Northam also touched on the stress and anxiety that many people are feeling due to the spread of the virus and encouraged people to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK if they are feeling thoughts of suicide. He noted that the Disaster Stress Hotline is also available to provide counseling and support for people during an emergency like this one at 1-800-985-5990.

Child care

Gov. Northam directed the Dept. of Social Services to modify Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program, which is currently caring for 25,000 children, to increase support and flexibility for enrolled families and providers. These modifications include:

• Expanding eligibility for school-aged children currently designated for part-day care to full-day care.

• Increasing the number of paid absences from 36 to 76 days for both level 1 and level 2 providers.

• Automatically extending eligibility for families due for eligibility redetermination in the near future by 2 months and temporarily suspending the requirement for face-to-face interviews.

SBA loans

Northam announced on March 19 that Virginia's application to the Small Business Administration for businesses to apply to the SBA for federal disaster loans as a result of COVID-19 has been approved.

The SBA’s Disaster Loan program is designed to help small businesses and nonprofits meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot otherwise be met as a direct result of COVID-19.

To learn more about the program, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center has

of what to know about the program. You can also find more directly through the SBA at

.

Tax changes

State officials said the sales taxes owed by Virginia businesses on Friday, March 20, could be extended to April for some businesses that apply to the state. The process requires applying, however.

Virginia Tax will consider requests from sales tax dealers for an extension of the due date for filing and payment of the February 2020 sales tax return due March 20, 2020. If the request is granted, Virginia Tax will allow filing and payment of such return on April 20, 2020, with a waiver of any penalties that would have applied. However, interest will accrue even if an extension is granted.

Dealers can submit a request for extension by using

.

State leadership is also extending the due date for Virginia individual and corporation tax payments to June 1. Tax returns will still be due on May 1 across Virginia, but the date for Virginians to pay any taxes owed will be extended.

Vehicle inspections

Gov. Northam announced on March 19 that they would be asking Virginia State Police to suspend enforcement of vehicle inspections for the next 60 days.

DMV closures

The governor announced that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would be closing all offices (about 70 across Virginia) to the public from March 18 to April 2, at least. That closure was

.

People who have licenses or registrations expiring by May 15 will be granted 60-day extensions.

Northam also encouraged Virginians to take care of DMV tasks online, at

, if possible.

Utilities

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued

directing utilities it regulates, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia, to suspend service disconnections for 60 days to provide immediate relief for any customer, residential and business, who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some, like the SVEC, have also

.

Courts

The Supreme Court of Virginia

. From Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 6, non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings in all district and circuit courts are suspended absent a specific exemption.

This includes a prohibition on new eviction cases for tenants who are unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.

All non-exempted court deadlines are tolled and extended for a period of 21 days.

State of Emergency

On March 12, Governor Ralph Northam

in response to COVID-19, with many local officials doing the same in the following days.

General info on COVID-19
Who gets tested for the virus?

Currently, there are two main reasons someone would be tested for the coronavirus: having symptoms or exposure to an infected person. In our area, requirements for testing include both symptoms and either travel to an affected area or exposure to someone with a confirmed case.

The main symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. These look a lot like the flu and the common cold, so it takes a physician to determine if testing for the virus is necessary.

How does the coronavirus test work?

For a patient, the process of being tested for the virus is easy and can potentially be done almost anywhere. It typically involves taking a swab from deep in a patient’s nasal cavity to collect cells from the back of the nose.

The sample is then sent to a lab, where it will be tested to determine if the patient’s cells are infected with the virus. The same process is used to collect a sample from a patient who is tested for flu.

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.

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.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you're encouraged to check both the

and the

.

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