Gov. Northam outlines plan for colleges, encourages protesters to let statues be removed 'the right way'
Governor Ralph Northam is set to address the commonwealth on Thursday for his latest briefing amid both the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing civil unrest over the murder of George Floyd.
, the governor announced the new Virginia Department of Education plan to return students to in-person classes this fall, with a range of pandemic-related restrictions.
Since that press conference, as protesters have continued to rally for fighting systemic racism in the name of George Floyd,
and across Virginia, leading Richmond's mayor to plead for people to let the legal process play out in the name of public safety.
In one part of the state, on Wednesday night, a protester was left in a coma after part of a statue being torn down fell on top of him.
, adding to a Virginia-wide and nationwide discussion about the future of Confederate names and symbols.
Now, the governor is expected to address both how Virginia will continue moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic and his administration's continued response during civil unrest in the commonwealth.
, testing remains generally higher across Virginia and the 'percent positivity' rate of how many Virginians are testing positive for COVID-19 has been steadily decreasing over time.
Northam has said that the restrictions established by his administration are "the floor" and that it's up to individual businesses whether they are able to safely reopen and individual regions can request changes if their data is different from the state's overall.
As of June 11, Virginia
, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, with 1,520 total deaths and 5,360 cumulative hospitalizations.
According to the
, there are currently 1,069 Virginians hospitalized with either confirmed COVID-19 tests or pending COVID-19 test results and 6,677 patients who were hospitalized and have recovered.
In general, over the past month, test results have yielded lower daily case totals and increased testing, showing the "curve" of Virginia cases moving downward.
But the commonwealth is still working to overcome an earlier backlog in testing and catch up to the national average of how much of the population has been tested, although state health officials say their focus is getting tests to the most vulnerable and most affected people.
You can watch each of the governor's briefings through WHSV's livestream at
or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps. You'll also be able to watch it live in the video player above during the briefing.
Governor Ralph Northam began Thursday's briefing by addressing the actions of protesters around Virginia in recent days to tear down monuments.
Northam reiterated his previous statements labeling the monuments divisive and saying that they glorify a painful time in Virginia history, which is why he has ordered the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument.
However, he said his decision and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's call for the removal of RIchmond monuments were made through a process in which people came together to undertake the removals safely and properly.
The governor said people need to let that happen, mentioning, as an example, the
"Pulling them down is not worth risking someone's life," Northam said, and called for everyone to do it the right way and keep Virginians safe.
He encouraged protesters to instead speak with their local governments about the process to come once July 1 arrives and local Virginia governments have authority under a new law to order the removal of Confederate monuments.
However, Northam said "statues are far from the only racist relics of our past."
Acknowledging that racism and discrimination were written into the laws of Virginia, particularly in the Jim Crow era, he praised the work of the Virginia Commission to Examine Racial Inequity, which, this past year, identified nearly 100 instances of language in Virginia’s Acts of Assembly and the Code of Virginia that were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination.
In the most recent General Assembly session,
But Northam said while many old laws have been overturned, discriminatory language remains, and so he's expanding the work of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to extend their term and broaden their scope to " identify current state laws and regulations that create or perpetuate inequities, propose changes to increase protections for minority and marginalized Virginians, and provide policy recommendations for state agencies and institutions."
The Commission will focus the next stage of its work on public safety, criminal justice, education, health, housing, and voting.
A report with recommendations is expected to be issued by mid-November, Northam announced.
Most people at this point have seen
across the country, but Northam said despite that, in Virginia, metrics are continuing to trend downward.
With a brief slideshow, he highlighted the most recent data on cases in the commonwealth, showing decreasing numbers on total cases by date reported, total deaths, percent positivity, and hospitalizations statistics.
While he doesn't usually use death data because it's a lagging indicator (meaning it doesn't really show the current spread of the disease), he said he wanted to highlight how it's been decreasing for weeks as a hopeful sign.
Despite numbers looking good, Northam said it's critical for everyone to remember that the virus is still with us and to continue taking precautions.
He strongly encouraged protesters to wear face coverings and social distance as much as possible, as well as encouraging them to get tested.
"Be a part of the solution," Northam said, reminding everyone that we're still in the middle of a pandemic and asking people to remember that things like wearing facial coverings are about taking care of others.
Northam mentioned his own recent test, which came back negative, and said it wasn't too bad of an experience.
The bulk of Thursday's press conference dealt with new guidelines for higher education, following up on Tuesday's announcement of reopening guidelines for pre-K through 12th grade public and private schools.
Gov. Northam said colleges and universities will be able to reopen their campuses to in-person classes this fall, but must follow all public health guidelines and meet certain public health conditions to be able open and stay open.
Similar to pre-K-12 schools, institutions of higher learning have to submit reopening plans to be approved, though by the Council for Higher Education of Virginia specifically, rather than by the Virginia Department of Education.
Individual institutions can have specific guidance that varies widely from other schools, but the plans all have to meet the same basic guidelines and be based on current public health data.
Peter Blake, the director of Virginia's Council for Higher Education, was invited to the podium by the governor to address the plan in more detail.
Blake started by addressing the current reality of an America grappling with racist history and ways that prejudice lives on in society.
He said injustice and racism have manifested themselves through the education system for too long and it's time for inequities to be confronted.
Rattling off a list of ways in which colleges and universities have failed to address racism before, from the disproportionately low attendance and graduation rates of students of color to low faculty diversity and more, he said "we strive to improve: there is no other option."
However, Blake said the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted efforts to close achievement gaps in schools, with many of the people affected by achievement gaps also affected by lack of access to broadband, for instance.
So, while putting public health at the forefront of the reopening guidance, Blake said it can protect students, faculty, and staff while continuing to provide high quality education.
After the closure of campuses across Virginia since March 30, Blake pointed out that many schools have been making plans on how to safely reopen their individual campuses over recent weeks.
Those plans have been made in coordination with the Virginia Department of Health, and Blake thanked everyone who helped.
Now, the Council for Higher Education is rolling out state-wide guidance to get all institutions on the same page for how to follow the guidelines of the
Blake said every campus will need to make sure their surrounding community has adequate medical care and surge capacity to handle potential cases from students.
Schools will also need to follow all CDC and VDH guidance, as well as social and physical distancing requirements, and other mitigation strategies.
The goal will be not to just address the health of students, but of faculty and staff too, many of whom Blake said are in vulnerable populations.
Each institution's plan has to, at minimum, address:
• Safely re-populating the campus
• Monitoring health conditions on campus to detect any new cases
• Containment strategies if new cases are detected to prevent the spread
• Shutdown guidelines if a resurgence makes it necessary
"Expect a new normal," Blake said.
Classes will be smaller, schedules will be staggered, and residence life will be spread out, but he said "while college life will change, the energy, creativity, and commitment . . . will ensure that the learning experience will not be sacrificed,"
You can fund the full guidance document
. It's also available on the governor's website in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, and Tagalog.
Northam emphasized that everyone in his team wants students back on campuses this fall, but for it to be done safely.
Gov. Northam asked finance secretary Aubrey Lane to address the commonwealth's revenue numbers for May, released this week.
They came out to about 20% below May 2019, but that was better than the administration was expecting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lane said while everyone knew the public health crisis was resulting in an economic crisis, they projected a revenue shortfall of a billion dollars for May – but instead got one of $800 million below what would typically be expected.
While still a major hit due to both the crisis itself and actions taken to help the public during the crisis, like delaying state tax payment deadlines, Lane said being $200 million better off than expected is a good sign, especially as the revenue from state taxes will come in through June.
He cited the "underlying resiliency of Virginia economy" for the more positive numbers than expected and the fact that many of Virginia's biggest industries have not seen much decline in payroll taxes paid to the state, like for federal workers in northern Virginia.
He also said the Payroll Protection Program benefited many businesses across the commonwealth.
Lane said moves by the governor's team to suspend discretionary payments and similar actions have helped the cash reserve, business activity is picking up as the virus begins abating in Virginia, and he's confident that when the fiscal year ends this month, they'll have more solid points for future projections.
Health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said massive discrepancies remain in Virginia's COVID-19 data, showing a disproportionate effect on the Latinx and African-American communities.
However, demographics are still not provided on all data submitted to the health department, despite months of efforts by Dr. Oliver and the department.
He said they're expecting to soon have more granular information available on demographic discrepancies, though, and will have an announcement on that next week.
Peter Blake said every college and university that has already released a plan has done so after working closely with CHEV, but with the new statewide guidance, they might need to improve some portions. Overall, though, their guidance should largely stay the same with any changes able to be incorporated into the plans.
Asked for his thoughts on the calls of some protesters and Democratic officials to "defund the police," Gov. Northam said he does not support dismantling police departments because they "provide a much-needed resource for communities" and called the use of the word "defund" a "matter of semantics."
Northam said what he does support is reforming the funding that is there rather than approaching it as "defunding."
The governor listed off things he would like to see prioritized for police funding, like increasing the diversity of departments, which he said has been an ongoing efforts, according to his recent discussion with police chiefs from across Virginia.
He also called for funding to focus on "co-responding," allowing someone more trained on dealing with mental illness to respond to the scene of someone in distress along with officers to provide the appropriate kind of response.
In addition, Northam said funding should go toward training on de-escalation techniques and body cameras, including programs to allow better reviews of footage and not just wearing them.
Northam said the goals he has for that were based on conversations with police chiefs, as well as input from community activists and legislators.
Northam said the minimum length of Phase 2 will be two weeks.
He said the data so far in Phase 2 has been very favorable in terms of 7- and 14-day trends, but encouraged Virginians not to let down their guard and still remember the importance of PPE.
The governor said the process is always day-by-day, but his team will keep reviewing the metrics and discuss the timeline again on Tuesday.
During Phase 1, the governor also set a minimum of two weeks, but the phase ended up being three weeks after Northam said two weeks didn't really allow enough time to accurately gauge the effect of lifting restrictions, considering the timing of symptom onsets and the timing of getting test results back.
Gov. Northam reiterated a point he's made frequently throughout the state's phased reopening, saying while areas can go farther with restrictions, they can't go less restrictive than the state guidelines.
However, Blake said there will be some variances accepted, and they'll review each school's plan individually.
With Virginia's PPE contract with Northfield set to expire soon, Gov. Northam went back to a point he made early in the pandemic about how governors had to compete for supplies as the pandemic took hold.
However, with a number of different contracts with various companies in place, the state has been delivering hundreds of shipments of PPE to emergency management subdivisions, healthcare coalitions, education institutions, and more.
State officials said they're still in talks with Northfield specifically about the future of that contract, but are in conversation for over a dozen contracts to diversify the supply chain in place while developing Virginia manufacturing operations for PPE as well.
Public Health Secretary Brian Moran said that question is better addressed to local police departments and sheriff's offices who may have made the arrests.
At multiple events, like in Richmond, peaceful protests have evolved later in the night with groups of protesters turning to actions like tearing down the Christopher Columbus statue, lighting it on fire, and pushing it into a lake.
At many, police officers have been monitoring the situation and have only taken action in the case of actual or potential injury to people, like in Portsmouth, when the protester was hit by a statue.
Asked about his response, Northam said as the governor, he hasn't involved himself and it's a police department level decision on what type of enforcement they carry out.
However, he said he believes the action his administration is taking are constitutional and they're working closely with the attorney general.
Gov. Northam said there will have to be a General Assembly special session in the coming months because the state budget was put on hold due to COVID-19.
They expect it to come after the state can re-forecast the budget in July based on fiscal year data, so they're expecting mid to late August for timing the session.
As far as what will be taken up at the session, Northam said its primary purpose will be the budget, and anything else brought up will be up to the General Assembly, which has to approve discussion of other topics.
Asked about efforts to expand broadband in areas with limited access to benefit students who may have to engage in remote learning this fall under Virginia's new education guidelines, Northam said broadband access has been a top priority of his from his start as governor.
He cited portions of the budget allocated every year to expanding broadband in under-served areas and said he will continue to push for any resources possible that can be funneled into broadband access.
With some 550,000 households in Virginia without broadband, Northam said "that's not right" and called it a matter of "policy, not politics."
As national lawmakers have discussed the option of renaming military bases that are currently named after Confederate leaders, including in Virginia, Northam said he is "very supportive" of the discussion.
It's not a decision that he as governor has any control over, but he said he thinks "most people support removing the divisiveness of the names."
President Trump has said his administration will "not even consider" the possibility, but a GOP-led Senate panel approved the recommendation on Thursday.
Many colleges and universities have been timing fall breaks differently or canceling fall breaks and planning to end their fall semesters early, potentially around Thanksgiving.
Dr. Forlano said part of the new guidance is centered around how to bring students on to campuses and let them leave safely.
After the governor discussed his meeting with police chiefs that informed his discussion on changing the priorities of police funding, Northam was asked if he's also met with activists, and he said he's working to schedule town halls across Virginia to get more community input.
Governor Northam said he has weekly conversations with local and federal leaders for Virginia, and that if he has not addressed something or if state guidelines don't cover a topic you find important, said you should communicate with your local representatives, who can pass ideas onto his team.
Northam emphasized that the health crisis is ongoing and that it;'s not smart to act like it's been eradicated because it's still here, still dangerous, and "we need to act like it.:
If people do that, the governor said the health crisis can be addressed to be able to get on to the economic crisis.
Most of Virginia officially entered
on June 5. Richmond and Northern Virginia remain in
until the data trends in those areas better match the rest of the commonwealth, which has seen declining percent positivity and increasing test capacity.
will remain in effect throughout Phase 2, making it mandatory for almost all Virginians to wear face coverings when entering businesses. You can learn how that will be enforced
Under Phase 2,
has been modified extensively, with more and more non-essential businesses allowed to reopen and Virginia's 10-person gathering limit increased to a 50-person gathering limit.
That limit, like the original 10-person limit, is enforceable for indoor gatherings.
, 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
on Monday, May 18. But a few weeks later, on June 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia
through at least June 28.
DMV offices in Virginia began gradually reopening on Monday, May 18, and
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.
have been postponed by two weeks. Virginia officials are encouraging all voters to request absentee ballots.
By June 11, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 50,275 confirmed and 2,372 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
"Probable" cases are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test – also known as clinical diagnoses.
Those positive test results are out of 453,869 total tests administered in Virginia, which included 405,025 PCR tests and 48,884 antibody tests (The Dept. of Health announced in May that
This week, from Sunday to Monday, 3,736 new PCR tests and 130 new antibody tests were reported; from Monday to Tuesday, 7,260 new PCR tests and 133 new antibody tests were reported; from Tuesday to Wednesday, 7,492 new PCR tests and 419 new antibody tests were reported; and from Wednesday to Thursday, 9,053 new PCR tests and 1,370 new antibody tests.
A lot of the testing has been conducted through health department-sponsored community testing events around the commonwealth, through which state health officials have said the goal is to get tests into areas in the most need, and those events do not turn anyone away, regardless of symptoms.
Overall, considering testing numbers and positive results, about 11.6% of Virginians who have been tested have received positive results. At the start of May, that percentage was standing steadily around 17%, but with increased testing, it's come down over time. However, some localities have higher percentages, as outlined in our "local cases" section below.
At this point, 5,360 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 1,520 have died of causes related to the disease.
The hospitalization and death numbers are totals confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, which are always delayed by several days due to the logistics of medical facilities reporting information to local health districts, which then report it to the state health department.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the pandemic and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats,
shows a lot of detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county, and are
, if you want to track cases on a neighborhood level.
Overall, according to the Virginia Department of Health's June 11 breakdown, 453,869 tests have been run for the virus in Virginia, with 52,647 positive results.
The department's breakdown and location map, available to the public
, shows the number of cases confirmed each day, number of people tested, total hospitalizations, total deaths, demographic breakdowns, and testing numbers, as well as breakdowns by health district.
Here's a breakdown of cases for our region as of 9 a.m. on June 11. You can find the breakdown for the entire state in the chart at the bottom of this article.
: 1,741 total cases
• Augusta County - 139
• Buena Vista - 12 (-1 from Wednesday)
• Harrisonburg - 846 (+4 from Wednesday)
• Highland County - 3
• Lexington - 8
• Rockbridge County - 19
• Rockingham County - 606 (+4 from Wednesday)
• Staunton - 55 (-3 from Wednesday)
• Waynesboro - 53 (+2 from Tuesday)
16, with 7 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, 6 in congregate settings, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in an educational setting | 543 cases associated with outbreaks
: 1,675 total cases
• Clarke County - 36 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Frederick County - 416 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Page County - 249 (+2 from Wednesday)
• Shenandoah County - 499 (+7 from Wednesday)
• Warren County - 225
• Winchester - 250 (+2 from Wednesday)
19, with 8 in long-term care facilities, 4 in healthcare settings, 6 in congregate settings, and 1 in a correctional facility | 558 cases associated with outbreaks
: 666 total cases
• Albemarle County - 269 (+6 from Wednesday)
• Charlottesville - 144 (+2 from Wednesday)
• Fluvanna County - 98
• Greene County - 45 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Louisa County - 95 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Nelson County - 18 (+1 from Wednesday)
13, with 4 in long-term care facilities, 2 in correctional facilities, 6 in congregate settings, and 1 in an educational setting | 176 cases associated with outbreaks
: 1,324 total cases
• Culpeper County - 774 (+1 from Wednesday)
• Fauquier County - 374 (+4 from Wednesday)
• Madison County - 41
• Orange County - 119
• Rappahannock County - 16
7, with 2 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, and 4 in congregate settings | 114 cases associated with outbreaks
As numbers have climbed in parts of the Shenandoah Valley, much of the increase has been attributable to outbreaks within particular facilities. By June 11, the Central Shenandoah Health District had identified 16 outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District had 19.
Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of our outbreaks, because the Virginia Department of Health has interpreted Virginia code as treating facilities the same as "persons," meaning their anonymity has to be protected. So information about outbreaks is only released to the public if a facility grants permission for that to be released, and that has not been often.
Of the outbreaks in our area, several have been confirmed at long-term care centers, including at
" target="_blank">Skyview Springs, where there have been 16 confirmed deaths
, where Augusta Health has confirmed a "COVID situation" but no exact numbers have been provided;
, with at least 5 cases among residents and staff as of June 3; and three outbreaks in Shenandoah County, including one at an unnamed nursing home and two at unnamed assisted living facilities.
The largest of those outbreaks was the one at
, where 81 residents and 12 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in April. By Tuesday, May 5, the facility
due to coronavirus. By a little later in May,
In Page County, the outbreak at
resulted in 59 residents and 23 staff members testing positive for the virus. By May 13,
" target="_blank">16 people there had died of COVID-19-related causes
. The facility has 115 residents total.
Dr. Colin Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, told WHSV in May that the Skyview Springs outbreak was the only major outbreak in the Page County area.
However, he said they were monitoring five active outbreaks in Shenandoah County. Due to Virginia code preventing the identification of facilities with outbreaks, he could not identify the exact locations, but said two were at businesses, two at assisted living facilities, and one at a nursing home.
Outbreaks have also been confirmed at
, with at least 25 positive cases, and
, which had at least six cases by the end of April but then stopped providing updates on their employee hotline so that media outlets would not have access to the information, which was not publicly provided.
On May 26,
for COVID-19, as the outbreak identified inside a correctional facility in the Lord Fairfax Health District. A day later, that number was up to 18 positive tests.
New Market Poultry Products, which has more than 100 employees working on a daily basis,
– though an exact number was not provided and no update has come since then.
None of the other Shenandoah Valley poultry plants have released any information about COVID-19 cases to the public, but
and Cargill in Dayton has confirmed the death of one employee due to COVID-19 – though never any information on the number of cases at the facility.
Poultry plants and other meat processing facilities have been hotspots for the virus across the country and a focus of Gov. Northam's in Virginia. State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has also referenced the situation at poultry plants in Harrisonburg leading to a disproportionate number of cases among the Latino community in the Shenandoah Valley, though, again the facilities themselves have released no information publicly.
The only exact number for poultry workers that has been provided is that
had tested positive.
Many of the local outbreaks that do not have confirmed locations have been identified in congregate settings, which could include workplaces, apartment complexes, churches, gyms, or any setting with a group of people in one place. While WHSV has received reports from viewers about specific stores, for instance, if the business does not provide consent for their information to be shared, the health department cannot confirm any information about cases there.
Of the state's 5,360 total hospitalizations, at least 138 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 5 have been in Augusta County, 1 in Buena Vista, 64 in Harrisonburg, 60 in Rockingham County, 6 in Staunton, and 2 in Waynesboro.
In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 137 hospitalizations. Fifty-one of those have been in Shenandoah County and 27 in Page County.
As far as deaths, there have been 25 reported in Shenandoah County, 24 in Page County, two in Augusta County, 23 in Harrisonburg, and seven in Rockingham County.
Deaths, like all health department data, are reported by a person's listed residence.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state's health commissioner, has said that it often takes several days before local health districts are able to enter death information into the state database. Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, told WHSV that deaths first have to be reported to them by medical facilities, which is a major cause for delays that have often been seen on the numbers reported for our area.
Dr. Kornegay also explained that if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, that's what goes on their death certificate. Those death certificates have a space to list secondary causes of death, and that's where ongoing health issues like heart disease and cancer are listed. Some people have accused medical facilities of artificially inflating death tolls by doing that, but it's the same process by which flu deaths are reported every year.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case. Individual health districts may track cases as "active" and "non-active," but that data is not published anywhere in aggregate.
But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their
indicates that, as of June 11, at least 6,895 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from the hospital.
Unlike the VDH data that reports cumulative hospitalizations, their data on hospitalizations reflects people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 (whether with confirmed or pending cases), and that number is at 1,069.
The data used by the VDH to report
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.
Gov. Northam started Tuesday by acknowledging the funeral of George Floyd and asking everyone present to hold a moment of silence in his honor.
He then said he was looking forward to announcing plans for getting kids back into the classroom, but first took time to thank Virginians for all "being a part of the solution," but said there's still work to do for everyone to continue adjusting to a new normal with face coverings, social distancing, and all the related measures amid the pandemic.
Northam also announced that he had met with leaders of Virginia's police chiefs association on Tuesday morning, where he said a frank discussion was held about the ongoing protests over policing in communities of color and how each agency can take steps to move forward responsibly.
The governor said it was "a very good conversation" and that everyone shares the "goal of rebuilding trust in our communities," saying everyone is needed at the table for that. He said to continue that effort, he will be speaking with activists and community organizers later as well.
Gov. Northam also took a moment to thank Virginia Chief Justice Lemons for
across the commonwealth while the governor's administrations develops a rent relief plan.
He then announced several appointments, including Curtis Brown, chief deputy coordinator of VDEM, to head the agency; Jehmal Hudson, who's been a part of FERC, to serve on the Virginia State Corporation Commission; as well as three new appointments to the Virginia Crime Commission: Chief Larry Boone, the Norfolk Police chief; Dr. Larry Terry, a UVA professor and restorative justice expert; and Laurie Hass, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Citing the most recent health metrics on declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, sufficient hospital bed capacity, steady PPE supplies at hospitals, and increasing test capacity, Northam said Virginia is in a much better place now than not that long ago.
He said the Virginia Department of Health's massive effort to hire contact tracers is still underway, with 872 now in the statewide work force.
They're aiming for 1,200 by July to have 15 for every 100,000 Virginians.
Richmond and Northern Virginia have still been in Phase 1 while the rest of the commonwealth has been in Phase 2, but Northam said the health metrics of those hard-hit areas have improved as well, so each region will move into Phase 2 this Friday, June 12.
Following those starting topics, Gov. Northam moved on to the subject everyone expected Tuesday: the return of in-person classes at Virginia schools.
Schools across Virginia have been closed to in-person instruction since March 23, when Northam became one of the first governors to suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. Many other states increasingly extended their closures over the next weeks to eventually do the same.
The governor thanked teachers, principals, superintendents, cafeteria workers, and everyone working in education for rising to the occasion to continue providing education, continue serving students meals, and overall continue supporting students and their families through the difficult times.
The school year that had in-person classes suspended, however, is now done, and students have graduated – though in new and different ways than what they expected and hoped.
Now, Northam said, his plan is for all Virginia schools to open up to students this fall:
the school experience will look very different.
According to Governor Northam and Virginia Department of Education Superintendent James Lane, their new phased plan for reopening Virginia's schools will follow the same phases as the rest of the
for reopening businesses around the state.
Northam said the process will start with small groups in schools, and their plan will offer flexibility to every school district and individual school by providing options for their guidelines that can be adjusted on a school-by-school basis.
All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings, but will have discretion over how they do it.
The phased approach already offers some instructional opportunities during the summer as Phase 1 continues for a few more days in Richmond and Northern Virginia and as Phase 2 continues statewide.
Here are the basics of the plan announced on Tuesday:
- Phase 1: Allows for in-person education to be provided for special education programs and allows for in-person childcare for children of working families
- Phase 2: Allows for in-person instruction for pre-K through 3rd grade students, ESL programs and students with disabilities; also allows summer camps in school settings to operate in-person
- Phase 3: Allows for in-person instruction for all students, but with strict social distancing measures in place
- Beyond Phase 3: Allows for "new normal" operations under future guidance
Detailed information each phase can be found
Once all students are able to return to school in Phase 3, every school – public and private – will have to meet Virginia Department of Education guidelines for physical distancing.
Each school will need to submit a plan outlining their guidelines to the Virginia Department of Education for approval. Private schools will submit their plans to the VCPE, who will then work with the VDOE on approval.
The basics of what will be required are physical distancing of six feet between students and other students, as well as staff; face coverings required for staff where distancing can't be maintained; daily health screenings for staff; face coverings strongly encouraged, but not required for students (especially encouraged for older students)
Individual schools and school districts can put in place more stringent limits than the state guidelines if they determine it's needed.
Dr. Lane said one major focus of their plan was to provide immediate priority to the most vulnerable learners in the education system for whom remote learning is often the most difficult.
He also said they expect that the ways many schools will comply with distancing guidelines include staggered schedules and limits in individual classrooms and building spaces.
“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “The phased, hybrid approach allows PreK-12 students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained. This plan keeps equity at the forefront by giving divisions the opportunity to deliver in-person instruction to those who need it the most.”
While Phases 1 and 2 require remote learning for most students, Dr. Lane and Gov. Northam said Phase 3 will need to incorporate remote learning as well.
They expect that many schools will offer "blended learning" with in-person classes and remote classes depending on the day to comply with distancing requirements in schools that, in many places, have been facing over-crowding for years.
In Phase 1, which could come back in the worst-case scenario of a new spike in COVID-19 cases in Virginia, remote instruction has to be approved by an education team and have a parent's consent.
Every phase requires mitigation and health strategies to be put into place by schools, including plans for remote options for students who are safer at home, including students at higher risk of severe illness, as well as telework options for faculty and staff in similar situations.
Schools will have to plan to provide six feet of distancing between desks, work stations, students and teachers, students and students, and even on school buses, Dr. Lane said.
With those requirements, staggered schedules will likely be necessary in many places.
Cafeterias will also need to be modified, and Dr. Lane said he expects some schools will have students eating in classrooms to adapt to the space requirements.
Face coverings will be encouraged but not required for students, though strongly encouraged for older students, and they will be required for faculty and staff who cannot distance.
To put into handy list form, the new required precautions are
- Daily health screenings of students and staff
- Providing remote learning exceptions and teleworking for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness
- The use of cloth face coverings by staff when at least six feet physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Encouraging the use of face coverings in students, as developmentally appropriate, in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained
The education department is sending out a 126-page guide titled "Recover, Redesign, and Restart" to all school districts immediately to assist in planning.
Dr. Lane said it's a comprehensive document created with the help of students, parents, teachers, superintendents, principals, and more to answer most questions.
The phased guidance should also be released in writing later on Tuesday.
Gov. Northam said his main message is that students will be back in school this fall.
According to Dr. Lane, Virginia Department of Health guidance will require six feet of physical distancing on buses, as well as in classrooms. He said that's because research has supported physical distancing as the best way to reduce transmission of COVID-19, but did not address the practical reality of how that will affect bus routes and an ongoing shortage of school bus drivers that's been an issue for years.
Dr. Lane also said it was important to address the situation Virginians and everyone is facing right now in the United States and that he's committed to ensuring that the color of a student's skin doesn't dictate the quality of education they have access to.
He acknowledged that the education system has its own racist history of enforcing the racist status quo in history, and said he is focused on eradicating racism from our education system
Gov. Northam invited Clark Mercer, his chief of staff who has young children playing sports, to the podium to outline the commonwealth's guidelines on youth sports.
Mercer thanked people across Virginia for calling with their sports guideline recommendations and outlined overarching guidelines for youth sports in Virginia.
He said the main takeaway is to use a common sense approach to avoid intentional contact and to avoid shared equipment.
The common sense comes in telling the difference between incidental/accidental contact and intentional/sustained contact.
He used a few examples, like saying that going to a karate class would be within the guidelines, but sparring with someone in the class would be against them.
Playing baseball on its own would be within the guidelines, but sharing bats and helmets would be not.
For high school football, he said the future when games start up in the fall is unclear, but for summer practices now, most drills are fine, and, for instance, quarterbacks passing to wide receives wearing gloves is fine.
For soccer, he recommended coaches structure practices without intentional contact and find ways to avoid throw-ins to limit shared contact with the ball.
As far as capacity guidelines:
• Indoor capacity: Indoor fields and facilities are limited to 30% capacity, with the limit set for each individual space
• Outdoor capacity: Outdoor fields and complexes are allowed 50% capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer.
That 50-person limit does not apply to youth sports to make sure all parents/guardians can be there, but distancing of fans is still required: 10 feet, like the standard for gyms and fitness centers.
Governor Northam noted that the deadline to request an absentee ballot for Virginia's June primaries is next Tuesday at 5 p.m. He initially said it was today, but later clarified during the question-and-answer session of the briefing, saying he misspoke.
Health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said people can expect a big number of tests appearing in the VDH dashboard over the next few days, and that's because of backlogged laboratory resylts.
Numbers on the dashboard will start reflecting thousands of additional tests in the Richmond area that had been backlogged. According to the department, a Richmond-area laboratory had previously been providing test results via fax, which then had to be entered manually by VDH staff, resulting in a backlog of around 13,000 tests.
But now, the lab is able to enter test results electronically. Health department staff had prioritized entering positive test results into the system, so most of the remaining 13,000 tests that will be entered into the system in the next few days will be negative tests. According to a VDH spokesperson, the change for that Richmond-area lab will alleviate the department's backlog by about half.
Asked for his response to the Richmond Circuit Court judge's injunction barring removal of the Robert E. Lee monument until June 18, Northam asked Counsel Rita Davis to respond.
She said they expected and were prepared for the injunction, though were not afforded the opportunity to be at the hearing where the injunction was issued.
Counsel Davis praised the governor's decision to remove the monument, saying it " takes us a step farther to reclaiming the truth of Virginia's history for all Virginians," and said they look forward to proving the governor's authority in court.
With the reopening plan for schools following the statewide reopening plan, Gov. Northam said his team will continue reviewing the latest data every day to decide on when to move into Phase 3, but that Phase 2 will last a minimum of two weeks.
He said an announcement will be made as soon as they can review the data to accurately make a decision for Phase 3.
Gov. Northam said the state is looking at how to use some of the money received through the CARES Act to get some of it to school districts in need of assistance for reopening plans.
According to Dr. Lane, of the $238 million that went to Virginia through the CARES Act, 90% went to localities with Title 1 dictating how those funds are distributed, and 10% was set aside for state actitivites.
The governor said they will be calling legislators back to the capital to address Virginia's budget after continued COVID-19 effects, but no date has been set yet. He said he expects it will probably be early August, and he anticipates discussions during that session on how lawmakers can take more action on social justice as well.
Asked about how Virginia is fighting the achievement gap between students of different races, Gov. Northam said he also hopes to tackle "monuments of inequities" and not the R.E. Lee monument. He said one of his top priorities is early childhood education to give all children access so that they can start on a level playing field.
Dr. Lane agreed on the need for more access to early education and said the achievement gap starts on the first day of kindergarten. He cited efforts over the past two years by Virginia's education department to require policies meant to address the achievement gap rather than just reporting the gap as the department had been for 20 years.
Dr. Lane said school divisions will work to find unique ways to use their space and partnerships with nonprofits, child care groups, the YMCA, and similar organizations to give working families options for childcare while some students may have to stay home some days, depending on how schedules adapt to the new system.
Governor Northam said they've been concerned by the amounts of people protesting without wearing masks and not social distancing. While they support protests, he said, they want everyone to know where they can get tested in their communities for COVID-19 after potential exposure.
Gov. Northam said his response is that they have been preparing for their plan to remove the monument for a year and are standing "on very legal, solid ground" to remove the statue.
His counsel, Rita Davis, said they were aware from the beginning of the potential for legal challenges, but also well aware of the governor's authority. While the current injunction bars removal until June 18, they expect more stages to come, but she said the fully expect the circuit court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court of Virginia, to affirm the governor's authority.
Asked for his thoughts on removing other Confederate monuments around Virginia, Gov. Northam pointed to the law he signed from the General Assembly this year to give local governments the power to remove Confederate monuments on their property and said each locality has the option beginning next month to deal with street names, military bases, statues, etc. how they see fit.
Thursday's briefing began with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney taking the podium, beginning with the words, "It's time."
Mayor Stoney formally announced his
as of July 1.
Stoney said it's time to "replace the racist symbols of oppression and inequality . . . symbols that have literally dominated our landscape."
"Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy," Stoney said, drawing applause from officials around the conference room.
The Richmond mayor continued that the monuments have stood as symbols of barriers hindering the dreams of black children in Virginia's communities.
"We knew better," Stoney said, emphasizing his point that Virginians knew better during Jim Crow, during massive resistance, and long before the "dying pleas of young black men like George Floyd."
"We have two pandemics in this country: COVID-19 and racism," Stoney said.
The mayor said it's a moral imperative of leaders to save the lives of their constituents, and that both COVID-19 and racism are lethal, though one is months old and the other hundreds of years old.
He officially introduced a proposal to remove all Confederate monuments on Richmond's city property and endorsed Gov. Northam's move to remove the Robert E. Lee statue on state-owned property.
Gov. Northam then addressed Virginians, thanking Mayor Stoney for his leadership throughout COVID-19 and throughout days of civil unrest in Richmond, saying that he and his wife are proud to live in Richmond.
The governor's message focused on a plan to chart a new course for Virginia by addressing Virginia's history in order to move forward.
He cited the high ideals set by Virginians, including Virginia's declarations of rights that served as foundations for the Bill of Rights, but that at the same time as some of the most hopeful and forward-looking moments in American history happening in Virginia, people were enslaved and brutalized.
Northam quoted Patrick Henry's words, mentioning that he now holds the office Patrick Henry held 72 governors ago, but urged Virginians to realize there's a lot more to the story, mentioning that at the bottom of the hill Henry delivered his address on, one of the country's largest slave trading markets was booming.
And that's just as much a part of the American story, Northam said, as was enslavement, Jim Crow, massive resistance, and massive incarceration.
"The eyes can't see what the mind doesn't know," Northam said was something he would say as a physician, and said it holds true now for people who have not taken the time to learn and listen about the legacy of racism in America and in Virginia.
He quoted Robert E. Lee's own words about not wanting to be memorialized, but said Virginians chose to commemorate him instead of healing the wounds of the war that Lee called to do.
Northam also quoted the editor of Richmond's black paper at the time the monument was erected in 1890, who wrote that "The emblem of the union had been left behind."
He continued a focus on history, going through the Jim Crow era, when more than 100,000 black men who had registered to vote in Virginia after the Civil War plummeted to 10,000 due to laws put in place.
Continuing on his history lesson, the governor said Virginians added new laws to make sure the statues would stay forever, moving into thanking the General Assembly for
, allowing local governments in Virginia to remove monuments on public-owned property.
That law takes effect at the start of July, but the Lee monument is a different scenario because it sits on state-owned property: essentially a circle of 100 feet of Virginia-owned land surrounded by Richmond-owned property.
Northam said the statue on a pedestal sends a clear message of what "we value the most" but that Virginia will "no longer teach a false version of history" and no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of people.
He addressed expected arguments of how long the monument has stood, but said it was wrong then, is wrong now, and said he "believes in a Virginia that studies its past in an honest way" and does more than talk to address it.
He said he is directing the Virginia Department of General Services to remove the statue as soon as possible, and it will go into storage as officials determine what to do with it in the future.
“Governor Ralph Northam today directed the Department of General Services to remove the state-owned Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond. DGS is taking steps to carry out this order as soon as possible. The size, scale and location of the monument will require careful planning, which is currently underway, to ensure it is completed safely and effectively.”
Below are the governor's full prepared remarks:
After Northam's remarks, he acknowledged the guests that were present around the room, including the family of Barbara Johns, who launched the lawsuit that turned into Brown vs. Board of Education.
Saying that removing a symbol is important, but just a step, and that the commonwealth needs to address "monuments of inequity" as well for change and healing, he introduced several others to address Virginia.
The first speaker to address Virginians in Northam's Thursday conference was Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, the great-great nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
"A new day is coming," Rev. Lee said.
Lee said his great-great uncle has been a man of many complexities, but ultimately fought to keep people enslaved and "charted a course of destruction" for the country.
Now, after the death of George Floyd and so many other black people across the country, "we are here," Lee said.
He addressed people asking if now is the right time by asking a counter-question: "When is the right time?"
As a pastor, Rev. Lee said he is a Christian first and a Lee second after his baptism, and that his faith calls him not to shy away from painful truths but address them, especially now.
"There are more important things to address than a statue and we know that," he said, but said symbols are important.
As a Christian, Rev. Lee said, he is convinced that idols must be torn down and that the monument has become an idol for many to the Lost Cause.
But "the Lost Cause is dead and a new cause is upon us," Rev. Lee declared, drawing applause from the room.
While he said statues are just a start to work on justice and change in the country, he said now is the time for the country and Virginia to come together to address those issues.
Mentioning that this past week was Pentecost in the Christian faith, he quoted the "Canticle of Turning," a popular hymn, and said "the world is about to turn."
He ended by saying that he "wholeheartedly commends this act on behalf of my line of the Lees."
Next to the podium was Robert Johns, a family member of Barbara Johns, whose protest launched Brown vs. Board of Eduction, who came to Thursday's conference with his grandson.
Johns said he was pleased to learn of the statue removal and called it a symbol of hate, bigotry, and division.
But he said Virginia will now walk "into a new era of acceptance and inclusion" with a new generation leading.
He thanked Gov. Northam for keeping his word about the statues, said it's a great start, and encouraged all protesting to register to vote.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax came forward next, thanking Governor Northam for his plan to move Virginia into a new era.
"2020 is the first year of the next 400 years," Fairfax said.
He described the removal of the Lee monument as a "down payment on the promise of a new future for Virginia."
Addressing systematic problems like a broken health system, broken criminal justice system, and a broken education system needs to happen, Fairfax said, but the symbolic act of removing the monument would be a start.
He also thanked Northam for his signature on a law to
, saying that was the culmination of work by many people over years.
There have been "dual strands of darkness and light in Virginia" from the Revolutionary War and the arrival of enslaved Africans to today, Fairfax said, and called for everyone to move now to take the country and the commonwealth on a different course.
Fairfax also said that Friday will mark 222 years to the day that his great-great grandfather was freed from slavery, saying that the country's history and legacy has impacted every single one of us.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring followed Fairfax, saying that the past few days have forced white Americans to confront a reality that black Americans face every single day.
"No one should have to fear that they or their loved ones will be killed while simply going for a walk," Herring said, citing the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others.
He acknowledged that he personally, as a white man, cannot know that fear, but that he can listen and that it's everyone's responsibility to build a country safe for everyone.
And he said that includes "removing the symbols of a racist past in our public spaces."
Herring argued that the Confederate monuments in Richmond and around Virginia "do not deserve to stand as a representation of our commonwealth and our people" and have left minorities in Virginia constantly surrounded by symbols reminding them of a history of oppression at the hands of celebrated figures.
"How do you tell a black man or woman that they're going to get a fair and impartial trial when the path to the courthouse is blocked by a monument to a man that fought to keep them enslaved?" Herring asked.
He said the monuments were raised as part of a deliberate effort to intimidate black Virginians during the 'Lost Cause' movement and that now, they must come down as part of a deliberate effort as well.
"It will not erase systemic racism" or close health disparities or fix the education gap, Herring said, "and we know that." But he said there's a long road of change ahead and that it's a step toward doing the work to "make Virginia the just place I know it can be."
Below are Herring's full remarks:
The next speaker during Northam's Thursday press conference was Zionna Bryant, a student from Charlottesville who wrote a petition in 2016 to call for the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument.
Bryant said she wanted to be clear that there will be no healing until inequity is addressed and that the "only way to move forward is by centering the voices of those who have been marginalized."
She called for people to recognize that it's no longer adequate to walk away from having tough conversations to avoid controversy because "lives are on the line."
Bryant also called on everyone to focus on the lives of black women and black members of the LGBTQ community and others even further marginalized.
"Black lives matter," she said was the way most important for her to end her remarks,.
Not everyone thinks all of this is a good idea. Speaking on behalf of the Virginia Flaggers, Grayson Jennings issued the following statement:
The Mayor of Crewe, Greg Eanes, also sent a letter to Northam and Stoney asking that the monuments be moved to his town to help increase Civil War tourism and revenue, which he says his town depends on.
Senate Republican leaders issued their own joint statement, saying:
The statement was signed by Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), Caucus Chairman Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), Caucus Co-Chairman Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Caucus Whips William M. Stanley, Jr. (R-Franklin) and Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), and Republican Leader Pro-Tempore Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford).
Following Thursday's briefing, as usual, the governor took several questions from reporters.
When asked exactly what the concrete plans are to address inequity in Virginia, Gov. Northam said he believes the first step is to realize that there is a problem and then have people come together and have a dialogue, including police chiefs, legislators, and community members, to discuss how to turn words into action.
He called for police forces to be diversified and for departments and offices across the commonwealth to have more community interaction, more bodycam usage, and train further on de-escalation.
He said he and other state leaders will work to listen, take the words of those most affected, and turn those into action.
Asked "why now" to remove the statue, Northam turned to a familiar fallback from many of his briefings throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: his experience as a doctor. He said as a doctor, he recognizes that there is pain and that now "is the time to heal."
With black Americans around the country expressing tremendous pain that's been ongoing for a long time, he said it's been brought into focus by the protest over George Floyd's death.
Northam said his team had been working on the legalities of the state removal for over a year, but he made the official decision on Tuesday with his legal counsel.
He said the move is meant to help heal divisiveness by removing a powerful symbol of oppression.
Asked about the expense of removing monuments, Northam said there will be a cost for the process, but said he thinks there's a much greater expense when people do not feel welcome in Virginia.
"There's no price to that," the governor said.
He said he is more than willing to use the resources it will take and that it will be about telling the truth and about education for white people to learn history as it is and listen to people tell their stories of hurt so the commonwealth and the country can move forward.
Details are scarce. Northam said the first step is the Department of General Services talking with contractors to make plans "in the coming weeks" to remove the bronze statue itself and then discussion will follow on what to do with the pedestal.
"We are In the midst of discussions on details," Northam said.
The DGS said the process will "require careful planning, which is currently underway."
Gov. Northam encouraged people across Virginia and the country to review the 400 years of history behind us to look at the evolution of oppression of black people in the United States and then work to chart a new course.
He addressed the common social media argument that "slavery is behind us," implying that so is racism, but said the realities of Jim Crow, massive resistance, massive incarceration, and violence now have to be addressed.
As Northam wrapped up, the reporter who had asked about the expected cost of the plan tried to ask a follow-up question, but Northam and each of the officials present walked away.
The livestream of the event stayed up for a prolonged time after the conference ended, and then was cut off.
, testing remains generally higher across Virginia and the 'percent positivity' rate of how many Virginians are testing positive for COVID-19 has been steadily decreasing over time.
Northam has said that the restrictions established by his administration are "the floor" and that it's up to individual businesses whether they are able to safely reopen and individual regions can request changes if their data is different from the state's overall.
As of June 4, Virginia
, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, with 1,445 total deaths and 4,957 cumulative hospitalizations.
According to the
, there are currently 1,266 Virginians hospitalized with either confirmed COVID-19 tests or pending COVID-19 test results and 6,284 patients who were hospitalized and have recovered.
In general, over the past three weeks, test results have yielded lower daily case totals and increased testing, showing the "curve" of Virginia cases moving downward.
But the commonwealth is still working to overcome an earlier backlog in testing and catch up to the national average of how much of the population has been tested, although state health officials say their focus is getting tests to the most vulnerable and most affected people.
On Thursday, the governor's press conference focused on the plans to remove the Robert E. Lee monument from Richmond and plans for Phase 2 of reopening amid COVID-19 ended up not being addressed. But the full guidelines were released by his office Tuesday evening and are available online.
On Tuesday, the governor said based on key health metrics around the commonwealth, including weeks of the percentage of Virginians testing positive dropping, steady hospital bed capacity, downward trends in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 cases, and much more testing available, public health officials determined it would be safe to move forward with Phase 2, though the data will continue being evaluated.
“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”
Executive Order 65, signed by Northam on Tuesday, establishes the guidelines for Phase 2, which call for the following:
- The original 'Stay at Home' order is a 'Safer at Home' strategy, calling for people to continue social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings, in accordance with the executive order signed last week.
- Virginia's 10-person limit on gatherings will be expanded to a 50-person limit, and all businesses still need to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.
Specific business changes are as follows:
- Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy
- Fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy with fitness equipment separated by at least 10 feet
- Certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues.
- Swimming pools can open up to both indoor and outdoor exercise (like lap swimming), diving, and swim instruction. (Splash pads, saunas, hot tubs, etc. must stay closed
The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two, including 50% capacity in both retail and houses of worship, and health restrictions for personal grooming services.
Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will remain closed in Phase Two.
You can find the full Phase 2 guidelines for specific sectors
. The order at that link details mandatory requirements and recommendations for all sectors, including, for instance, the specific signage requirements for restaurants.
Governor Ralph Northam began Tuesday's briefing by acknowledging that he had ended Thursday's by saying he would have big announcements about Phase 2 on Tuesday, but that before any of that, there was something far more important to address.
"Our country is in a moment of turmoil and we have to talk about it," Northam said.
The governor described all Virginians seeing the images of George Floyd "begging for his life as a man in uniform took it from him," creating a new heartbreak for black Virginians and black Americans as the latest in a long list of names.
Northam said the protests seen across America right now are for those names because of a system that allows it to continue to happen.
"What we're seeing today didn't spring out of thin air," Northam said. "Racism and discrimination aren't locked in our past."
Quickly recapping 400 years of history from the arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia through massive resistance to desegregation, and massive incarceration, Northam said oppression has always been there for black people in America.
Citing maternal mortality rates, health inequities that made people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19, and more less visible forms on inequity, the governor said he can not know what it feels like to be a black person, but that he can stand with them.
Northam went on to highlight actions taken by the General Assembly in recent years that he said will help address inequity across Virginia, including the expansion of Medicaid to expand access to health insurance for more communities, establishing new tools to help reduce maternal morbidity, reforming the criminal justice system by increasing the felony threshold for larceny and
, as well as by making Election Day a holiday and
Northam said there are four main steps his administration is taking: continuing listening and learning to black Virginians with virtual town halls; meeting with Virginia's Board of Chiefs of Police to discuss how they can respond; working to institute a statewide day of prayer, healing and action; and asking Virginia's African-American Advisory Board to continue their work examining the Virginia Code to find racist language from the past.
The governor highlighted the work of the board to identify historic wrongs in the Commonwealth's past, which resulted in
. Each of those laws passed unanimously.
"These actions will not bring back lives lost," Northam said, but he said they are "steps toward an America and a Virginia where this doesn't happen."
"My message to protesters is that I hear you," Northam said, adding that he is "here to work with you to build a place where no one fears for their life due to the color of their skin. . I pledge to stand with you.
Following the governor's comments on the protests around Virginia and the country, he invited a number of black lawmakers, pastors, members of the state's African-American Advisory board, a high school student, and Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia's chief diversity officer, to speak on the situation.
Speakers included Delegate Delores McQuinn, Wes Bellamy, Shirley Ginwright, Cynthia Hutsin, Northam's own pastor Rev. Kelvin Jones, Rev. Tyrone Nelson, and Niquel Perry, a rising senior from Albemarle High School.
Del. McQuinn began by saying her heart was bruised and broken, but that it was sadly not the first time.
She highlighted the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but said they shine a light on a long history of violence in America that she says has been legalized, sanitized, and institutionalized over time.
Delegate McQuinn thanked Gov. Northam, saying he was working to address inequity before the latest protests and that she was proud to support the General Assembly's move to repeal discriminatory language from the books, as well as to support the state's establishment of a commission to study study slavery, Jim Crow laws, massive resistance, and all of Virginia's history of oppression of blacks and what the impact of that has been.
Like many of the speakers on Tuesday, she thanked Dr. Janice Underwood for taking on the role as the first diversity officer for any state in the country and thanked Northam for hiring her.
Her overall message was that after people protest peacefully, she calls for everyone to sit at the table together to work on ways to continue addressing inequity.
Following Delegate McQuinn, Rev. Kelvin Jones stepped to the podium, urging Virginians of all races to recognize that the pain of facing incidents like the death of George Floyd over and over again has worn people down and they feel their only response left is to fight.
However, Jones said it's important not to get those people confused with others being opportunists and hiding behind the protesters authentically calling for justice. He said his message to looters is that they are not honoring the legacy of George Floyd, but what they're doing is wasting manpower that could be used to address systemic problems that instead has to dedicate resources to dealing with them.
The answer the African-American community is looking for right now is just to be heard, Jones said.
Minneapolis was heartbroken but intact after the death of Floyd, but it was after the people called for arrests and were not heard, after action was requested and did not come, that he said people turned to violent actions.
And what he said happened is that the message sent by law enforcement and Minneapolis officials was that they won't respond to the concerns of people of color but will respond to violent actions.
As many across the country have decided to peacefully protest, others have surrounded them "saying no more," Jones said, and unfortunately, many people have been glad to focus on the negative actions of those instead of having a discussion about the reasons people are protesting.
"Wouldn't it be nice if we saw leaders say, 'we don't stand behind you. but we stand with you,'" he said.
Jones called for people to speak truth to power, not across the aisle, but in the aisle, and reminded Virginians that their response will be recorded in history, so they should ask what side of the page we'll be on.
"Will will be One Nation Under God," he said, "or a house divided?"
Next, Shirley Ginwright, a Fairfax County leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed Virginia, calling for everyone to "listen to the young people fighting for justice." which she said is the position she was in while marching with Dr. King years ago.
Yet people are still fighting for the same things now, she said, and asked everyone to stand up, calling for her white brothers and sisters to "stand with us, not behind us."
Ginwright thanked Gov. Northam for several recent acts of legislation, including marijuana decriminalization, saying too many young people have been caught up in the criminal justice system due to it.
She said there will be no going back to business as usual when the smoke has cleared, and that it will be up to people not to take action so that the next generation will not have to go through the same thing.
Ginwright ended her message by saying that she hopes to see as many people marching now voting in the fall as well.
Niquel Perry, a rising senior at Albemarle High School, came forward next to address all the children watching, calling on them to remember that they are the future and to use their right and vote.
"I have faith that this nation will become better," Perry said, calling for the protesters to remain safe.
"Black people are hurting," said Rev. Tyrone Nelson, reminding all Virginians that black people have been treated unequally for over 400 years and that when the George Floyd case is seen, what he sees is the case before that and the case before that.
Rev. Nelson it makes him so sad that he has to through a lineage of what has happened to tell his children how to behave when interacting with police for their own safety.
Next, Jim Bibbs called for police reform in Virginia, including mandatory bodycam and dashcam video operating at all times for law enforcement.
Bibbs also called for people to challenge their behavior and stop being afraid to be the one in the room to challenge a behavior or statement that you feel is not right. If people don't do that, Bibbs said, the nation will never advance.
"We have to make the decision," Bibbs said, to challenge those moments and form a better community, a better Virginia, and a better nation for the future.
"It s exhausting to be black in America," said Cynthia Hutsin, saying she is committed to standing with Gov. Northam and to dismantling institutional racism in Virginia and in the country.
She announced that they will share in the coming weeks how they believe Virginia can be more proactive to address inequity, because just like COVID-19, she said, systemic racism will require a team to address.
Dr. Janice Underwood called for Virginians to listen to one another, – listen to your friend, listen to your coworker, listen to a relative who needs to share their pain. That, she said, is a way to be a genuine ally, but people need to lean into conversations on difficult topics and start by educating themselves about the racial dynamics of America's history, listening to each other, and also reading to learn more.
Governor Northam said he found President Trump's message to be one of divisiveness and not of healing and said that Virginia would not send its National Guard to Washington, D.C. in response to the president's order.
Northam said that's because the mayor of D.C> did not request the support and because Virginia itself has plenty of reasons for the National Guard to remain. Finally, he said he would not deploy Virginia's men and women in uniform for a photo op for the president.
Gov. Northam said he is not the best one to talk about the pain protesters are feeling now, pointing people to the statements made by people of color on Tuesday, but that the bigger challenge for people who look like him is to ask themselves "why," and sit down to discuss the reality and take actions to move forward.
Northam said he acknowledges that there those out there exploiting the situation for violence and looting, and he regrets that and asks those individuals to "take their energy elsewhere."
The governor said he will continue to reach out for dialogue, but that he doesn't think it would best for him to be in the protests "for a number of reasons."
"Let's not forget what we're seeing, why we're seeing it," and the Virginia way to listen to each other, Northam said.
Following the governor's press conference, House Republican Leader C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City) issued the following statement:
After a brief break between the portion of Tuesday's press conference addressing the civil unrest across Virginia and the nation in the wake of George Floyd's death, Governor Northam returned to discuss Virginia's next steps in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam reminded Virginians that we are still in this pandemic, and that it hasn't gone away even as our attention has been focused on protests, and he encouraged everyone who is protesting to wear masks and social distance if at all possible.
With so many people gathering in spaces, and the virus spread through the air, Northam said everyone needs to remember that we're still in the middle of a pandemic. When asked for advice to anyone protesting on how to protect themselves after they return home, he reiterated general guidelines and encouraged anyone feeling symptoms to see their healthcare provider and seek treatment and testing.
After highlighting the continuing downward trend for percent positivity and hospitalizations across Virginia, alongside the upward trend for testing availability, Gov. Northam announced that most of Virginia will be able to move into Phase 2 as of this Friday, June 5.
Northern Virginia and RIchmond, which each entered Phase 1 this past Friday after 2-week delays, will not be included in the move to Phase 2 on Friday. Northam said that's because the data on cases in those areas has not yet improved to the point to allow a move to Phase 2 in those areas.
Accomack County, however, which entered Phase 1 at the same time, will join the rest of Virginia in Phase 2 on Friday. Northam said that's because their high numbers were due to specific outbreaks at poultry plants that now appear to be under control.
Phase 2 will allow gatherings of up to 50 people instead of the current 10-person limit.
It will also allow restaurants to open indoor seating back up, at 50% capacity, gyms and fitness centers to open for indoor classes at 30% capacity, pools to reopen for exercise and swim instruction, entertainment venues like museums and zoos to reopen with some restrictions, and recreational sports to start back up with distancing requirements and no shared equipment.
The governor said more specifics would be outlined at his Thursday press conference, but that all details for Phase will be released Tuesday evening.
He said the guidelines will still strongly encourage teleworking and physical distancing.
Northam thanked childcare providers across Virginia for providing care for the children of essential workers and said the Department of Social Services will be sending guidance to childcare providers for moving forward.
Asked once again about the Virginia Department of Health's policy on not reporting the facilities with outbreaks, including nursing homes, unless facilities choose to identify themselves, health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said they are not reconsidering their interpretation of Virginia's state code at this time.
The final question Governor Northam was asked in his Tuesday briefing was how he would react to a tweet from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. that sparked controversy and led to
, as well as the resignation of at least one professor.
The tweet was one in which Falwell said he disagreed with Northam's mask order for Virginia but that if he had to wear a mask, he would wear one with the photo from Governor Northam's medical school yearbook page that featured someone in a KKK robe and someone in blackface.
Northam, who was nearly forced to resign after initially saying he was in the photo and then denying it last year, did not address the question directly, but pointed to his background in neurology and child psychology.
He said "chapter 1" of child psychology is to "not water the weeds" and to "consider the source" of the tweet.
Gov. Northam said he will talk in more detail on Thursday about the exact guidelines for Phase 2, as well as guidance for the return of youth sports and in-person classes for the fall, which he had said last week would be addressed on Tuesday, but he determined addressing the situation facing the entire nation right now as a greater priority for Tuesday.
Governor Ralph Northam began Thursday's briefing by addressing the grim milestone marked on Wednesday, which was when
The governor said it;s important to remember that every statistic connected to the coronavirus isn't just a number but a person – someone with loved ones and friends.
Northam said those numbers are why Virginians need to keep working to protect each other amid the pandemic.
But this weekend also marks another tragic milestone, as Sunday will be one year since the Virginia Beach shooting in which 12 people lost their lives and four others' lives were forever altered by injuries.
The governor said no in-person events will be held this year to remember the somber anniversary, but that grieving is not an event, but a process.
A pandemic cannot stop the remembrance of the lives lost, he said, and he read aloud a list of the names of the victims one-by-one, followed by a moment of silence.
Northam also thanked the Virginia Beach community for rallying to support each other after the deadly day, mentioning coworkers, first responders, friends, neighbors, and everyone who is a part of the Virginia Beach community.
As of Friday, May 29, Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County, which each had their entry into Phase 1 delayed by two weeks, will officially join the rest of Virginia in Phase 1, putting all of the commonwealth on the same guidelines.
With major portions of the state population first entering the new phase, the governor reviewed the guidelines, which include restaurants open to outdoor seating at 50% capacity, salons and barber shops open with strict limits, and more. You can find the full list of guidelines in the
Northam reiterated a statement he's made many times, which is that "just because a business is allowed to open doesn't mean that it must open," if any business owners are not comfortable reopening yet.
beginning on Friday, Gov. Northam recapped that every Virginia, unless part of the limited exceptions list, should be prepared with a face covering.
He said they don't need to be elaborate, again pointing to simple coverings like bandannas or online DIY instructions, and thanked the Virginians who have sent his office face coverings.
The reason, he reminded everyone, is because as more has been learned about how COVID-19 spreads, the CDC says masks are a great help in limiting the virus' transmission, blocking droplets and aerosols from yourself that could infect others.
Northam made the comparison that if you shouldn't go into a public place without shoes or a shirt, you shouldn't go in without a face covering.
He also showed a new promotional graphic unveiled by the Virginia Department of Health encouraging customers to wear masks that is being sent to businesses across Virginia.
One of the biggest questions that's been posed since Northam's announcement of the mask order earlier this week is how exactly it will be enforced. The governor had said on Tuesday that it would be the authority of the health department and not a matter for law enforcement, but the health department explained on Wednesday that they can use court orders against businesses that refuse to comply with a Class One misdemeanor.
Rita Davis, counsel to the governor, came to the podium on Thursday, to explain that in more detail.
Davis said the enforcement is a statutory process by which all public health orders are enforced and that it's been the standard included in all five public health orders issued so far in the pandemic.
It was not created specifically for the mask order and is not new, she emphasized.
As the standard enforcement mechanism established under Virginia's health code, she said it provides two ways for the health commissioner to enforce the order: by a civil order to obtain an injunction against a non-compliant business or by a warrant through a magistrate for a misdemeanor charge.
Davis said those are the procedures made available for any enforcement, but they're reserved only for "gross and repeated" violations.
She said the state government is not expecting business owners to enforce the order, but instead encourages them to educate their patrons about the importance of wearing a mask.
While not the responsibility of the business owner, she said it shouldn't be the responsibility of the health department or law enforcement either to make sure you're wearing a face covering, but the personal responsibility of each Virginian as the right thing to do to protect their families and fellows Virginians.
So can a business refuse service to someone who refuses to wear a mask? Davis encouraged business owners to use the opportunity to have a discussion with any non-compliant individual, but said business do have the right to ask a patron to return at a different time "when they're more convinced they should be wearing a mask."
Asked by a reporter for more information later, Gov. Northam said the intent of the mask order is to "do the right thing" and take care of people around you, not to lock anyone up in jail.
He said, as a business owner, he would nicely ask someone who's not wearing a mask if they would mind wearing one for the safety of the people in his office.
While not wanting businesses to be in the practice of enforcing the order to avoid causing any confrontations, he asked people to just think of others and wear a mask for their benefit.
Asked for more clarity about what the health department will do, Counsel Davis said if a person repeatedly refuses to wear a mask, rather than a business enforcing it themselves, they would report the incident to the Virginia Department of Health, which could take action as needed.
The only situation in which she foresees law enforcement involvement is if a confrontation evolves between a patron refusing to wearing a mask and an employee, but at that point, law enforcement is not there because of someone not wearing a mask, but because of a confrontation between a patron and an employee.
Okay, but what about people who say they meet one of the exceptions to the mask requirement listed in the executive order? Governor Northam said that business will have to rely on a person's word if they say they meet an exception. Again using his medical office as an example, he said if someone explained that they had COPD and so couldn't wear a cloth mask, he would accept that explanation and encourage them to continue social distancing.
Governor Northam announced on Thursday that all of Virginia will remain Phase 1 for another week at a minimum, with June 5 the earliest that the commonwealth can enter Phase 2.
While all of the trends for COVID-19 are heading down in the state, especially percent positivity, and testing capacity and PPE supplies are increasing, he said it's simply too soon to determine when Virginia can begin Phase 2 because of the incubation period of the virus.
It can take up to two weeks for someone with infected with COVID-19 to begin showing symptoms, so Northam said there's no feasible way to move into Phase 2 yet while relying on the data, but that his administration will continue to monitor moving forward.
Northam also announced on Thursday that 39 CVS pharmacies across Virginia will start offering testing using self-swab kits while staff members monitor the use of the test.
However, the closest location to the Shenandoah Valley offering it will be in Charlottesville.
The governor said he intends to get tested for the virus soon. He said on Tuesday that he hoped to get tested at one of the health department's community testing events, but he has not provided any specifics on that yet.
After Virginia Beach reopen to recreational use last weekend, Governor Northam says his visit to the beach was to check how their comprehensive plan was working.
Saying that it worked, Virginia's other public beaches will be able to reopen to recreational activity this Friday, with restrictions in place similar to Virginia Beach's plan, including no group sports, no tents, no alcohol allowed, and more.
"People can be safe while enjoying our beautiful beaches," Northam said.
The governor also announced on Thursday that Virginia is allowing NASCAR and horse races to resume single-day events on Friday.
Any races held in Virginia will not be open to the public and no spectators will be allowed, but because the competitors are in open air events with spacing between the participants, Northam said his administration determined there's minimum risk of spread as long as fans are not present.
He pointed to that move as a step to help Virginia's economic recovery as well.
Gov. Northam highlighted
in northern Virginia, which he said should bring 1,500 new jobs to the commonwealth.
Saying that Virginia is glad to have all those jobs, Northam said people should expect more big job announcements in the next few days pertaining to rural areas of Virginia.
In addition, he pointed out that the first wind turbine foundation in federal waters has been erected off of Virginia Beach, describing that as another source of new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Although regional Virginia DMV offices have been gradually reopen by appointment for certain critical in-person services, the governor acknowledged that many people have had difficulties taking care of tasks with the DMV, including license and ID renewals.
Because of that, Northam said the DMV is extending the deadline for license renewals.
According to the DMV, all driver's licenses and identification cards expiring on or before July 31, 2020, are extended for 90 days, to August 31 at the latest.
That means any customer whose credential expired between March 15 and May 31 gets 90 days from the expiration date to renew, and credentials expiring from June 1 to July 31 have until August 31 to get renewed.
Vehicle registrations that expire in March, April, and May are also extended for 90 days. Those expiring in June are extended for 60 days and those expiring in July are extended for 30 days.
Amid other announcements, Northam mentioned the federal government's approval of Virginia's request for an extension of Title 32 status for the Virginia National Guard, which will allow for the federal government to continue providing payment to help provide for National Guard troops assisting in Virginia's pandemic response, which the National Guard has been a critical part of, especially for community testing events.
Gov. Northam addressed any high school and college seniors, saying they've worked for years and unfortunately won't get the in-person celebrations they expected but deserve to be honored for their hard work. He congratulated every graduate in Virginia and said he looks forward to them doing great things.
On Friday evening at 5 p.m., he and his wife will be the hosts of "Virginia Graduates Together," a live commencement ceremony for Virginia graduates airing on public television stations across the commonwealth, as well as on Facebook Live and YouTube. You can learn more about that event, which will feature a lot of celebrities from Virginia,
Many questions posed by reporters on Thursday focused on how the new mask order will be enforced and its implications for business owners and employees across Virginia.
Asked if he's forcing businesses to "choose between health and wealth," Northam came back to a familiar statement he's made at many briefings, which is that Virginia is in the middle of both a health crisis and an economic crisis and will have to get through the health crisis first to get the economy recovering to the strong point it was at before the pandemic.
The governor said his message to consumers and to businesses, as a business owner himself, is that the recovery is consumer-driven and that the focus should be on the health and safety of consumers, who may not feel comfortable going into businesses that they don't feel are working to protect their health.
Northam said both health and wealth can be present at the same time as long as Virginians remember that "we're all in this together" and work for each other's safety.
"We are where we are today because of Virginians and I say thank you," Northam said, but continued that the only way to get through both the health and economic crises is to "put the politics aside and be a part of the solution."
New modeling from the University of Virginia predicts large spikes of new cases in Virginia if the commonwealth continues on the 'Forward Virginia' plan for reopening.
Gov. Northam said while he hasn't reviewed the newest UVA model yet, it's one his team reviews, but that modeling is only part of the picture.
Ultimately, he said they're working with the data available on each day and taking steps for reopening on a day-by-day basis.
If the data shows any new hot spots for the virus emerging this summer, with numbers not going in the right direction, Northam said adjustments will be made as needed.
He pointed to the restrictions of Phase 1 and the delay for areas with worst data as a way they're working to prevent surges.
The governor said the reason Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County will enter Phase 1 on Friday is because his team and their local goverments determined the data allows for it, based on a decrease of case activity in those areas, a decrease in hospital beds filled by COVID-19 patients, an increased ability to test and a lot more testing, and more PPE available.
Northam thanked the leaders in each of the areas, but said, regardless, they will be monitoring the latest data each day to catch any potential spikes once the areas move to Phase 1.
When Phase 1 was announced for most of Virginia, Gov. Northam said it had a two-week minimum time period. However, with Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County starting Phase 1 on May 29 and the earliest start of Phase 2 on June 5, that only allows for one week.
Asked if he would mandate those areas to spend two weeks in Phase 1 like the rest of Virginia, Northam said that discussion will be had with individual leaders for the areas, but if they're comfortable, he'd like to see all of Virginia move to Phase 2 at the same time.
However, he said her remains open to discussions with any other areas that may not feel comfortable going forward into Phase 2.
With evictions able to continue now that Virginia's judicial emergency expired, Governor Northam said he still points anyone facing potential eviction to the resources his office has shared before and encourages landlords and tenants to work together to find ways to avoid evictions.
He's not planning to take any specific action on the topic, but said he would look into if federal funds provided to local governments through the CARES Act can be used to help people catch up on rent.
The latest health department data reported this week has shown substantial increases in deaths reported due to COVID-19.
But Dr. Forlano, the deputy health commissioner, said that's not necessarily tied to Phase 1 or to any one specific thing, because death data is a lagging indicator – meaning it's always at least several days behind.
That's because the Virginia Department of Health has to wait for death certificates to validate any information about deaths connected to COVID-19.
On Tuesday, the governor extended Virginia's state of emergency without an end date.
He said that's because it allows Virginia to continue working with Medicaid to compensate telehealth and it allows continued use of the National Guard for assistance with testing, among other reasons.
Governor Northam said he'll be addressing two questions he's heard a lot at his next briefing on Tuesday.
The first is in regards to youth sports. He said he wants to encourage families and kids to be active this summer, but wants to make sure that's done safely, so on Tuesday, he'll be announcing new guidelines under which youth sports can be conducted.
The second is about children returning to school. Northam said the Education Work Group has had a lot of great discussion on how children can return safely in the fall, and he'll have more announcements on that on Tuesday. For now, he said know that they're doing everything they can to make sure children can get back into classrooms safely.
Governor Northam encouraged Virginians to remember the more than 1,000 people around the commonwealth who have lost their lives due to COVID-19, as well as those who were killed in Virginia Beach a year ago.
He also called for people to "get the politics out of this" and wear masks to protect each other so that Virginia can get the health crisis in the past and move on to getting the economic crisis taken care of too.
Governor Ralph Northam started Tuesday's briefing by directly addressing the criticism he received after
Northam emphasized that Virginia Beach was only allowed to open after the city's reopening plan was approved by the state government to keep visitors as safe as possible amid the pandemic.
He said he was at Virginia Beach to thank the mayor and city leaders for their work on that effort, thank first responders in the city, and thank ambasadors in the area, all while in open air along the beach with social distancing in each meeting.
According to the governor, he was not planning to interact with members of the public while he was there. His account of the situation when pictures were taken is that he was headed down the Virginia Beach boardwalk to talk to members of the press when who he described as "well-wishers" approached him and wanted to take a photo.
Northam claimed he was not prepared for that, and had left his mask in his car, but wanted to accommodate the people's request for a photo because he tries to not turn down to requests for photos.
He thanked the people who he said held him accountable for his action of not wearing a mask and said he takes full full responsibility for not being prepared, and will work to be better prepared whenever he is out in the public again.
Saying that he, like everyone, is forming new habits and routines to adjust to the new normal of COVID-19, he emphasized that it was his responsibility.
Following up his apology and explanation, the governor said Virginia Beach did well with reopening over the weekend, without large gatherings and with people social distancing and following the rules on the beach.
Northam said he hopes Virginia Beach can be a model for other beaches across the country planning to reopen safely.
Specifically, Northam said Virginia Beach's plan will be a benchmark for the state to consider proposed plans from Norfolk, Hampton, and other beaches along Virginia's coast that hope to open up this coming weekend.
The governor said if their plans work like Virginia Beach's, those plans will be approved in the coming days.
Gov. Northam very briefly recapped the latest case trends in Virginia, pointing to overall declines in percent positivity and hospitalizations across the commonwealth, alongside testing capacity trending upward and steady PPE supply numbers.
He said that data supports assessments made by his state's team and by health district directors across Virginia, including in Northern Virginia.
Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County all remain in Phase 0 of Virginia's reopening plan, not yet in Phase 1, which the rest of Virginia entered on May 15.
Local government leaders in Northern Virginia sent a formal letter to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver on Sunday, writing that the area has met most of the necessary data metrics to move into Phase 1, including two weeks of downward trends in cases. Accomack County leaders also indicated a readiness to move forward.
In Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney followed a different path, asking for the city to move into a modified Phase 1 that remains more restrictive.
Northam said more information will be released by his office on Wednesday, while they remain in communication with Richmond's mayor, on guidelines for when each area will be able to move forward.
However, he did confirm that the plan is for the areas to move into Phase 1 on Friday.
For Richmond specifically, he said he received Mayor Stoney's letter Tuesday morning and is in discussion with the mayor and Richmond officials to figure out all the moving parts with their specific request.
Gov. Northam, asked when he'll be able to say when most of Virginia can enter Phase 2, did not provide any specifics.
He said the incubation period COVID-19 is around two weeks, which makes moving forward two weeks after the start of Phase 1 difficult, since the data won't be there yet for many cases contracted since Phase 1 began.
Northam said his team will determine a data for Phase 2 as soon as they can, but Phase 1 will continue through at least this Friday.
Essentially, he said the health department doesn't have the data yet to make a safe decision on Phase 2 timing, although the two-week minimum was a time period he initially announced.
As Phase 1 continues, Northam reminded Virginians that it loosens restrictions but does not require business to reopen. Saying that "just because you can open doesn't mean you have to open," he encouraged business owners to do what they feel is right for their workers and customers and encouraged local governments to communicate with business owners about the guidelines for safe operation.
While Virginia remains in Phase 1, Gov. Northam said one major change will come this Friday.
Effective Friday, May 29, Northam announced that people will need to wear face coverings inside public places of businesses.
That order is taking effect through
The new mask order applies to everyone 10 and over and requires wearing a face covering while " entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in" the following establishments:
• All essential and non-essential brick and mortar retail establishments, including grocery stores and pharmacies
• All personal care and grooming establishments
• Inside food and beverage establishments (The text of the executive order specifies "restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers markets, when permitted to reopen for indoor dining")
• On public transportation, including train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas
• Entertainment or public amusement establishments when they're allowed to open in a later phase
• State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses government services
• Inside any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes
Exceptions are provided for the following situations:
• While eating or drinking
• If you have trouble breathing or are unable to remove a mask without help
• If health conditions prohibit wearing a face covering
• Young children
The governor strongly encouraged any child 3 years old and older wear a face covering if possible, but it's only required for children over the age of 10.
Northam's office also issued a reminder that face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.
Gov. Northam said the reason for the face covering order is because protecting the people around us means face coverings.
As research has continued into COVID-19, more and more health professionals have agreed that face coverings are critical to continuing daily operations around the country.
"I wear a mask to protect you, you wear a mask to protect me," said Dr. Norm Oliver, encapsulating the basic logic behind wearing face coverings, which help prevent droplets from yourself that could potentially infect others if you don't know you're symptomatic.
Under Executive Order 63, a face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals, Northam said.
The governor said face coverings do not need to be medical grade and highly recommended many websites that have instructions on how to create your own face masks with materials at home, as well options like bandannas.
He also encouraged any groups that can help provide face coverings to people who don't have them to please do that.
Governor Northam said the mask order is a "matter of public health" and not a criminal matter, so any enforcement of the new mask order will be done by health officials rather than law enforcement officials.
The governor said his goal is to protect people's health and not to get people in trouble for not wearing masks, saying he's simply asking people to respect one another.
However, pressed by reporters about how the order can be enforced, he said his office looked into the possibility of criminal enforcement and determined that violations could only be charged as a class 1 misdemeanor, which can come with large fines or even jail time, and he said that's not what he wanted.
The governor's office is expecting the General Assembly to discuss the possibility of a civil fine for violations when they re-convene for a special session at some point in the next two months, but nothing is happening on that front at this point.
So what does enforcement through the health department actually look like? The governor was very light on details when asked about that. Essentially, he said people would need to contact the Virginia Department of Health about any businesses that are not complying with the order.
He said the legality of enforcement "can get complicated in a hurry" but simply said it will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health.
Clark Mercer, Northam's chief of staff, went into a little more detail, though. He said health officials would simply issue warnings to individuals not wearing masks, but their focus will be on businesses that are "grossly negligent" in enforcing the mask order.
In the case of a business not following the mask order, the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industry can be contacted and can each take action against businesses, pulling the operating license of businesses that repeatedly refuse to comply with mask order.
On Wednesday, WHSV reached out to the Virginia Department of Health, who issued this statement about how they can enforce the order:
Asked when the mask order will be able to be lifted, Northam said the problem with any timelines looking into the future is that COVID-19 is a novel virus, with more constantly being learned and the situation constantly developing.
He said the order will be lifted as soon as it's safe to do so, but the focus is largely on protecting workers, and there is no exact timeline.
Governor Northam has said repeatedly in briefings that he hopes to have schools reopen in the fall. Asked if the state may require face coverings for students when schools do reopen, the governor said his team is considering the possibility, but will have to see what the virus does in the coming months before fall comes.
A decision will be made on potential face covering requirements by fall.
Gov. Northam said the face covering order is especially designed to protect workers who are put in vulnerable populations by interacting with customers who come into businesses not wearing masks as more businesses reopen and more people venture out.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, House Republican Caucus Chair Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, and House Republican Whip Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake issued the following statement in response to the governor's order:
“We are deeply concerned about Governor Northam’s actions today. It is unconscionable to require businesses to enforce a government mandate under threat of sanction from government agencies. This puts yet another burden on businesses already reeling from months of being shut down or severely limited."
“Throughout this episode, the Governor has acted inconsistently. Through his own actions the Governor has squandered his capital as a physician whose advice people would be willing to follow. Virginians would be much more likely to follow the suggestions of a leader who instills confidence and leads with consistency.”
With worker safety in mind, Gov. Northam said Virginia's Department of Labor and Industry is working to draft new regulations on workplace safety standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring employers to have set guidelines for controlling and preventing the spread of COVID-19 through specific measures for their workplace, including how to enforce social distancing and providing PPE for workers.
These occupational safety standards will require the approval by vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents, and hazard communication.
Upon approval, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.
Governor Northam said he's optimistic for the future with the mask order in place, because he said he's seen Virginians doing the right things to control the virus' spread. But he asked Virginians to all remember the golden rule and keep looking out for each other.
"The future will not look like the past," he said, at least for a while, but he said Virginians have stepped up in the best ways.
Governor Northam said it's essential that all of Virginia has access to the necessary personal protective equipment and that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has been working with agencies to provide all materials necessary to health care workers and first responders.
He acknowledged that there's always more work to done, and also highlighted the continuing work of the Virginia Department of Health to hire 1,200 contact tracers, saying they may starting more if needed, but the process is moving forward.
Health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked about the
, which the health department announced later in the day was due to maintenance on their technical system that had prevented the release of most numbers on Sunday.
Dr. Oliver told a reporter that he didn't see it as a discrepancy in the data, but just an update with two days worth of data.
He said their servers were improved with new memory and storage, but while the servers were down for that upgrade, no new reports from local health districts could be processed into the dashboard.
Gov. Northam said he has not been tested for COVID-19 yet in the pandemic, but that he looks forward to going to a community testing site in the near future to demonstrate how easy the test is and encourage more Virginians to get tested.
Asked once again about the possibility of reporting recovery information about Virginia's COVID-19 cases, health officials pointed Virginians to the
, which tracks the latest number of hospitalized patients who have since been discharged.
A number of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia still do not have demographic data available to the public.
Health commissioner Dr. Oliver said that is tied to the clinician who places any particular COVID-19 test, because the health department gets their data from the labs.
Dr. Oliver said they've worked to educate clinicians around Virginia on encouraging including race and ethnicity data when making lab orders for tests, and said they've seen great improvement, especially after the state was initially missing the data on more than half of cases early in Virginia's response.
He also pointed to the Health Equity Work Group, which is looking at ways to look at the data and understand exactly how communities of color have been impacted.
For employees who have returned to work or who are returning to work but don't feel comfortable in their workplace, Megan Healy, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief workforce development adviser, said the current practice for Virginia is for the employee to try working directly with their employer to improve conditions.
If that does not work, employees are encouraged to file a complaint with OSHA, which then passes the complaint on to Virginia DOLI.
DOLI is also the department that Northam announced on Tuesday is implementing emergency temporary standards for all Virginia workplaces.
However, Healy said those standards will have to be approved by health code boards, which she said should meet "soon" to consider codifying the new standards.
Dr. Laurie Forlano said Virginia's Health Equity Work Group is using software to track the communities at highest risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths based on the prevalence of chronic conditions, employment rates, poverty, and other factors, using that information to target prevention efforts at the communities in most need.
She also said the data surveillance team for the state will look into the possibility of expanding data on deaths to indicate how many head underlying conditions.
Governor Northam said his focus is on the health and well-being of Virginians, especially the health and well-being of workers.
With the mask order going into effect Friday, he encouraged Virginians to use the next few days to get ready.
He also emphasized in his closing remarks that the move is not to punish people but to promote safety because "we're all in this together."
The governor encouraged everyone to cooperate and "be a part of the solution" so that Virginia can get the health crisis in the rearview mirror and begin returning to normal.
As has been the norm for Governor Northam's COVID-19 briefings, he began Friday's by reviewing the latest data on Virginia's cases and testing, which has shown the number of tests trending upward the percent of positive tests trending downward.
However, as positive test percentages continue to trend down, the governor says it's just as important, if not more important, to continue following the basic guidelines on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing of at least 6 feet, hand-washing, and wearing a face covering in public.
Gov. Northam emphasized that wearing a face covering could potentially save someone else's life, since they are worn to protect others from yourself, with many people carrying the virus without symptoms.
The governor said face coverings are an important part of Virginia's next steps and that he'll have more to say on that next week, when the next state briefing happens on Tuesday.
While not outright saying that he'll be issuing a mask order, he very strongly suggested it.
Later in the briefing, the governor was asked about Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's request for a mask order for the capital city. Northam said he has been in communication with Richmond officials about it, but has also been discussing plans for a policy with his COVID-19 task force and working through the details.
He said one of their focuses is on equity: being able to make sure everyone has access to a mask, and pointed to many ways people can wear face coverings without purchasing a specific surgical mask, like using bandannas, or following online instructions for DIY masks without needing to sew.
Another focus, he said, has been how his administration could enforce such an order.
Masks are intended to protect other people, Northam reminded Virginians, and said that's the main goal for COVID-19 response.
He clarified that his announcement on Tuesday will be for all of Virginia and will especially apply to places of business.
The governor said he knows everyone is wondering when Virginia will enter Phase 2 and when northern Virginia, Accomack County, and Richmond will be able to enter Phase 1 with the rest of the state.
He said his team is in constant communication with the localities that are still in Phase 0 at their requests, and he'll have more on the timeline for the next phase for those areas and the rest of the state next week as well.
Governor Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health is launching a new tool to let people check their symptoms and find the closest testing site to their location.
It's called "COVID Check," a telehealth and online risk assessment tool that you can find:
Northam said it will ask you for your symptoms, and, based on your responses, give recommendations on what you should do next, including options on where you can go to get testing.
Northam highlighted the Virginia Department of Health's community testing events across the commonwealth, which included more than 4,300 tests given this week.
He thanked the Virginia National Guard, which has conducted over 10,000 tests so far, and showed a slide featuring multiple community testing events organized by the health department for the coming week, including
After thanking the National Guard for their testing assistance, Northam also thanked them for their work rescuing people from severe flooding in southwest Virginia over the past few days.
The governor also announced the pilot project approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week to allow Virginia families who receive SNAP benefits to order groceries online through select retailers and have them delivered.
Right now, the plan
, but more retailers are expected to be added in the coming weeks.
It will launch on May 29, Northam said, and will allow families with low incomes to get access to nutritious food without having to leave their homes and will help keep people with underlying conditions from having to go out.
He thanked Virginia's senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, for pushing to make the pilot program possible.
Virginia had 44,000 new claims for unemployment insurance over the past week, bringing the state's current unemployment rate up to 10.6%.
Gov. Northam pointed to the state's 2.8% rate before the pandemic as a sign of how strong Virginia was doing on the business front before COVID-19, but said his administration is working to help those left unemployed as much as possible.
Thousands of Virginians
, left unable to access a real person for help with questions and left without receiving benefits, though.
To help respond to that, Northam said on Friday that he knows many people have had difficulties, and the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is opening up a new call center with 315 additional employees to help handle the influx of calls.
With high schoolers and college students across Virginia not able to have their traditional graduation ceremonies this year, Gov. Northam announced that Virginia Public Media will be airing a celebration of all Virginia graduates called "Virginia Graduates Together" next Friday, May 29, at 5 p.m.
Across the state, all public TV channels will air the ceremony, which will feature special guests to honor 2020 graduates.
He encouraged graduating seniors to submit photos, videos, and special messages for the ceremony to Virginia Public Media at
This weekend marks Eid al-Fitr, holy days for Muslims, and Gov. Northam wished all Muslims in Virginia a blessed and joyous celebration, but encouraged safe celebrations amid the pandemic.
With this coming Monday marking Memorial Day, Gov. Northam said he's asking all Virginians to remember this weekend what the day is for and to recognize all members of the U.S. military who have given it all and made the ultimate sacrifice.
He encouraged reflections on their sacrifices and said the Virginia War Memorial's annual event will be a virtual one this Monday.
Virginia state flags will be flying at half-staff to honor all the sacrifices of the military on Monday, and at half-staff to honor COVID-19 victims over the weekend, just like President Trump's order for U.S. flags on federal buildings.
While people mark the holiday weekend, Northam encouraged all Virginians to maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and wear face coverings.
Throughout this pandemic, the Virginia Employment Commission
for people to receive unemployment insurance.
Megan Healy, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief workforce development adviser, explained that that requirement will not be re-instituted until the Virginia Employment Commission's 61 work search centers are reopen. At this point, they all remain closed and employees are working remotely.
Healy said reports that Virginia's trust fund for unemployment insurance is running out of money are correct.
While the additional $600 a week for unemployment and the PUA program are paid for directly by the federal government, she said the large influx of unemployment claims across Virginia, like around the nation, have drained the state's unemployment insurance fund, which is normally paid for through state taxes.
The state is asking the federal government for assistance.
Minutes before Gov. Northam took the podium for his briefing, President Donald Trump
and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend.
Asked for his response, Governor Northam said he wants to be sure people can practice their faith safely, and that's why his administration moved houses of worship to the same guidelines as retail in Phase 1 of the 'Forward Virginia' plan.
Both places of worship and retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity with social distancing measures and increased sanitation in place.
However, he said he's not requiring houses of worship to open up to in-person services and knows many have chosen to continue drive-in or live-streamed services. It's up to the individual church, mosque, temple, or other house of worship.
Asked about one day this week in which the Virginia Department of Health statistics indicated a rise of dozens of deaths in a day, the governor reiterated a point state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has made before, which is that the deaths added to the state database in a given day don't necessarily line up with when the deaths occurred. That's due to delays between death certificates being filed, the healthcare agency reporting that death to their local health district, and the health district then reporting the death to the health department.
So on the state level, they are focusing directly on the death certificates and their issued dates to analyze any potential spikes, following every death, because he said every death is important.
Dr. Forlano, who has been heading up Virginia's task force focused on responding to COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Virginia, said there are 43 facilities statewide in the process of testing everyone for COVID-19 at this moment. That's in addition to point prevalence testing conducted at other facilities in recent weeks.
While they'll be releasing aggregate data from that testing on the overall situation at Virginia long-term care facilities, they are not planning to provide specifics about the number of cases at any given facility, in line with previous health department guidance treating facilities as "persons."
The governor issued a reminder that all Virginians in areas that are still under Phase 0 – Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County – are still under the 'Stay at Home' order and should only leave home for essential reasons.
He urged them not to travel over Memorial Day weekend to other parts of Virginia that may be further along the reopening process.
Asked about how those ares being behind the guidelines for the rest of the state will affect the overall reopening timeline, Gov. Northam once again went back to his description of the state guidelines as "a floor," with regions able to have more restrictions, but not less.
That plan is not changing, the governor said, but the rest of Virginia will not have to wait on Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County either. He said each of those areas will stay on their own timelines and is expected to move into Phase 1, 2, and 3 at different times than the rest of the commonwealth.
Asked about why Virginia does not report the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19, health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver explained that the VDH system is set up to identify cases as they're reported and then trace any people potentially exposed to the Virginians with confirmed cases.
The department does not provide care to the patients, so he said they don't necessarily know any information about the recovery of each person with a case.
Instead, the health department's limit is reporting the cases as they get them, providing the information on those cases – including on local levels down to the ZIP code – and that's about it, because they don't have continuing data on each case.
However, state officials do point people to the
reported each day, which tracks the number of active hospitalizations for COVID-19 and the number of previously hospitalized patients who have been discharged.
There's a lot of information on patients who have recovered, officials said, especially since that encompasses at least 95% of people who contract the virus. And we should celebrate those who survive and recover, they said.
Dr. Laurie Forlano said the VDH website has guidelines on when providers should use different kind of testing, like antibody tests, but said everyone is still learning about the best role of antibody testing in the process. She encouraged people to talk to their healthcare providers directly about potential antibody tests.
In addition, health commissioner Dr. Oliver encouraged any Virginians who have gotten antibody tests and tested positive for the COVID-19 antibody to still take all necessary precautions to prevent getting the virus, because it's not clear yet whether testing positive for the antibody actually prevents someone from being infected.
Public health secretary Brian Moran said traffic on Virginia's roads has been significantly reduced throughout the pandemic as people stay at home, and they expect low numbers this Memorial Day weekend, but they have seen some ridiculous three-digit speeding tickets of drivers taking advantage of the empty roads.
He encouraged anyone traveling this weekend to observe the speed limit, stay safe, and arrive safely.
Governor Northam closed out Friday's briefing by asking Virginians to mark Memorial Day with respect and remembrance for the many men and women who have paid the ultimate price in service of their country.
He said to thank any active duty military members and veterans if you see them this weekend as well.
He also said that he likes to give homework over the weekends, as he has mentioned at past briefings, and this weekend's has to do with masks.
Even more strongly suggesting a pending mask order than earlier in the briefing, he said all Virginians should make plans this weekend for you and your family to have face coverings.
All children 3 and up are encouraged to wear face masks in most guidance so far, and Northam said that's because children are likely to carry the virus without showing symptoms and potentially spread it to others.
He encouraged Virginians to find any way to get face coverings that is available to them – whether that's by buying them at local stores, making them with online instructions, or using bandannas or other materials you already have.
And be ready on Tuesday to go out with those face coverings when conducting any public business, if you're not already, he said.
Meanwhile, his administration will be doing their work by finalizing the details of the new policy they expect to announce on Tuesday.
Governor Ralph Northam began Wednesday's briefing by noting that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management started offering a version of his briefings on Monday with live Spanish language interpretation on the VDEM Facebook page. That will continue for the foreseeable future.
As is the norm for the governor, who has been noted throughout the pandemic as the nation's only medical doctor serving as a governor, he reviewed the most recent data on Virginia's COVID-19 case trends.
Northam pointed to the state's percent positivity, which has been steadily decreasing over the past week with more testing.
He reminded Virginians that there are multiple ways to get tested for COVID-19 amid the pandemic, including the most common avenues through healthcare providers, hospitals, and clinics, as well as through community testing events sponsored by local health districts.
A key part of the testing process comes after a test returns with a positive result, and that's contact tracing – through which health department officials determine anyone who was in close contact with an infected person and instruct those people to self-quarantine.
The governor touched back on a topic that state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has been addressing for a few weeks, which is that the Virginia Department of Health is working to hire 1,000 contact tracers and 200 supervisors for contact tracing efforts in the state.
After questions were raised in recent days regarding the supply of personal protective equipment in Virginia, Gov. Northam said that PPE is at a place where hospitals have an adequate supply.
No hospitals have reported problems obtaining PPE for a few weeks now, but this week, the
, and there are at least 10 without enough N95 masks and 21 without enough isolation gowns.
The governor said the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a stockpile available for any facility in need, but that healthcare providers need to let the department know, so that resources can be provided.
According to Northam, VDEM, so far in the pandemic, has distributed more than 795,000 N95 masks, 1.3 million surgical masks, 3 million gloves, 285,331 isolation gowns, 427,000 face shields, and 24,359 containers of hand sanitizer to facilities around the state.
He said the department's priority is to support response at facilities deemed high risk and to support those reporting need.
But, Northam said, the directive has been that healthcare providers should exhaust supplies of PPE obtained from private supply chains before asking for public supplies. He said the Department of General Services established a rapid review process for vendors that can supply PPE to healthcare providers and has a list of suppliers online at
Northam also described a Virginia partnership with Amazon to support PPE orders directly and an effort by FEMA to ship PPE directly to Virginia nursing homes, with two shipments so far, each with at least a week's worth of equipment.
If a facility has run out of PPE obtained through private supply chains, he said the facility needs to contact the Virginia Department of Emergency Management so that state officials can get them more.
Governor Northam took part of Wednesday's briefing to discuss access to health care in Virginia, which he said he believes is a right.
The governor said the
has allowed more than 421,000 Virginians to enroll in Medicaid coverage, offering health care to people who did not have access before.
Praising the Medicaid expansion, Northam said families have been able to get treatment for underlying conditions that can make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, and said everyone "should be grateful" for the expanded coverage during this pandemic.
However, he said there's more work to do for all Virginians to have access to health care, so to help with that, he announced that he's convening a new work group that will focus on identifying ways to reduce costs and increase access to healthcare for all Virginians.
Also, in light of his efforts to expand access, Northam commended the General Assembly for banning "balanced billing" in the most recent legislative session, but declared that he's vetoing three bills: Senate Bill 861, Senate Bill 235, and House Bill 795.
The governor said each of those bills passed by lawmakers would address health care costs for targeted groups of Virginians but that he felt it best to veto them to focus on "more broad-based health care solutions for all Virginians."
He encouraged the bills' sponsors to work with the new work group to find solutions for a broader group.
AARP Virginia swiftly issued a response applauding the governor's vetoes, saying he "used his veto power today to stop three health care measures that would have had a calamitous impact on older and sicker Virginians."
Gov. Northam said he's well aware that people in recovery from substance abuse disorders are facing increased challenges during the pandemic, describing increases in overdoses in Roanoke County and
He said his administration is working to respond to that situation by encouraging telehealth and loosening restrictions to allow more telehealth options for substance abuse treatment, promoting video meetings for recovery groups, and pushing other similar options.
The governor said the Department of Behavioral Health has a list of ongoing virtual recovery groups on their website.
, Gov. Northam said the day went smoothly, thanking Virginia's Board of Elections and the thousands of volunteers around the state who helped maintain safe polling places for in-person voting.
Northam also thanked Virginians for following the state's recommendation to vote absentee by mail. He said more than 55,000 absentee ballots were cast for Tuesday, compared to around 1,700 in the comparable May local election in 2016.
Looking ahead to the next election, Virginia's June primaries, he said the state is again is strongly encouraging people to vote absentee by mail.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot, which can be done online or through your local registrar's office, is 5 p.m. on June 16, a week ahead of the election day itself o June 23.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, Virginia's Health Equity Work Group, which Gov. Northam has frequently discussed at his briefings, will be holding a live meeting that Virginians can view on WRIC, the ABC affiliate in Richmond.
As the Virginia National Guard has worked around the commonwealth to provide testing through local health district community testing events and coordinated nursing home testing, four Guard members have tested positive for COVID-19.
The head of Virginia's National Guard said those four members were out of over 120 helping provide testing statewide and that none of the National Guard members working in the field are carrying the virus.
He said they are rigorously screened ahead of each testing event.
The Guard is focusing on testing as many long-term care centers as possible, with health department coordination, but that's just one component of their overall testing effort, according to Command Sergeant Major Ronald L. Smith Jr..
They've also requested funding from the federal government for the Guard to offer more resources at local testing events.
Asked how Virginia is responding to the need for tests in low-income and minority communities around Virginia, Gov. Northam said he'll bring a list on Friday to highlight the lower socio-economic communities around the state with planned health district testing events.
Northam said it's key to be able to enter Phases 2 and 3 that adequate testing is available to everyone around the commonwealth, and said Dr. Karen Remley's testing work group is working hand-in-hand with the health department to make that possible.
He also thanked the work of free health clinics across Virginia, which have seen
, even with dropping donations as they work to expand access to health care.
Calling healthcare a right, the governor said he wants "all Virginians to have access to quality and affordable care."
Asked what data metrics he and his cabinet are using to determine when Virginia can begin Phase 2 or determine if any localities need to go back to increased restrictions, the governor said they're using the same metrics that were used to enter Phase 1.
In particular, those focus on the number of new cases, percent positivity, the amount of PPE available, testing capability, hospital capacity and equipment available at hospitals, as well as staffing available at healthcare centers.
Northam said each of those is based on guidance from the CDC and the White House, and their focus is on trends in the data over week and two-week spans: not particularly paying attention to day by day numbers, which vary.
He said they currently do not have any specific thresholds, like a specific percent positivity increase, that would result in increased restrictions for a locality.
However, the governor said his team meets every day to review the latest data to catch any potential dangerous increase in cases at a locality's level, since the best way to prevent escalations is to catch them at the start.
He said if trends rise in a specific locality or zip code, action will be taken as needed, whether that be offering more testing or reversing Phase 1 guidelines, but said that hasn't had to be done yet.
If any localities choose to ignore the state guidelines, regardless of data, Northam said he'll direct concerns about that to the locality.
Governor Northam said his staff is in daily communication with leaders throughout Northern Virginia to determine how that region, which remains in Phase 0 at local leaders' request, will move forward.
Asked about his response to specific localities, including parts of counties and cities in the area, requesting to enter parts of Phase 1 guidance, he said the policy is for the guidelines in place to be "the floor" and that localities within the area can go farther with restrictions but not loosen them to keep consistency for the region, which has also been coordinating with Maryland and Washington, D.C.
While his team is following the latest data trends, Northam said he does not have a specific date set yet for the start of Phase 2, which would come, at the earliest, on May 29.
Northam said it will happen when the data supports it and when local leaders are comfortable with it.
Asked about funding being provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Northam said a significant amount will be directed toward testing supplies and staff to administer tests at long-term care facilities, as well as boosting Virginia's contact tracing capability.
On the note of contact tracing, health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked about the process and how information on people is shared.
Dr. Oliver explained that contact tracers working with local health districts speak someone who has just received a positive test for COVID-19, have them isolate themselves, determine who the person has been in close contact with, and reach out to each of those people to instruct them to self-quarantine.
Throughout the time that someone is self-quarantined, contact tracers stay in communication with them to help them manage the process and check in on how they're doing and progressing. If their condition changes, they're urged to seek treatment and testing.
While people are under observation in self-quarantine, Dr. Oliver said their names are not released to the public, but that they do encourage people to release their names to healthcare providers for help with monitoring conditions, and assistance with getting food, medicine, and other services.
Anytime a community testing event has been scheduled, the governor said health districts are reaching out to legislators and local officials for their help spreading the word, as well as looking to local media to share the information on when and where the events are happening.
When testing is available in a particular neighborhood, Gov. Northam said they encouraged not only people with symptoms to get tested, but anyone who may be concerned they were exposed or worried because they live with a vulnerable person and want to be sure they won't spread the virus. Those providing the testing will not turn anyone way.
Northam said if any specific locality wants health district testing, they can notify their local health district and the Virginia Department of Health, which will then work with them to get their area testing. If they let VDEM know the situation, more PPE can be provided as well.
Asked to reflect on Virginia's progress in the pandemic, Northam said that it was a rough start, like most of the country, but pointed to better supplies, better testing capacity, and better healthcare preparedness now, thanking Virginians for working through a difficult time for everyone and for following the state's guidelines.
He compared the novel virus to a novel, saying that every day brings a new chapter or two to the situation, and that while he wishes he knew how the last chapter will read, no one does yet, and everyone is in it together to get there as safely as possible.
Virginia's deputy secretary of commerce and trade came to the podium to address a reporter's question about guidance for businesses that may not fit the traditional definitions for which most guidance has been offered.
She said the department has a comprehensive suite of guidelines for businesses that can open with restrictions in Phase 1, but any events and/or businesses, like flea markets and yard sales, that aren't brick-and-mortar retail establishments just need to meet the general guidelines for Phase 1, including face coverings for workers who interact with people, sanitation of high-touch surfaces, protections for workers, and all basic guidelines that apply to businesses in general.
Governor Northam said there is no specific date for Phase 2 at this point. His team will keep watching the data in the coming days, with the earliest possible date being May 29, but as of now, no date is set and no date is set for him to announce a decision, since it's based on data changing day by day.
The Virginia Employment Commission, which manages the unemployment insurance program in the commonwealth, is overseen by the federal government and has to follow federal guidelines.
Because of that, while schools have been closed, their closure has provided a legally acceptable reason for unemployment, summer coming means that is about to change, and they'll be federally mandated to stop unemployment benefits when that's the provided reason.
So the VEC says they are working to figure out options related to childcare in the summer months.
Governor Northam said he wants to let everyone know he understands everyone has been through a very difficult time over these months, as a lot of people have made sacrifices, many have lost their jobs, access to healthcare and PPE has been a challenge, and addition has become its own crisis.
However, he said he wants people to remember that everyone is on edge right now. He mentioned the ice cream shop in Michigan that had to close back down due to customers being extremely rude on their first day back open, and said people need to understand that everyone has been under stress.
We can agree to disagree on specific things, the governor said, but "at the end of the day, we all have to work together."
He said his message to Virginians, who live in the best state in the country, is to "be kind," because that's how everyone can get through the pandemic together and get the health crisis and then the economic crisis behind us.
Governor Ralph Northam began Monday's briefing with a reminder for all Virginians to keep following all CDC and VDH guidelines for their safety throughout Phase 1.
It's a gradual process of lifting restrictions and does not mean that the pandemic is over, he reminded everyone, and, if anything, said it's more important than ever as more places open up to keep following all recommendations.
Speaking about masks and face coverings, Northam said some people may find it inconvenient, but urged everyone to remember that it can save other people's lives.
He said from what he's seen, most people have been following the guidelines, and he appreciates that.
Gov. Northam quickly highlighted the latest data on COVID-19 testing in Virginia, showing graphs and charts that have become a mainstay of his thrice-weekly briefings.
The latest numbers continue trends of increased testing in Virginia, along with decreased percent positivity – the amount of Virginians who got tests who test positive over a 7-day span.
He said his team's focus has been to ramp up testing specifically in areas with at-risk populations, using a map from the Virginia Department of Health showing all the current health department-sponsored testing sites in at-risk areas, with many in northern Virginia, which has seen, by far, the highest proportion of cases in the commonwealth.
Northam also pointed to the work of Virginia's Health Equity Group, which is distributing masks and hand sanitizer, along with educational flyers, in high-risk areas identified by health officials.
The next plan for that distribution is in Petersburg, alongside testing, on May 23.
The group previously rolled out a similar initiative
and will carry out another one in Richmond.
Governor Northam announced in Monday's COVID-19 briefing that Virginia Beach will be opening up to the public for recreational activity as of Friday, May 22, kicking off Memorial Day weekend.
The governor said Virginia Beach specifically had been working on a comprehensive plan to reopen their beach safely, with social distancing measures in place, for weeks, and that he had asked Virginia's director of natural resources to help them toughen up their plan.
With a new plan in place that the governor says will allow safer use of the beach, he approved Virginia Beach's request to reopen on May 22 for activities including swimming, surfing, fishing, and other recreational activities.
Not allowed will be group activities, including group sports like volleyball, speakers playing music to large groups, alcohol, tents and groups of umbrellas, and other group-related activities.
The city's parking garages and parking lots for the beach will be limited to 50 percent capacity as a way to reduce group sizes.
However, Gov. Northam said if people swarm the beach and ignore restrictions, he "will not hesitate" to put restrictions back into place and go as far as closing the beach if necessary.
Northam said his message to any beach-goers is simple: "You must be responsible."
The governor invited the Virginia Beach mayor to the podium, and the mayor said he believes opening up beaches is healthy for people physically, mentally, and emotionally.
However, he said he and the governor share a primary concern, which is making sure that people who go to the beach to receive those health benefits do it safely.
The mayor said the city's plan is meant to protect visitors, residents, and the thousands of frontline staff who keep businesses along the beach running.
To do that, the city has hired hundreds of people to serve as "beach ambassadors," who will help coordinated efforts to clean high-touch surfaces and will enforce the beach's regulations.
They'll also have teams dedicated to educating visitors about the new rules.
Acknowledging that beaches around the country have faced compliance problems, he said he wants people to know that they are welcome to Virginia Beach and are safe, but that the city is asking them to comply with the rules.
Those rules, the mayor said, will benefit everyone as friends and neighbors.
Governor Northam emphasized that the opening applies only to Virginia Beach and First Landing State Park – not to any other beaches in the state.
But he encouraged other beaches to look to Virginia Beach's plan as a model for any reopening plans for the future.
The Virginia Republican Party's response on Monday was mixed.
"We're finally seeing movement in the right direction, but there is still a disappointing lack of trust in people and local governments to be able to use what we know about this virus to be able to open as safely as possible," said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert. "We can’t stay shuttered forever. The Governor’s energy should be focused on providing specific guidance to people and businesses on how to interact safely rather than telling them what they can’t do."
In late March, Gov. Northam became the first state governor
, followed in the coming weeks and months by similar decisions in other states.
Northam said on Monday that his administration's decision on school closings proved to be the right choice.
But, moving into the summer, he said he knows that school staff and administrators, along with families, are looking at what will come next in the fall.
In regards to that, Gov. Northam
that will meet with Virginia's public health team in the coming weeks to develop specific "next steps" for public and private K-12 schools, as well as for colleges and universities.
The team is made up of local school superintendents, public and private college and university presidents, school officials, the Virginia Department of Education, and student representatives.
It's called the Virginia COVID-19 Education Work Group, and representatives of the group say they're focusing their guidance on making sure Virginia schools have consistent guidelines on continuity of learning.
Responding to a question about how important is is to him to get students back into schools by the fall, Northam said it was an easy question because "it's very important."
He commended educators for the work they've done throughout the pandemic to move into new forms of virtual educations and other ways to keep students learning, but said it's not a perfect solution.
His view, he said, is that children will be better off back in classrooms because, as he described it, it's an equity issue. He pointed to the 550,000 families across Virginia who don't have access to broadband and don't have ways to access virtual education.
"I am hopeful that our students will be back in the classroom this fall," Northam said.
The newly appointed team will find ways to make that safely happen.
Most courts across Virginia
after the end of a judicial emergency order from the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Unfortunately, Northam said, that means some eviction cases that been put on hold will be moving forward.
While the governor is not specifically deferring eviction cases or taking any similar action, he highlighted a number of actions his administration has taken and resources available.
The governor said his cabinet is working with Virginia Housing, the state housing agency, which has committed $12 million to support nonprofit housing support services for anyone who may have lost housing.
He also said legislation was amended earlier in the pandemic to allow tenants a 60-day deferral on eviction if they can prove COVID-19-related economic hardships.
Northam said his team is pushing the federal government to include money for rent assistance in any future federal stimulus package.
In addition, the governor said
has resources for landlords, tenants, and the homeless, as well as a summary of resources for people in need of housing assistance.
Asked if he'll be taking any further measures, like have been taken in some states to defer the need for people to go to court to submit financial documents to prove financial hardship, the governor reiterated the moves he had already described.
Gov. Northam announced that Dr. Jeff Stern, the coordinator of emergency management for Virginia, is moving on to work with FEMA, where he will train emergency managers around the country.
Local elections in many areas around the state are happening on Tuesday, and Gov. Northam said he hopes most Virginians already voted absentee by mail, but said crews will be hard at work cleaning and putting social distancing measures in place at polling locations so everyone can be safe as possible when voting.
The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps will be helping to staff polling places to reduce risk to many normal volunteers who may be in vulnerable populations.
Some candidates for local elections in November have a deadline to file a petition with enough signatures to get their names on the November ballot by June 9.
State officials said that neither Virginia's department of elections, nor the governor, can change that deadline under their statutory authority.
However, Northam encouraged all candidates to find ways to be creative going forward to try and get those petitions completed, and said, if unable, they can petition the courts for relief.
Gov. Northam was asked why facial coverings are mandatory for some sectors of retail in Phase 1 while not for others. He said a lot of what went into that decision boiled down to focusing on those who serve others, like restaurant and grocery store employees, which led to a priority for facial coverings.
Coming back to a point made in past briefings, Northam said it's very important to his administration that Virginians can make it known if they don't feel comfortable in their workplace. While Virginia has to work within federal guidelines on unemployment insurance and other standards, the governor again issued a reminder that any employee can file a complaint through the
if their workplace is unsafe or can contact OSHA.
He said he's tried to be as open as possible about that and encouraged Virginians to use the options available to them.
Remdesivir is the only drug to receive some level of FDA approval as a potential COVID-19 treatment. It has showed effectiveness in shortening symptoms for some of the most severe cases of the viruses and in reducing mortality.
According to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, Gilead Sciences, the developer of the drug, donated about a million and a half doses to the federal government, which then sent out initial shipments to hospitals with high numbers of cases, including in northern Virginia.
After that, any new distributions have been sent directly to the Virginia Department of Health, where a medical advisory committee of healthcare providers has developed an allocation process to randomly select hospitals in Virginia for remdesivir distribution.
Dr. Oliver said the process is set up so that every individual patient hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia has an equally random chance at receiving the medication.
For instance, Virginia recently got 10 cases of the drug, which were distributed through that process, and has 96 cases, containing enough medication for about 400 patients, coming in now. Dr. Oliver said the process will be used for that shipment as well to give everyone an equal chance of receiving it.
As testing has increased in Virginia, percent positivity has been slowly declining. Dr. Forlano said the goal for Virginia is to get down to a 10% rate or lower. The trends are moving in that direction, but it will take some time.
Last week, the Legislative Black Caucus
, saying that black people would be "used as guinea pigs" in the reopening plan.
Gov. Northam was asked again on Monday about how he's addressed their concerns, and he pointed back to his answer on Friday, which primarily related to the work of Virginia's Health Equity Group, which has focused on getting tests, PPE, and support into minority communities at high risk of the virus.
The CDC has recently
around the country that appears to be connected to COVID-19.
State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said the Virginia Department of Health has learned of one case of the syndrome in Virginia and is getting more data.
Gov. Northam said the situation surrounding the potential effects on children is a great example of the need for antibody tests, because the syndrome can happen weeks after a child was exposed to the virus, when a PCR test would give a negative result but an antibody test would show the child had contracted the virus.
Dr. Karen Remley, head of Virginia's testing task force, said that about two weeks ago, the recommendation in Virginia was for anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or anyone who had been in close contact with someone with symptoms to get tested for the virus.
Those were the criteria regular testing sites, like hospitals, were looking for.
However, she said many opportunities for others have been available around the states, including testing for people getting elective procedures, for mothers about to give birth, and at some pharmacies.
As far as testing offered by local health districts in certain communities,
, Dr. Remley said the testing is designed to focus on high-risk areas, and that will remain their first focus.
She also said that any health department event is meant for people who are symptomatic or who think they've been exposed, but their approach is to never turn anyone away from testing at those mobile testing sites.
Dr. Remley also said some labs and clinics in the state are still submitting COVID-19 test results through paper methods while they continue working to get their electronic systems to sync up with the Virginia Department of Health, so that has resulted in delays between some tests being processed and when they appear in the state system. As that gets resolved, testing numbers each day should appear higher.
On Monday, the VHHA
> across Virginia.
One of the key things it showed was that a number of nursing homes are still reporting difficulties obtaining personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and isolation gowns.
Gov. Northam said the state has PPE in stock and has an incoming shipment. He essentially said that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) has the supplies if nursing homes follow the correct process to request more.
The governor said the department is working with licensed nursing facilities to make sure they know the process, and said it's unacceptable that nursing homes would ask workers to use the same equipment until it's unsafe, as some workers have reported happening.
Virginia has a great stock of PPE now, after earlier shortages, Northam reiterated, and said it's available to any nursing home, prison, hospital, or similar facility that requests it through VDEM.
If anyone is hearing of PPE shortages at local nursing homes, he told them that the administrators can request the material and then state officials will work to get it to them.
"This virus has not changed," Northam said, emphasizing that it's critically important for people to keep following CDC guidelines, keep physically distancing, and keep wearing face coverings to protect others as more places open up.
"We are all responsible for the health of our neighbors and of our community," he said.
Governor Ralph Northam began Friday's briefing by discussing the way testing data is reported in Virginia, which became a hot topic earlier this week.
On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health
, rather than only reporting all tests together.
Gov. Northam said he first became aware that the department was reporting the testing data altogether on Monday. That's the same day health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked in the state briefing why his department was counting the antibody tests in the total number reported each day.
At the time, Dr. Oliver said the health department had tried to follow all CDC guidelines on testing, but that without a federal guideline on whether to count antibody tests with lab tests, Virginia looked to other states and followed their lead to include all the tests together.
Chief of staff Clark Mercer defended the practice, saying "we can't win" because the state gets criticized for low testing numbers by not including something like serologic tests while other states include it and then gets criticized for including it when they try to be consistent with other states.
Dr. Oliver then said they would look into listing the numbers separately each day.
On Friday, the governor said he became aware of the situation on Monday, and, knowing that the FDA has found antibody tests to be less reliable than diagnostic tests, went to the health department and asked for the info to be separated out.
Refining the system to display that information on the VDH website dashboard took several days to get the tool working properly, according to the governor.
Essentially, diagnostic (or PCR) tests are the nasal swabs processed in labs to confirm a case of COVID-19. Antibody (or serology) tests test a person's blood for antibodies to COVID-19 to determine if they have had the virus. At the start of the pandemic, antibody tests were extremely rare, but more and more are being administered now.
With Virginia's testing data separated, it shows about nine percent of the total tests have been antibody tests.
But, Northam said, the key is that when the antibody tests are taken out of the number, the trends remain largely the same, with declining case averages and increasing test numbers.
From this point forward, the testing data will be reported separately, especially as more antibody tests are approved by the FDA in the weeks to come.
Governor Northam says Virginia has continued to make significant process on testing more people around the commonwealth, pointing to there being 58 public testing sites on April 21 and 215 as of Friday, with 52 more lined up next week. Those are in addition to standard testing sites.
He thanked the cooperation of facilities from hospitals to free clinics to health departments and pharmacies, but did not mention the announcement he had hinted at earlier in the week about testing coming in partnership with Walmart.
Phase 1 of reopening Virginia has officially begun, and the governor reminded Virginians that it is a slight easing of restrictions. He has previously described it as turning a dimmer switch up slightly rather than flipping a light switch.
This phase of reopening, which will last from two to four weeks, comes with the Stay at Home order shifting to a 'Safer at Home' order that asks Virginians who are most vulnerable to the virus to stay home and encourages all others that it's the safest option.
Social gatherings of more than 10 are still prohibited and social distancing still needs to occur, per CDC guidelines. Teleworking is also still a strong recommendation, and the governor is strongly encouraging everyone to wear face masks in public, though not requiring it.
He said his primary concern throughout the pandemic has been public health and said that reason is why he approved the requests from Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County, to delay entering Phase 1 by two weeks.
Governor Ralph Northam addressed the April 2020 Revenue Report that was released on Thursday, acknowledging that it was the first report to show a major loss in state revenue due to COVID-19.
It recorded a 26.2% decrease in state revenue from April of 2019, which came out to around a $700 million decrease.
By the end of June, Gov. Northam is predicting a $1 billion total loss for Virginia revenue.
His finance secretary, Aubrey Layne, said the report wasn't all bad news though. He said payroll revenue was still up, showing that while the state has been impacted, economic activity has not shut down and many people have still been working.
Layne also said that 20% of Virginia's revenue comes from sales tax, which stayed even for April, largely reflecting increased online sales and a lot of activity at large grocery stores.
He also pointed to
Layne said having a strong economy going into the pandemic has helped Virginia, but attributed much of the April reduction to state tax revenue that would normally be collected but was not this year, given the extension of tax deadlines.
He highlighted a number of a ways the state is sending money to local governments, including around $650 million being distributed by the start of June to help with coronavirus response, as well as $121 million sent through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to boost testing.
Gov. Northam said his administration knows some employees will have concerns as businesses reopen and expand operations during Phase 1 and moving forward. The governor said anyone who feels their workplace is unsafe can contact the
to report their workplace and make a complaint.
As far as workers who are afraid to return to work because of medical reasons or underlying conditions in family members, the governor said the state is restricted by federal guidelines on unemployment insurance. Northam formally asked Virginia's Congressional delegation earlier this week to work to provide more flexibility in unemployment standards, but Congress has not yet acted on that.
Northam said he's also instructed the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to provide flexibility if any worker can show their workplace is unsafe for them and that his cabinet will work to get them support.
Noting that May's local elections are coming up this coming Tuesday, the governor encouraged all Virginians to vote absentee if possible.
Northam said easing restrictions "does not mean we can behave like we used to." Instead, it means a gradual reopening while people should stay at home as much as possible, wash their hands an increased amount, stay six feet away from others, and wear face coverings to protect themselves and others.
Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said the Virginia Department of Health is now in the final stages of their massive hiring effort to get 1,000 new contact tracers and is developing the onboarding plan for all of the new hires.
As usual in the state briefings, Dr. Oliver recapped the latest case statistics for Virginia, including the demographics of results. As of May 15, about 44% of all cases identified in Virginia have been among the Latino community and 23% of all cases among the African-American population. About 24% of deaths have been among black Virginians and 10% of deaths among Latino Virginians.
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said the Virginia Department of Corrections has "gone to extraordinary steps" to protect the health and safety of inmates and correctional staff at Virginia's prisons.
He highlighted a recent court ruling that dismissed an allegation of cruel and unusual punishment against Virginia correctional facilities, saying the judge's decision to toss that case shows the work they have done.
When asked about the situation at Dillwyn Correctional Center, Moran said the reason they know there are so many cases there is because they were able to conduct point prevalence testing, as they've done at multiple facilities across Virginia and plan to do at more in the coming week.
Asked about prisoners being on "lockdown," he said it simply means that units are kept separate to reduce any potential spread of COVID-19 between different units in a prison, saying that's in the best interest of officers and offenders.
Responding to a question about what went wrong at Dillwyn, he said "nothing went wrong," pointing to their continued following of CDC guidelines.
With Northern Virginia, Accomack County, and Richmond all not entering Phase 1 for at least two weeks, Gov. Northam said he's aware that granting requests from individual localities for their own approach goes against what he said earlier in the pandemic would not be a cohesive approach.
However, on Friday, he said that the change came because the pandemic is "a fluid situation" with constantly changing data and information about the spread of the virus.
"Things change," Northam said, adding that that's his doctor's perspective.
Since the data has progressed with some regions of Virginia not seeing the promising trends that others have seen, he said his team responded to local leaders' requests accordingly because local leaders know their area better.
Asked about a request from some local leaders in the western side of Loudoun County, who asked to be able to enter Phase 1 on schedule and let the eastern side of the county delay, the governor said "carving up counties" and picking particular towns within counties would get out of hand be difficult for the public to follow.
Northam also said picking out data for a particular small area without considering the larger area could show something that's not the full picture as well.
He said his concentration is on public safety to keep Virginians and their families safe.
Northam anticipates that numbers will continue improving, so long as everyone follows the guidelines, so that each of the areas with delays can move into Phase 1 soon.
On Monday, Gov. Northam said after outcry in the city of Petersburg as city officials shut off water to some residents amid the pandemic, the Virginia Department of Health issued a public health order requiring the city to restore water service to 45 homes and blocking the city from shutting anyone else's water off.
On Friday, he answered a reporter's question, acknowledging that the situation was brought to his attention by a state delegate, but said the move was made because he believes all of Virginia has to come together to make sure everyone has access to running water.
The Culpeper County sheriff, who previously made headlines by vowing to deputize citizens in his county if Virginia[s General Assembly passed new gun laws during their session earlier this year, has said he will not enforce the regulations under Gov. Northam's executive order requiring certain business restrictions to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
As of Friday, Culpeper County has 343 COVID-19 cases, 27 hospitalizations, and 5 deaths.
Asked for his response, Northam simply said, "I don't think that's a good idea, and we'll deal with that."
Asked if he sees the role of law enforcement as important to businesses navigating Phase 1 by enforcing violations if needed, the governor's response was "Absolutely."
The briefing then moved on to the next question.
In Virginia, local law enforcement and Virginia State Police can enforce the business restrictions and social gatherings rules set down in Executive Order 53 by issuing Class 1 misdemeanor citations.
With local elections this Tuesday, May 19, Governor Ralph Northam said while he and his administration have encouraged absentee voting, they are using the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps and the National Guard to staff polling places that would normally be filled with volunteers at a vulnerable age to COVID-19, will be providing PPE to polling places, cleaning machines, implementing social distancing, and taking numerous measures to try to keep voting as safe it can be.
"Someone shouldn't have to choose between their health and voting," the governor said.
He said that was the reason for his original request to move May's local elections to November, but the Virginia Senate chose not to vote on the measure after the House of Delegates approved it. "So here we are," the governor said.
He said he appreciates people abiding by guidelines and voting to keep democracy strong.
The city of Richmond officially requested localized data from the Virginia Department of Health this week that would break down the 7-day average of how many tests have come back positive each day.
It's a key metric Northam has been using for the state as a whole, but was not previously available on local levels.
As to why not, the governor said the VDH website is constantly being updated to report data sets in improved and clearer ways, and health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said they are always looking to increase the diversity and granularity of data, like the
State officials said they will keep adding new functionality to the state coronavirus dashboard because COVID-19 is a novel virus and more will keep being learned about the situation.
The governor said the health department moved as quickly as possible to get a tool built to display the 7-day percent positivity average for all localities, though Richmond was the only locality making the request, and it's now available for all localities.
Based on that newly available data, the governor said if any local government decides they need to implement more severe restrictions, they can request that like Richmond, Accomack County, and Northern Virginia did.
Virginia Beach has said that they're working on a comprehensive plan to potentially open up more activity on beaches by Memorial Day weekend.
Gov. Northam said the city is working with state officials on that plan and that he'll be making an announcement, probably on Monday, about Virginia's beaches moving into Memorial Day.
He said Virginia Beach's approach is to make sure everything is done safely, which he supports.
Governor Northam was asked if a count, for instance, has zero confirmed cases and wants to move into Phase 2 earlier than others, how he would respond to that request. He said "we're open for that discussion" but no decisions on the idea have been made yet.
This week, the Legislative Black Caucus
, saying that black people would be "used as guinea pigs" in the reopening plan.
Gov. Northam said he appreciates and listens to the caucus' input and addressed some of the concerns they outlined in their letter to him, saying that his Health Equity Taskforce has been working to get more PPE into minority communities in places like Harrisonburg and Richmond.
With testing as another major concerned outlined in their letter, he said that has also ramped up through the task force, alongside PPE, and that those efforts are still expanding.
Addressing their concern about childcare, he talked about $68 million through the CARES Act that Virginia is putting toward child care.
Overall, he said he is taking the caucus;' input seriously, following the data, and will keep working with them to make sure people feel safe continuing with their lives.
"If we all work together, we can head in a great direction," Northam said in conclusion to Friday's briefing, asking Virginians to continue being vigilant and working together to keep the state moving in a positive direction.
The last thing the state needs, he said, as a health and an economic issue, is to have to go back to earlier restrictions.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced earlier this week
until "further notice" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, Governor Northam said that the department's customer service centers would all be closed through at least May 18.
On Wednesday, he announced a new plan for DMV offices moving forward.
Starting on Monday, May 18, Northam says the DMV, which has had all public offices closed since March, will begin gradually reopening their locations.
It will start with 11 DMV centers in seven of Virginia's eight regions. The governor did not state which specific centers will be included.
With Northern Virginia facing a 2-week delayed start to Phase 1, no locations in that region will reopen yet.
The 11 customer service centers that will open on Monday will focus just on services that require going to the DMV in person, including getting an original driver's license or registration or title, vital records, and getting disabled parking permits.
They'll also only be open by appointment, and customers will wait in their vehicles before going inside.
The governor still encourages people to
if at all possible.
Gov. Northam highlighted the increase of testing around Virginia in the recent weeks, rising from around 2,000 tests a day to more than 8,000 as of Wednesday's case updates.
He said that is moving closer to the goal of 10,000 tests a day in the commonwealth.
Much of that testing, the governor said, has been at long-term care centers, and those facilities will continue to be a testing priority for the health department.
Northam also said drug stores and pharmacies have been stepping up efforts to provide testing in many communities, specifically mentioning work by Rite Aid, which he said has performed hundreds of tests.
Exciting news is coming, the governor said, in the coming days about testing efforts that Walmart will be handling.
Governor Northam made Friday, May 15, which he's been pointing to for Phase 1 of Virginia's reopening plan for weeks, officially the start.
The governor said the commonwealth has continued to meet the required health metrics he's outlined in past briefings, including a downward trend in the percentage of positive tests in Virginia, plenty of availability of hospital beds, and plenty of PPE supply.
As a commonwealth, he said, all of those statistics are heading in the right direction overall, if not in northern Virginia specifically.
Gov. Northam returned to a metaphor he's used often in the past week about Phase 1, saying that it will not be flipping a light switch to reopen the state, but more like turning a dimmer switch up a bit.
He recapped the restrictions being put into places for businesses that can open on Friday, including the requirement for gyms and fitness centers to do outdoor fitness classes and nothing indoors; the limit to 50% capacity for restaurant outdoor seating and non-essential retail spaces; the social distancing requirements and required face coverings for salons and barbershops; the 50% capacity limit for churches; and the limit for childcare centers to prioritize child care for the children of essential workers.
Northam said any essential workers in need of help finding child care can call 866-KIDS-TLC.
Throughout Phase 1, the governor reminded Virginians that the state's ban on public gatherings of 10 or more will remain in place and face masks will be strongly encouraged in public.
While face masks are not being required for all Virginians and instead heavily recommended, they are required for workers in some businesses, like restaurants and personal grooming services. Businesses in those industries are being required to provide face coverings for all essential employees.
"This virus has not gone away," Northam reiterated, encouraging all Virginians to continue following CDC guidance, wear face masks in public, and remember that you will be "safer at home."
"Moving forward requires all of us acting responsibly," he said.
After discussing the restrictions that will continue for Phase 1, the governor again touched on his previous statements that those restrictions are "a floor, not a ceiling" and that local governments can take a stricter path if they deem it necessary.
So far, that has only happened in Northern Virginia, where local government leaders requested Northam delay their reopening and
, delaying Phase 1 for the region by two weeks.
To discuss the situation in northern Virginia, Gov. Northam had leaders from around the region speak in Wednesday's briefing through remote video.
Overall, each of thanked the governor for accepting their request to delay reopening and said that northern Virginia has to be treated differently than the rest of the commonwealth because they are "one cohesive region" with Washington, D.C. and Maryland, as thousands of people cross the borders between those areas each day.
Considering the massive numbers moving between the area, they said they did not want any variation in the rollout of reopening phases throughout the area.
"As we know, the virus does not respect boundaries," said the Falls Church mayor.
Acknowledging that their region has one third of Virginia's population but more than half of all COVID-19 cases and deaths in the commonwealth, the leaders each encouraged their northern Virginia constituents to stay home, keep supporting local restaurants through carryout and delivery, and keep following all CDC guidance to keep themselves and others safe.
They said the region will move to Phase 1 "the moment" their health directors determine it's safe to do so, but until then, people need to be personally responsible and follow the guidelines until they can see a declining number of cases for two weeks like the rest of Virginia.
Governor Northam said $650 million is heading to localities across Virginia through CARES Act funding for local response, including boosting testing.
The Virginia Department of Health is working to hire 1,300 total contact tracers and supervisors to boost local health districts' workforces examining who's been exposed to the virus.
According to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, they've receiver 3,000 applications since they began the hiring process and are reviewing all of them.
As Virginia moves into Phase 1, he said identifying cases, isolating patients, and contacting people who may have been exposed is key to avoiding any "second wave" or resurgence of the virus.
So their plan is to increase the contact tracing workforce by 1,300 to reach a goal of having 15 for every 100,000 people in Virginia's population.
That goal is based on guidelines from Harvard researchers, who recommended 15-30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people. Dr. Oliver said their plan is to get to the 15 per 100,000 goal and then ramp from there if needed.
Each of the people working on contact tracing throughout Virginia will determine any and all primary contacts of a person with a confirmed case and instruct those people to self-quarantine to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
The White House has recommended every nursing home resident and staff member in the country be tested in the next two weeks.
With about 260 long-term care centers in Virginia, Gov. Northam said they are committed to testing everyone at all of them, but that two weeks is a "bit of an ambitious goal."
With the help of the National Guard, which has facilitated testing at many facilities already, including at outbreak sites in the Shenandoah Valley, Northam said Virginia will get everyone at the facilities tested.
He also mentioned that any long-term care facility can request testing through private labs, like Quest, as well as the state-provided testing.
The goal is to test all of them, Northam said, but depending on the results and the ongoing situations, there may be reason to go back and test residents and /or staff again too, in order to do everything possible to keep them all healthy.
Governor Northam said his administration is open to requests from any local government in Virginia that does not feel their region is ready to reopen yet, but he said, so far, they have only heard from leadership in Northern Virginia, resulting in the delay there.
He said if any other region wants to delay reopening, their leaders need to go through the same process that Northern Virginia has. But no other region has made any similar request.
As we begin reopening Virginia, there is concern, like there is around the country, that new cases could emerge with fewer people staying at home.
Gov. Northam said the reason his staff determined Virginia is able to enter Phase 1 is because there is enough hospital capacity, PPE, and testing capability to handle more cases now, if they come.
His concern, he said, is also for the fall and winter, assuming no vaccination or cure is developed by that time. So his administration, like many, is planning not just Phase 1, but planning for months and possibly years down the road.
"We weren't ready" when the virus hit the U.S., Northam said, saying that Virginia and the country did not have the testing capacity, PPE, or plans to be able to properly respond to COVID-19. But now, he said, "we've learned our lesson, at least here in Virginia" and have the supplies and capacity to be ready for coming months and years, if the virus sticks around.
He reminded Virginians that "this is a novel virus" and that everyone is learning more every day about how it affects people, mentioning the ongoing research into Kawasaki syndrome among some children that have been infected with the virus.
It's "pretty difficult" to say exactly what Virginia will need in a month or a year from now, Northam said, "but we're preparing."
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran responded to a question about prisons with outbreaks in Virginia, saying that none have experienced staffing shortages.
He thanked "great commitment on the part of correctional officers" to their jobs and said the Department of Corrections takes "extraordinary steps" to separate affected units in facilities with outbreaks from others who could be exposed.
Moran also thanked the National Guard for their work to do more testing at facilities like Dillwyn Correctional Center.
Gov. Northam said he and his staff are asking for the cooperation of Virginians to follow the state's guidelines and restrictions and that most people have done exactly that.
However, he said law enforcement, including Virginia State Police, as well as local law enforcement agencies, will continue to have the authority to enforce guidelines laid out on the state level, including 50% capacity restrictions for businesses.
"We will have a stick if we need to use it," the governor said.
While enforcement is not the goal, Northam said everyone following the guidelines to prevent more cases is critical to get to Phases 2 and 3 of reopening.
Gov. Northam, again repeating a hallmark of some of his earlier briefings, said Virginia is in the middle of both a health crisis and an economic crisis.
However, Northam says his guiding principle is that "until we get the health crisis behind us," the economy will not be able to recover, which is why his focus has been on the health crisis.
He said he knows people are making "tremendous sacrifices" amid the economic fallout, and said that's why it's important for Virginians to work together to get the virus under as much control as possible to be able to move on to the economic crisis.
Highlighting statistics from February, Northam said Virginia has been #1 in the country for state business environments, with record breaking capital investments and one of the lowest unemployment rates in years. "We were strong before COVID-19," Northam said, "and if we continue to work together, we'll come out as strong."
With Memorial Day coming up on May 22, Gov. Northam announced that briefings after that, instead of three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, will come twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with special announcements held as needed.
Governor Northam began Monday's briefing as he's begun many of the most recent briefings, presenting a slideshow of graphs and charts showing the data metrics his team is reviewing each day to determine Virginia's next moves.
The governor specifically highlighted infographics on Monday showing the number of cases per day and people tested per day, pointing out that those will continue trending upward as the commonwealth ramps up testing capacity.
He also showed a chart indicating how many of Virginia's tests come back positive, which highlighted a decline in that rate. A 14-day decline for that number is what the governor announced in April that he wanted to see to be able to start Virginia's reopening plan, and the rate has steadily declined.
Northam also featured data on the number of Virginia hospitals experiencing PPE difficulties, which dropped to zero and has stayed there for days, as well as data on hospital bed, ventilator, and ICU capacity, all of which has been staying steady.
He said continuing to meet each of those data metrics is key to entering Phase 1, which he remains confident will happen on Friday.
Asked when he'll be able to say definitively that Friday will start Phase 1, rather than tentatively, Northam said that will happen in Wednesday's briefing. But, he said, he sees no indication in the current data trends that the date would change.
After showcasing the data metrics his team is following for Virginia as a whole, the governor again reiterated his statement from last week that the restrictions planned for Phase 1 are "a floor, but not a ceiling." Essentially, he's said that no region may move faster than the overall state guidelines, but that his administration is open to some regions moving more slowly.
Specifically, Northam spent time on Monday discussing the situation in Northern Virginia.
Over the past weekend, he said officials representing several northern Virginia counties sent him a formal letter that showed a unified response in the region to request a delay. Each county leader requested a responsible, data-driven, health-focused approach, and essentially said that their region isn't ready for Phase 1 yet.
Gov. Northam said the northern Virginia officials are reviewing the same data metrics as the rest of the state and presented more slides to show the stark difference.
From Sunday to Monday, just under 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Virginia. Of those, more than 700 were in northern Virginia, which makes up around 40% of the Virginia population, and the rest of the state accounted for under 300.
As the rest of Virginia has fallen to around a 10% rate of people who are tested receiving positive results, northern Virginia has about a 25% rate. In the region, COVID-19 patients also make up a significantly higher percentage of hospital beds filled than in the rest of the state.
Northam said his staff is working with NoVa officials to develop a plan for a slower move to Phase 1 in their region, with comprehensive testing as the key to learn more about the situation there.
He said there's no set time yet on how long the region would extend restrictions, and that that is being determined in their ongoing discussions, based on giving the region time to follow ongoing data trends.
Coordination between Maryland and Washington, D.C. was also a major factor in the decision to move northern Virginia to a slower beginning of Phase 1, Northam said.
When asked how slowing down the region's reopening fits with his previous statements that regional reopening plans could be problematic with people traveling from hot spots to areas with fewer cases, the governor said he is strongly encouraging anyone in an area with more cases to stay at home and stick with the CDC guidelines and other restrictions that he says have worked so far.
While his administration does not have a specific plan to stop people from traveling from northern Virginia to other areas with open businesses, he said the coordination with Maryland and D.C., which share the most traffic with the region, should help address some of that.
He also expressed that he thinks the continued restrictions being implemented as part of Phase 1, including required masks and PPE in salons and non-essential retail stores, should help reduce any potential impact from people traveling from northern Virginia if they choose to do so regardless of recommendations.
"As soon as they feel comfortable and we feel comfortable collectively," the governor said, is when northern Virginia will be able to move into Phase 1 with the rest of Virginia.
Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia's chief diversity officer, came to the podium to discuss the work the Health Equity Taskforce and Health Equity Working Group have been doing to increase testing and resources available to under-served communities in Virginia.
Dr. Underwood said the taskforce meets twice every day and the working group, a much large coalition, meets every Tuesday to review ongoing campaigns designed to ensure women and minority-owned small businesses have a seat at the table to discuss Virginia's COVID-19 response.
She said one of their main priorities has been to collaborate with local governments to provide support to under-served communities by providing personal protective equipment, education materials, and resources as needed.
Specifically highlighted by Dr. Underwood was the Health Equity Group's
this past week.
The group is also launching a similar program in Richmond at a much larger scale, with 20,000 masks and 20,000 bottles of hand sanitizer expected to be delivered in the capital.
With data on both federal and state levels showing that people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Dr. Underwood said they hope these programs the "the first of many" to make sure resources get to the people that need it most.
Dr. Underwood said her partnership with Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed enabled them to set up the program there in just a week, and they are "happy to link arms with everyone."
Governor Northam highlighted several ongoing testing sites in Virginia, including drive-thru testing in the New River Valley, National Guard testing on the Eastern Shore in poultry plant communities, and targeted testing in at-risk Richmond neighborhoods.
He also said Virginians should "stay tuned for exciting announcements" coming later this week as his administration works with retail stores across Virginia to set up more opportunities for community testing.
After outcry in the city of Petersburg last week as city officials shut off water to some residents amid the pandemic, Gov. Northam said the Virginia Department of Health issued a public health order requiring the city to restore water service to 45 homes and blocking the city from shutting anyone else's water off.
Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has
As of Monday, Gov. Northam said that closure is being extended by another week, to at least May 18.
He said they are working to get DMV offices up and running as soon as possible to be able to help high schoolers get their driver's licenses, amid the many other tasks the DMV is needed for.
All drivers with credentials for themselves, like licenses, or their vehicles, like registrations, that are set to expire in the time the DMV has remained closed, get extensions of 60 days.
Drivers are encouraged to take care of any DMV tasks online at
, if possible. You can renew licenses and registrations there, as well as many other tasks. The DMV also offers mail-in options for a number of transactions, including vehicle registration, original title transactions, and driver's license renewal, if mailed a notice.
Virginia's May local elections, which the governor extended by two weeks earlier in the pandemic, are coming up in just over a week on May 19.
Gov. Northam issued a reminder to all Virginians that Tuesday, May 12, is the last day to request an absentee ballot be mailed to you.
He called voting by mail the "safest way to vote at this time" and heavily encouraged it, describing it as very secure as well.
However, he said the department of elections will be working to make sure all polling places and poll workers are as safe as possible as well.
If you plan to submit an absentee ballot, you need to return your ballot by Election Day on May 19.
The General Assembly's recently passed
hasn't yet taken effect — so the Department of Elections advises people requesting an absentee ballot to choose Reason 2A of having a disability or an illness.
Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them at
or by downloading and printing a request form at
and then returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax, or scanned attachment to an email. Contact information for General Registrar offices is on the form. Forms are also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.
Voters completing a paper application are asked to choose 2A, “my disability or illness” to complete their form. Voters completing an online application to request an absentee ballot will need to follow the prompts and select “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day.” You will then have the option to choose “my disability or illness” as the reason for your request.
The June primary elections remain postponed to June 23 rather than June 9.
As state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver addressed the latest overall COVID-19 case statistics in Virginia, he discussed the data from the health department showing that the disease has disproportionately affected Virginia's black and Latino communities.
He once again specifically pointed to
, citing the city's poultry plants and a large number of Latino workers at those sites, which employ disproportionately large numbers of Latino workers.
Throughout the pandemic, Virginia has had one of the lowest per capita testing rates in the U.S.
Asked about how that can improve, Gov. Northam pointed to Virginia's five phases of testing that he highlighted at briefings in previous weeks, with the biggest phase calling for around 10,000 tests a day after he numbers steadily increased.
The governor said the most recent numbers show Virginia is getting there now and that he's proud of the progress made.
"I make no excuses for Virginia," Northam said, but followed it up by saying he thinks the commonwealth is in a good place now.
He also pointed to his announcement earlier in Monday's briefing that new retail testing partnerships will be debuted later this week.
Dr. Remley, who heads Virginia's testing task force, followed the governor's response, and specifically addressed the Johns Hopkins University data that has frequently shown Virginia near last in per capita testing.
She said that data shows cumulative tests and that it would be impossible for Virginia to catch up on those numbers now without testing everyone all at once. Instead, she said, their focus is to get testing to where it's most needed, using state resources like the National Guard to use Virginia's increased test capacity at the locations in most need of testing, like long-term care centers and faith communities.
She said they're also working to look more at how testing is doing at the district level. While a large number of tests have been conducted in northern Virginia because of the amount of sickness there, she said the goal is to be able to reassure everyone in the state that they can know how much disease is in their area.
Basically, Dr. Remley said topping the Johns Hopkins list is not an attainable goal for Virginia, so their goal is to make sure they have the data needed to keep moving Virginia forward into the governor's phased reopening plan.
Asked if Virginia will bring in third party contractors to help expand testing further, as the commonwealth did to get more PPE, Clark Mercer, Gov. Northam's chief of staff, said they are working with a large number of communities at the moment and are close to executing contracts for expanded contact tracing work and more test kits, but those efforts are in progress.
The Virginia Employment Commission has been blasted by thousands of Virginians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as people have struggled with the unemployment insurance system and getting their benefits only to try to call for support and get a message and then get hung up on.
Officials with the agency have encouraged Virginians to just keep calling until they get someone.
Asked about their work to hire more people, Dr. Megan Healy, with the Virginia Chief Workforce Development Office, said the agency had about 1,600 people working during the Great Recession but only about 800 in February. She said they've scrambled to hire as many people as possible and have opened up two new call centers during this pandemic, as well as increased staffing in their headquarters by 100.
She also said they've increased their online capability and encouraged people to use their online system if at all possible.
At each of the most recent Virginia COVID-19 briefings, a move to hire more people to assist in contact tracing across the commonwealth has been a hot topic.
On Monday, public health officials said there were about 200 people in the contact tracing workforce prior to the pandemic, but now they've staffed up to more than 600 and are still actively hiring to get to the goal of 1,000 new contact tracers and 200 supervisors.
As Virginia prepares to begin reopening and Gov. Northam has said time and again that a major goal for him is for consumers and employees to feel safe, he was asked if he's considered making masks mandatory in public spaces.
Gov. Northam said his team has considered it, but at this point is strongly encouraging everyone to wear masks, but not requiring it.
He pointed to the requirements for masks in certain businesses as part of Phase 1, like in non-essential retail stores and restaurants, and said they will continue to review the possibility moving forward while reviewing the data.
The governor said the plan to start Phase 1 on May 15 is still tentative for now, as it's based on constantly changing data, but he expects the plan will go forward and will announce it definitively on Wednesday.
Aside from northern Virginia, he said current numbers show that May 15 meets all his guidelines.
Governor Northam said an amended executive order will most likely be announced later this week as the commonwealth moves into Phase 1 on Friday to set the newest restrictions for the state legally down, and he said those restrictions will help prevent any potential spike from reopening some businesses.
He also said addressing northern Virginia by keeping the region from entering Phase 1 yet should help prevent the possibility as well.
Asked if his Phase 1 guidance for restaurants and non-essential retail is inconsistent by allowing people indoors at non-essential retails stores but only outdoors at restaurants, Gov. Northam said the decision on the guidance was made based on feedback from Virginia's business task force, which included restaurant owners.
He said the limit to outdoor seating was to keep both customers and employees safe and reiterated that it's "just a phase."
With Phase 1 expected to last two to three weeks, Northam said that amount of time serving outdoors at 50% capacity should hopefully allow restaurants to prepare to enter Phase 2 with indoor dining at 50% capacity and tables spaced six feet apart.
Health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked why Virginia counts serologic tests, also known as antibody tests, in its total number of COVID-19 tests reported each day.
Dr. Oliver said Virginia's health department has tried to follow all CDC guidelines on testing, but that there is no federal guideline on whether to count antibody tests with all other tests. In light of that, Virginia looked to other states, saw that many included serologic tests in their test totals, and chose to follow their example to keep Virginia's statistics consistent for comparison's sake, Northam's chief of staff said.
The decision also went along with the health department's decision to report the total number of all tests performed in Virginia, along with the number of unique people tested.
Chief of staff Clark Mercer said "we can't win" because the state gets criticized for low testing numbers by not including something like serologic tests while other states include it and then gets criticized for including it when they try to be consistent with other states.
Dr. Oliver said they'll look into listing it out separately each day, like they do with total tests and unique people tested.
Virginia has conducted a number of large-scale point prevalence testing operations at long-term care centers.
Dr. Forlano said they are looking into providing information on how many tests have been performed in each of those situations, but they cannot provide facility-specific information due to Virginia code. They'll look into sharing that data on an aggregate level, however.
She also said they've been using VDH data to identify facilities that would benefit from point prevalence testing and have not turned down any requests for the service.
Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said workers' compensation is being provided for frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 in certain situations under the Code of Virginia, but not all, and said that it would be up to the General Assembly to set down in writing that healthcare workers can receive workers' compensation amid the pandemic.
As to their plans for workers who may not feel comfortable returning to work in Phase 1, due to underlying conditions or other reasons, Mercer said they're expecting tension with the Trump administration on how they plan to handle the situation, since the federal government is asking states for a list of all workers who reject returning to employment while on unemployment insurance.
He said the state administration continues to review factors to determine how to move forward.
Gov. Northam addressed the work of his cabinet, saying that Dr. Underwood's statement that she works for him was incorrect. He said, rather, all the people in his COVID-19 task force "work for Virginia, not for me."
Moving into Phase 1 later this week, the governor said there are a lot of guidelines to follow, but that's because "we feel we can safely do it, based on data," and because he said Virginia has the tools now that were not available just weeks ago, like increased testing capacity, more contact tracers, and PPE supplies.
He said he would not make the decision to move forward into Phase 1 without the needed tools to do it safely.
"This is in all of our hands," the governor concluded, saying it's up to everyone to be vigilant and continue protecting themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors, and those on the front lines by continuing social distancing, hand-washing, keeping their hands from their faces, and following all the guidance that's been shown so far to work.
As he has done at the past several briefings, Governor Ralph Northam began Friday's briefing by recapping where the commonwealth has been – starting with the first confirmed COVID-19 case just over a month ago on March 7.
The governor said at the start of dealing with the pandemic, he all governors across the U.S. had "one blunt tool" to confront the crisis, which was "shutting everything down."
He provided a brief overview of the actions taken throughout Virginia's response, including directing everyone to stay home except for essential reasons, because he said the only way to slow the spread of the virus was and still is to stay apart, with business closures designed for the same reason.
"And it's worked," Northam said, pointing to Virginia's latest data, which shows that hospitals have not been overwhelmed, that Virginia has a steady supply of PPE with no hospitals reporting any supply problems now, and the percentage of Virginians testing positive now trending downward.
The governor said Virginia is also continuing to work to ramp up testing across Virginia. Friday's numbers indicated more than 6,000 tests over the past day, and Dr. Karen Remley, who heads up Virginia's testing task force, said on Friday that they're working with local officials around Virginia to increase the daily test number to around 10,000 tests a day by the end of next week.
Northam cited an example that officials will be testing about 1,500 people on the Eastern Shore this weekend around the locations of outbreaks at poultry plants there.
He also highlighted the Virginia Department of Health's ongoing effort to hire 1,000 more contact tracers across all health districts in the state, and said that Virginia currently has about 325. Previously, Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, had said they could not identify the exact current number because all tracers are employed at local health district levels.
Gov. Northam said, so long as the current trends in Virginia's COVID-19 data continue, he believes we're set to start Phase 1 of reopening on Friday, May 15.
However, he did emphasize that if those trends change, that date can be adjusted if needed.
"While our tools to fight this virus have changed, our commitment has not," Northam said.
He said beginning Phase 1 will not be "opening the floodgates" or "flipping a light switch" but instead used the analogy of turning a dimmer switch up just a notch to gradually begin reopening Virginia.
Northam said the date of May 15, so long as data trends continue, will begin a three-phase process for Virginia and restrictions will continue because the virus is still in nearly every community.
Science, data, and safety, Northam said, will be his criteria to move Virginia forward.
The governor showcased a variety of charts and graphs to present the data metrics he said he and his staff are relying on to determine when and how Virginia moves forward. He said those will later be available on the state website at
Specifically, Northam showed Virginia's 7-day moving average of new cases, which is steadily dipping; the 7-day average of tests being performed, which is trending upward; the rate of Virginians who are tested that test positive, which is trending downward; PPE supply difficulties at hospitals, which have dropped to zero; hospital bed capacity and surge capacity, which have remained steady; and hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 patients, which have remained essentially flat.
The rate at which cases have doubled in Virginia has also slowed over time, down to 16 days now.
Gov. Northam did say that they are keeping an eye on the hospital capacity numbers as elective procedures resume across the commonwealth to see if that steady rate changes.
According to Gov. Northam's Friday presentation, the overarching guidance for Phase 1 involves the Stay at Home order switching to a Safer at Home order, which means Virginians should still stay home when possible, and that Virginians who are vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, need to continue saying at home except for essential reasons.
The 10-person gathering limit established in Executive Order 53 will remain in place for any public gatherings – though it does not apply to all gatherings within specific businesses, as outlined below.
Face masks are heavily encouraged in public, social distancing is still required, and the state still strongly suggests continued teleworking if possible.
When it comes to industries, there is specific guidance on how limitations are being eased, which is broken down below:
– have been open with a 10-person limit and in Phase 1 can open to a maximum of 50% of their store's customer capacity.
– have been open for takeout and delivery and in Phase 1 can open up outdoor seating at 50% capacity
When asked why restaurants cannot open their doors to in-house dining yet, while non-essential retail stores can open their doors to more customers, Gov. Northam said the decision was made based on a "tremendous amount" of discussion with restaurant owners and that it was their collective decision that outdoor seating, for now, would be in the best interest of customers and employees.
Northam said if data keeps trending downward, and Phase 2 can be entered in hopefully two weeks, restaurants will be allowed to open dine-in eating in Phase 2, with 50% capacity and social distancing between tables.
– have been closed and in Phase 1 will remain closed
– have been closed and in Phase 1 will be able to hold outdoor classes with social distancing
– have remained open only for exercise and fishing and in Phase 1 will continue to be open only for those reasons
The governor said when asked about beaches later in the press conference that the state government is working with localities like Virginia Beach, letting each locality focus on their own comprehensive plans to make sure their beaches are ready before a decision is to made to open them further.
The bottom line, Northam said, is that people need to feel comfortable when they go to a beach, grabbing handrails, standing on the boardwalk, etc., that they won't contract the virus.
He said there's no date yet on when they'll open up to more than exercise and fishing, but it won't be when Phase 1 starts.
- have been able to hold drive-in services and small services with fewer than 10 people and in Phase 1 will be able to hold services inside with 50% of the building's capacity while drive-in services remain allowed
– have been closed and in Phase 1 can open by appointment only, with strict social distancing in place and face masks required
– have been closed and in Phase 1 can open, with restrictions on distance between campsites
– have been open for day use only and in Phase 1 will open up to overnight camping in gradual regional phases. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation issued an update shortly after the governor's briefing
– have been open for working families and in Phase 1 can continue that way
– will remain closed in Phase 1
All of Virginia's guidelines will be posted on the Virginia state website.
Gov. Northam said Phase 1 will last a minimum of two weeks, but may last longer depending on what the data on health metrics shows as we move forward.
The governor said some communities may enter Phase 1 more slowly than others, but those decisions will have to be made by local governments coordinating for an overall region, like northern Virginia, which is not seeing quite the same declines in cases that the rest of the state is seeing.
According to Northam's chief of staff, they have spoken with localities in northern Virginia, including Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax counties, which he said have each expressed interest in possibly delaying entering Phase 1 so that they can meet the criteria the rest of the state is meeting for Phase 1.
But local officials who may plan to do that are in coordination with the state government to determine if they should delay entering Phase 1.
But the state government only plans to allow moves like that on regional levels – not individual cities or counties.
Northam said Phase 1 means that businesses may reopen, but not that they are required to reopen. If a business cannot meet the guidelines of Phase 1, he said they should not reopen yet.
Any economic recovery, Northam said, will be consumer-driven, and he encouraged businesses to take all precautions possible to protect everyone, including their employees.
Gov. Northam said the restrictions of Phase 1 will be enforced like Executive Order 53 has been enforced so far, with local law enforcement and Virginia State Police holding the authority to cite people who do not obey the guidelines.
However, the goal, Northam said, is not to cite people but to protect Virginians.
If there were to be a new surge in cases of COVID-19 across Virginia or a second wave, the governor said previous restrictions can be put in place if need-be because it 's a dynamic, fluid process, with data changing every day.
However, Northam said the entire goal of the restrictions in Phase 1 is to prevent a situation like that.
But if numbers go in a direction that the administration is not comfortable with, based on the same metrics being followed now, like hospital capacity, PPE supplies, and case trends, they will move restrictions back as needed.
Governor Northam said if any workers are afraid to return, even if their business reopens, because they or a loved one has an underlying condition, his administration is developing ways to protect them.
He said restrictions are meant to protect workers as much as customers and that his administration is asking Virginia's Congressional delegation to ask the federal government to give Virginia more flexibility with unemployment insurance if they cannot return to work due to valid COVID-19-related concerns.
They're also asking any workers who are concerned about unsafe conditions at their workplace to report them to the Department of Labor.
The governor's main goal, he said, is for Virginians to be careful and cautious, especially moving into reopening.
"Our efforts have slowed the spread, but they have not cured the disease," he said, adding that it's more important than ever for Virginians to behave cautiously as we ease restriction – if not for their own sake, for the vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Without a vaccine or a proven treatment, Northam said being cautious is the only way to handle a virus we may be living with for months or years.
With elective procedure resuming across Virginia, Northam also encouraged all Virginians to take care of their health and see a doctor or provider if needed, saying that people cannot let illnesses or injuries go untreated because of coronavirus.
"We're all in this together," Northam said, repeating a phrase he has used frequently throughout the pandemic, and he asked everyone to "continue to act with your own health and the health of others in mind."
The Virginia Department of Health is reaching out to physicians across Virginia to get their expertise, conducting a needs assessment of all doctors to determine how best to move forward for all of them in the weeks ahead.
State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, reviewing Virginia's current COVID-19 case, death, and hospitalization statistics, pointed out that demographic data shows a disproportionately high number of case and death numbers among the Latinx community.
Dr. Oliver specifically pointed to the
, stating that he believes it's largely correlated to outbreaks in and around poultry plants, which employ disproportionately large numbers of Latinx workers.
Dr. Remley, heading up Virginia's testing task force, said officials helping ramp up testing in Virginia are working with free clinics and drugstores to expand testing sites.
But their man focus at the moment, she said, is to work out the testing chain to get everyone on the same page and reach around 10,000 tests a day by the end of next week.
However, she said, even once to that trend, there's no guarantee that number gets hit every day. For instance, testing usually drops over the weekends.
The goal, she said, is to get to a point where every Virginian with symptoms can have the opportunity to get tested.
A representative of the Virginia Employment Commission said they have been able to get benefits for over 70,000 gig workers and self-employed workers since adding a process to expand eligibility through their system.
Acknowledging but largely dismissing reports from many people about problems with the VEC system, the representative said many people are receiving their benefits and that they're still ramping up staff to handle more calls and the appeals process.
As has been mentioned in many of the most recent governor's briefings, facilities in Virginia with confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks cannot be identified by the Virginia Department of Health unless the facility chooses to publicly release their identity.
That has resulted in many long-term care centers, businesses, and apartment complexes, among other kinds of facilities, facing outbreaks that the community never has confirmation about.
Dr. Oliver has said they can't identify the facilities because the Virginia code treats facilities as "persons" and prohibits the release of health information about persons.
However, some state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would change that part of the state code and allow the health department to share more information on places with outbreaks.
Asked if he would support that bill, Gov. Northam said it's difficult for him to respond to questions about if he'll support bills because so much can change about a specific bill as it goes through the process from the House to the Senate and eventually gets to his desk.
But he said he supports transparency and wants to let the public and loved ones know what's going on in long-term care centers.
The governor said, overall, he is open to the idea, but would need to review the details of the legislation.
He said he suspects the part of the Virginia code causing the issue was meant to protect patient privacy, so he said any change would need to still protect that.
Governor Northam thanked business owners and all consumers with plans to move forward to Phase 1.
He encouraged all Virginians to start thinking about what it will take for you to be comfortable going back into places of businesses because that's what he says the state needs to hear to develop future guidance.
Governor Northam started Wednesday's briefing by noting that Thursday, May 7, will mark two months since the first positive COVID-19 cases was confirmed in the commonwealth.
In the eight weeks since, he noted that our lives and the lives of people around the world have changed, but now, Northam said, we're able to start thinking about next steps.
He said Monday's briefing broadly outlined his "Forward Virginia" plan for the future, which calls for three phases over time based on the latest data and science, and that more specific guidance for businesses and the continuing restrictions in Phase 1 will be provided on Friday.
Northam said his administration is working with businesses and local governments across Virginia to determine what the next steps will look like.
Specifically, he said the restrictions being outlined on a state level for Phase 1 are "the floor," stating that local governments can implement more severe restrictions into Phase 1 and beyond if they determine it's needed based on their situations, like in northern Virginia.
When asked for clarity later in the briefing about that, Gov. Northam said his cabinet has been talking to local leaders in some of the hardest hit areas, like counties in Northern Virginia, and they said they may need to increase restrictions beyond the state level.
While the governor has previously said he chose not to move forward with reopenings on a regional basis to keep guidelines consistent across the commonwealth, he said that allowing potentially more severe restrictions in some areas will help on a local level and won't change the overall state guidance.
The governor said all decisions his staff is making are based on the latest metrics, and he hopes that we will be able to enter Phase 1 on May 15, because the data so far indicates that will be possible.
But, he said they'll be continuing to closely monitor the data to guide decisions on reopening and will make changes if necessary.
As far as the specific data guiding the process, Northam said the percentage of Virginians tested who receive positive results – around 16% at last count – is key, and it's been slowly but steadily going down. He also pointed to numbers of hospitalizations, which have remained steady, and the PPE supply in Virginia.
In the last few days, no Virginia hospitals at all have reported difficulty finding PPE.
However, he said the commonwealth still needs to significantly ramp up testing ability and the ability to trace more contacts of people with positive cases.
Part of the effort to ramp up testing and increase contact tracing, Northam said, has been focused in the Eastern Shore, where the health department is working with CDC teams to conduct large-scale testing in the communities surrounding poultry plants with hundreds of confirmed cases.
He did not address
To increase testing around the state, Northam said, we don't just need testing kits, but people – to carry out the tests and perform all surrounding tasks.
He highlighted the work the Virginia National Guard has done for that, providing manpower and logistical expertise.
Twelve facilities across Virginia with ongoing outbreaks have had testing provided with assistance from the National Guard.
Gov. Northam said all the work the Virginia National Guard, which has a dual mission of both federal and state interests, has done has been funded through the federal government.
That's thanks to a federal authorization from President Donald Trump for assistance from the National Guard in states to respond to COVID-19. But that authorization is set to expire on May 31.
Northam is asking President Trump to extend that authorization to enable continued federal funding for National Guard response.
According to Virginia's Secretary of Veterans Affairs, if not granted that extension for Title 32, which authorized the funding, Virginia's National Guard will continue to respond regardless.
He said the authorization is important to Virginia's response, but the response will be the same either way – the difference is whether the cost burden shifts to the state instead of the federal government.
The governor invited Maj. Gen. Tim Williams, with the Virginia National Guard, to elaborate on how the guard has been responding in Virginia.
Williams said their top priority has been to provide additional capacity for COVID-19 testing and mask fitting at long-term care facilities and other outbreak sites across Virgnia.
He said the guard has been assisting with planning and logistical work since Virginia's state of emergency was first declared in March, but recently, about 100 National Guard members have supported sample collection and N95 mask fitting in localities around the state.
Altogether, he said they've delivered more than 730 sample collection kits, assisted with distributing about 50,000 pounds of food across communities, and done much more.
They're currently deployed in central Virginia and will be in the Eastern Shore this coming weekend.
He encouraged any local governments in need of assistance to reach out to their local emergency managers, who can coordinate National Guard response.
Williams also called for Virginians to keep National Guard members and their families in mind, as most on-duty personnel also have full-time jobs and cannot currently return to their families due to a need for isolation.
You can learn more about how the National Guard has been preparing for the work
Gov. Northam also thanked hospitals across Virginia for their work throughout the pandemic and for their assistance to provide resources where needed.
He specifically noted
about their partnership with the health department to provide a range of needed resources to long-term care facilities.
Northam also thanked the Health Equity Group for their work providing donations to send out COVID-19 care kits in Harrisonburg.
Those care kits
, providing face masks, hand sanitizer, and flyers in five languages with information on COVID-19 prevention to hundreds of city residents in Harrisonburg's culturally diverse neighborhoods.
May 6 marks the start of Nurse Appreciation Week, and Gov. Northam took time during his briefing to thank Virginia's nurses, saying he's grateful to every nurse in Virginia for everything they do and that he knows, from his experience as a doctor, that no medical facility could function without nurses.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, normally provides an updates on Virginia's latest case statistics just after Northam's remarks in his briefings and before reporter questions.
However, on Wednesday, as the numbers on the state website remained not updated since Tuesday, Dr. Oliver acknowledged the ongoing technical error with the site and said that his team was working very hard to get the data up as quickly as possible.
He said they expect to have the latest numbers posted later in the day.
Regarding the situation at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, which saw
, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said 27 of 29 patients have been returned to their rooms, recovered from the virus.
He said no others have tested positive since the 29 cases reported last month, and that they have significantly reduced the population at the juvenile detention center.
Last week, the governor announced that Virginia had secured contracts with three private labs to ramp up testing capacity in Virginia.
However, Dr. Karen Remley, who is leading Virginia's testing task force, said on Wednesday that the labs are not processing tests for Virginia, but instead sending test kits to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which then determines when they should be used instead of kits from the state lab, based on where testing is the most needed in the state.
Dr. Remley said the contracts give Virginia additional flexibility on test kits to provide more resources to hard-hit areas.
Dr. Oliver said Virginia has been deploying the National Guard to help provide testing in Virginia's most under-served areas, like rural localities and communities of color, working with VDEM to guide resources to where they're most needed.
He said the health department is also looking at having home health nurses have the capacity to test their patients.
While Virginia is currently running about six to seven thousand tests a day, the goal remains to get to around 10,000 tests a day, and get to a point where "everyone who needs a test will be able to get a test."
When a reporter asked Gov. Northam how he and his staff are doing, he went back to a response he's relied heavily upon throughout COVID-19 briefings, discussing his time as a doctor in the U.S. Army. He talked about his time working in a triage unit during Operation Desert Storm, saying each day blended into another as they treated patient after patient, but said it did end, just as this situation will end.
He thanked his staff for all the work they're doing, saying none of them would be able to say when their last day off was because they're dedicated to making sure Virginians can get through this together.
Dr. Norm Oliver said the majority of cases on the Eastern Shore are in two poultry plants, but described the situation as if the facilities were cruise ships – saying each day, hundreds of people carrying the virus disembark, bringing it beyond the plants into their communities.
He highlighted steps the plants have taken in accordance with CDC guidelines, like installing plexiglass shields between workers on a line, arranging hotel space for workers instead of returning home, where they could spread the virus in densely quartered hosing, and increased sanitation efforts.
He also said community-based testing with the National Guard this weekend should help increase their response.
Dr. Remley explained that it's up to individual long-term care centers to determine how they want to carry out testing, and that they need to reach out to their local health departments if assistance is needed.
She said they're also required to communicate the situation with staff and with the loved ones of people at the facilities.
Virginia's commerce secretary said Virginia, like all states, is getting a vast amount of funding through the CARES Act, which set up about 50 different funding streams, with some of the most money in the PPP program through the Small Business Administration, which remains open for its newest round of assistance payments.
He said that about $3.1 billion has been allocated for local governments across Virginia, with specific guidelines on how it can be used.
That guidance is being reviewed by Northam's cabinet and will be provided to local governments when they receive allocations of the money.
But before it goes to local governments, the state government has to certify that the localities will follow the federal guidelines on its use, which includes money toward testing and contact tracing, among other uses.
Dr. Oliver has previously explained in briefings that the Virginia Department of Health cannot report the specific facilities where outbreak have been identified, involving long-term care centers or otherwise, because Virginia's state code defines facilities and businesses as "persons" and requires the health department to protect the anonymity of all "persons."
There's no way for that to change unless legislators were to change the state code.
A reporter asked is the governor would support a move by lawmakers to do just that after several legislators from both parties have said they'd like to change it in a special session.
Gov. Northam passed the main part of the question, which was about the constitutionality of that part of Virginia code, to another cabinet member, who explained the attorney general's interpretation of the code, and then, when retaking the podium, moved onto the next question before addressing whether he would support lawmakers changing that part of the code.
Gov. Northam and his cabinet have said that they're in the process of ramping up the state;s workforce to provide more contact tracing across Virginia to keep communities safe and detect possible cases and exposures to the virus early.
Dr. Oliver has said they're planning to hire 1,000 new workers for contact tracing, but has also said it's unclear exactly how many are currently employed.
He explained on Wednesday that that is because Virginia's 129 individual health departments manage their own contact tracing workforces and ramp them up or down depending on need on given days.
While he estimates hundreds are currently employed, he said they need about 1,300 to meet the guidelines they're trying to meet to be able to trace exposure in every Virginia community, and said that the health department is handling the new hiring process to be able to know when that number has been met.
He said the whole point of contact tracing is "boxing in the spread" of the coronavirus and that one of their focuses will be on rural and diverse areas.
Dr. Oliver plans to keep the public posted on the hiring process at future briefings.
Secretary Moran said that the Department of Corrections, which initially only tested symptomatic offenders and officers at correctional facilities, will be testing every person at the Dillwyn Correctional Center with point prevalence testing at the end of this week.
He said that kind of early detection will help ensure the health and safety of inmates and correctional officers.
Gov. Northam has said throughout the pandemic that he's been working closely with Governor Hogan in Maryland and Mayor Bowser in Washington, D.C. to keep planning consistent.
On Wednesday, he said that all the areas now have different situations they're facing, requiring different guidelines, but that they continue communicating on how to move forward together with flexibility.
At this point, D.C. is not set to reopen as soon as Northam's plan for May 15 for Virginia.
Once again, during the briefing, protesters gathered outside the Virginia Capitol, calling on the governor to reopen the state immediately.
The governor said his message to them is to consider the Virginia National Guard members discussed earlier in his briefing, to consider the doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic, and to consider the teachers keeping children educated.
He said they can focus their efforts on thanking those people.
With Teacher Appreciation Week ongoing, Northam said he can't say enough about all that teachers are doing across the commonwealth and encouraged everyone to reach out to teachers and thank them this week.
The governor ended Wednesday's briefing by noting that on Friday, he and his staff will provide significantly more detail on the "Forward Virginia" blueprint for reopening the commonwealth, including specifics on Phase 1, business guidelines, and how to keep consumers comfortable when they enter businesses.
Governor Ralph Northam began Monday's briefing, as he's started each of the most recent briefings, by outlining Virginia's history so far in fighting COVID-19.
When Virginia's first case was confirmed on March 7, the governor said it launched very real fears that Virginia hospitals would not have enough ICU capacity or ventilators and realization that there was not enough PPE or testing supplies.
To combat those effects, the governor highlighted the measures that were taken throughout the pandemic: restricting non-essential businesses and limiting gatherings of people with Executive Order 53; ordering Virginians to stay at home except for essential reasons with
; encouraging houses of worship to move services online; asking restaurants to move to carryout and delivery; and more.
He said that as individuals and businesses worked to follow those guidelines, his administration focused on monitoring data, building new PPE supply chains, planning for long-term care facilities, and strengthening Virginia's testing system.
In response, Northam says the measures worked, and that the curve has been flattened, though cases continue to rise.
With plenty of hospital capacity across Virginia, more than enough ventilators, and a steadily reliable PPE supply now established, he said it's time to move forward to a new phase of our response.
However, he emphasized that Virginians cannot forget that the virus is still here – and will not be going away until a vaccination is developed, which could take a year or two.
"We've slowed the virus' spread," Northam said, "but we have not cured the disease."
Considering the reality of the coronavirus' continued existence, Northam said the path forward has to be created with an awareness that the virus is still with us and with no one relaxing their vigilance.
"We re not entering Phase 1 today, nor this week," Northam said after discussing the reality of the virus' continued presence.
However, Northam said, based on the data his team is monitoring, he believes Virginia can enter Phase 1 as soon as next week.
In response, he announced that he is extending
, which was set to expire on May 8, until May 14.
That order is the one that closed many non-essential businesses in Virginia and limited gatherings in Virginia to no more than 10.
Northam said extending that order will give his administration time to monitor the latest data on Virginia's cases, hospital bed capacity, and PPE supplies to be sure that the state can be prepared to enter Phase 1 of reopening.
He anticipates, based on current data, that Virginia should be able to enter Phase 1 at that point, if numbers follow their current trends.
The governor also announced that Executive Order 55, the Stay at Home order for Virginia, is being adjusted to reflect a 'Safer at Home' order for the future as the commonwealth can move into Phase 1.
Asked if he would be able to let businesses know well in advance if Executive Order 53 is set to be extended again, Northam said he fully anticipates moving into Phase 1 on Friday the 15th based on current hospital capacity, steady PPE supplies, and the current trends in case numbers.
"My message today is that we will reopen Virginia next Friday," Northam said.
Governor Northam said Virginia's reopening plan will consist of three phases, each of which is likely to last two to four weeks. He said that duration is in accordance with CDC guidelines for states.
When Virginia does enter Phase 1 on May 15, as Northam currently anticipates, it will come with continued physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and enhanced workplace safety.
But Phase 1 will allow the businesses that were required to close to reopen their doors.
However, every industry will need to continue following guidance on how to operate safely – with continued physical distancing, like spaced-out seating at restaurants; with enhanced cleaning, meaning more sanitation at the restaurant after someone dines there; and more workplace safety measures, like employees wearing face masks or plexiglass shields between a salon worker and a customer.
Essentially, you'll be able to eat at a restaurant and you'll be able to go to the gym – but fewer people will be allowed in those facilities, the employees will be following key safety procedures, and there will be a lot more cleaning.
According to the governor, every industry will be sending out specific guidance for businesses within their fields. That applies to campgrounds, bowling alleys theaters, and all sorts of businesses that have been affected.
Northam specifically stated that houses of worship will be able to reopen, but are not immune from social distancing.
He also specifically talked about farmers' markets, saying they'll be able to reopen to browsing and not just for curbside pickup and online delivery, as many have developed procedures for in recent weeks.
Each of the phases after Phase 1 will steadily loosen restrictions, but at this point, Northam did not provide many details for Phases 2 and 3, saying that Phase 1 is the first priority and future guidance will be shaped by the data as this pandemic develops.
Each phase is set to last 2-4 weeks, like Phase 1, according to CDC guidance.
Northam said entering Phase 2 will require stable PPE supplies and a continued downward testing trend, and the phase will lift the Stay at Home order for most people, but ask all vulnerable populations to continue staying at home.
Entering Phase 3 will require no evidence of a rebound in cases.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert issues this statement in response to Northam's Monday announcements:
To ensure that Virginia sees the downward trend called for in the governor's guidance for reopening, he said the Virginia Department of Health is taking more steps to track as much data as possible.
Acknowledging that cases continue to rise in Virginia, Northam said that is, in part, because of increased testing in Virginia.
Up until last week, Virginia was ranked among the lowest states in the country for per capita testing, but testing has increased significantly since then, rising from about 2,000 tests a day early last week to around 5,000 tests a day now.
Northam said the data being monitored shows the number of people tested and the number of those people testing positive. Looking for a decline, he said what officials are watching is the average of how many tests that are processed come back positive.
And that percentage - around 16% now - has been going down.
The governor said they're also looking for a 14-day downward trend in hospitalizations, which has not happened yet, and for steady hospital bed capacity, which has occurred.
Fewer and fewer hospitals have reported PPE shortages since the start of the pandemic in Virginia, down to only around one hospital, according to one graph the governor showed.
Asked if there's a particular metric he follows, Northam said the number that gets his biggest focus is the number of daily deaths reported. That number has been around 25-40 in recent days and has stayed steady.
"As governor and as a doctor," Northam said his goal is to prevent as many deaths as possible.
To help monitor and prevent future outbreaks, the Virginia Department of Health is also hiring 1,000 people to work as contact tracers, identifying as many people as possible who came into contact with any people with confirmed cases.
Dr. Norm Oliver, state health commissioner, said the state has to take a serious approach to identifying new cases and identifying anyone exposed if Virginia is to reopen safely.
He said the health department has already begun hiring hundreds of case identifiers and is setting up the process to hire 1,000 new contact tracers in the next two weeks.
Governor Northam said the state is continuing to closely track cases at meat processing facilities in the Shenandoah Valley and on the Eastern Shore, though the state's focus has remained on the Eastern Shore, which has seen the highest concentration of cases at poultry facilities.
Last week, Gov. Northam announced that Virginia was opening three new large-scale sites to decontaminate mass quantities of PPE supplies for Virginia hospitals so they can be reused.
On Monday, Northam said the first of the three, in Blacksburg, has opened up.
Northam said Virginia has been working with FEMA, hospitals, and private labs to get more swabs and testing supplies across the commonwealth.
Highlighting the numbers now showing around 6,000 tests a day, compared to 2,000 tests a day a week ago, the governor said he's confident that Virginia's new supply chain will allow us to hit his administration's goal of 10,000 cases a day in the near future.
Dr. Karen Remley, who has headed up the governor's testing task force, said that surveys from clinics and doctors' officers are coming in to help the health department understand where any gaps in testing supplies remain.
She also said the department is holding a webinar for doctors' offices to go over all the guidelines on testing to close any loops in the process.
Doctors are also being advised to start the process of contact tracing for any COVID-19-positive patients, discussing with them any people living in their household and writing that data down as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.
In addition, Dr. Remley said Virginia now has over 160 testing sites across the commonwealth and that they're each listed on the
Asked about the possibility for reopening Virginia on a region-by-region basis, which Northam previously said was something he'd be open to, he said the decision was made against it based on "overwhelming advice" from business owners, including those in rural areas with very few confirmed cases.
Northam said the concern expressed by many business owners was that a regional reopening would result in people traveling from closed areas with more cases to the open areas, unwittingly bringing in new cases and spreading the virus to the areas with the fewest cases.
The governor said it would also effectively "be picking winners and losers" for different regions of the state while he said his goal has been to move everyone into Phase 1 together "as a commonwealth."
He also said a regional reopening would bring tremendous potential for more division, so ultimately, the decision was made for Friday, May 15, to mark the start of Phase 1 for all Virginians.
Gov. Northam said the top priority for when the state moves into Phase 1 is workplace safety, He said businesses were eager to work with the CDC and VDH to develop plans to run their businesses safely.
However, as of right now, the state is still awaiting guidance from the Virginia Employment Commission, which is guided by U.S. Department of Labor policy, on what eligibility for unemployment insurance may look like if people feel unsafe going back to work.
A spokesperson for the governor's cabinet said they are developing criteria to outline specific reasons that workers may meet a qualification to continue receiving unemployment and not return to work, like having pre-existing conditions. Those guidelines would not apply to healthy individuals who simply think their workplace shouldn't be open.
Discussing farmers' markets as a great avenue for farmers to get their items to the market, Gov. Northam invited Virginia Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring to discuss the future for them.
Ring said farmers' markets have done fantastic jobs adapting to the situation so far, setting up online ordering and curbside pick options, and said that Phase 1, on May 15, will mean that people will once again be allowed to browse farmers markets, rather than just order online and pick up their items.
People will need to wear masks and follow all relevant distancing guidelines, but markets will be able to be open for the spring and summer.
In Chincoteague, a church has sued Gov. Northam, claiming that executive orders preventing them from holding gatherings amid the pandemic violated the 1st Amendment. A district judge sided with Northam and the church appealed to the 4th Circuit Court.
Rita Davis, Northam's counsel, acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest on behalf of the church, but said the governor's authority was constitutional and she looks forward to the circuit court affirming that.
In response to a separate question about how Northam would respond to Virginians upset with his orders, claiming they were unconstitutional, the governor said all his administration's actions are based on the Constitution.
"My decisions are made to protect Virginians, to keep Virginians healthy and safe, and to prevent deaths," he said.
While he said he understands people are upset, he said he's not trying to punish people but making decisions based on the health and safety of millions of Virginians.
Gov. Northam responded to a question about his calls with the White House by saying that since early March, "we have been fighting a biological war."
Northam said states were "asked to fight this war without any supplies," describing the circumstances under which governors had to compete for supplies with other states. He said they were forced to start "two months behind" because governors had to search for supplies on their own without federal assistance.
However, he said he "commends Washington" for the actions taken in the past few weeks, including the passage of the CARES Act and FEMA working more closely with states to provide supplies.
Northam said he always tries to search for a reason for hope amid dark situations like this crisis, and said that the response of Virginians has provided a silver lining for how we can prepare if something like this ever happens again.
The governor pointed to the work of pharmaceutical companies and universities working as fast as they can to find solutions and treatments, researchers working to develop a vaccine, and those who helped with the clinical trial for remdesivir.
He said the vaccine, in the future, will be the "silver bullet" to put the crisis truly behind us.
He thanked everyone who has made sacrifices during the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders, law enforcement, grocery store workers, and more.
Northam also took time to discuss the
, a New York doctor who took her own life in Charlottesville after witnessing the COVID-19 pandemic in a New York emergency room.
Northam said it's a devastating reminder for people to keep in mind the mental health and stress of front-line workers in this crisis and let them know that we're here for them.
He thanked everyone who has "been a part of the solution" and said "as long as we continue to work together, we'll get through this."
Governor Northam started Friday's briefing by recapping the commonwealth's timeline for COVID-19 leading up to May.
The governor highlighted that when Virginia's first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 7, less than eight weeks ago, there was a real fear that hospitals could be overwhelmed in Virginia, as had been seen in places like Italy and New York.
Northam said the state struggled to obtain supplies for testing and PPE at the start of the pandemic, but implemented restrictions, including the Stay at Home order and business closures, to help prevent that situation from happening.
He said the commonwealth waited to see if those restrictions would work, "and it has worked."
Highlighting the fact that hospitals have not been overwhelmed, with plenty of ventilator and ICU capacity available, Northam said while the case count continues climbing, so does testing.
Testing, Northam said, is the key to moving forward carefully, and he presented a slideshow on where Virginia stands as far as testing.
Showing graphs on Virginia's cumulative testing and daily cases reported, he pointed out the steady rise in cumulative cases and the increase in daily cases, saying that the daily cases will need to begin declining for future steps.
A graph showing hospitalization numbers alongside cumulative cases made the governor's point that capacity is available in hospitals, which he said was part of the state decision to resume elective procedures.
Also key to increasing testing, the governor said, is a steady supply of PPE. To help make that possible, Northam said the state is opening up three new facilities to decontaminate mass quantities of masks and other PPE to allow more supplies to be reused.
Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner who's been leading Virginia's testing task force, took part of Friday's briefing to outline the testing process.
Dr. Remley called it a 5-step process, with the 5 steps being: sick patient, clinician, specimen collection, lab test, test result
Each of those steps, she said, is a place Virginia can improve the process.
First, Dr. Remley said the key is getting patients who are experiencing symptoms to get themselves tested, which she said can still be a challenge. She said patients who are experiencing possible symptoms can go
and find an online map that shows all testing locations in the state with a search by zip code.
As far as collecting the test itself, she said Virginia is implementing the CDC's newest guidance on testing, which allows doctors to let individuals perform their own nasal swab test, using less PPE and allowing testing in many more locations.
For lab tests, Dr. Remley said Virginia's state lab has increased testing capacity by at least 3,000 tests a day with new contracts with private labs in Virginia and North Carolina.
Touching back on the blueprint outlined by Gov. Northam last week for reopening, she said Virginia is now in Phase 2 of testing, which calls for around 5,000 tests to be administered a day.
Phase 3 calls for 7,500 tests a day, Phase 4 calls for 10,000 tests a day, and Phase 5 calls for 2,000 tests a day with a steady rate of testing once most cases have already been identified.
Dr. Remley said the state has gotten increased supplies necessary to ramp up testing, and is doing so, focusing on the people who meet the CDC's priorities for testing, including hospitalized patients, healthcare workers, and high risk populations.
As far as next steps, she said the health department is working with more private labs to do up to 5,000 more tests a week and that local health districts are establishing more drive-thru and mobile testing sites to get more people tested.
She heavily encouraged people to keep following all social distancing guidelines but to go out and get tested if you have symptoms.
Gov. Northam said the big picture of all the data presented is that Virginia is making progress and that the measures taken have worked to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent any surges that would overwhelm hospitals.
He said PPE supplies are now steady, hospital capacity is available, and Virginia is increasing testing.
But what comes next?
Virginia has not entered Phase 1 of Northam's blueprint for reopening, and won't until we see a 14-day trend of declining daily case totals.
But the governor emphasized multiple times in Friday's briefing that where Virginia currently stands is what many states are calling their "Phase 1."
Virginia has resumed elective procedures and reopened dentist offices to non-emergency appointments. Beaches and parks have remained open for the purpose of exercise throughout the pandemic.
Each of those are steps other states are counting as parts of their "Phase 1."
As far as exactly what Virginia's Phase 1 will look like, when it can be implemented, and what it will mean for businesses, Northam said announcements on that will be made at his briefing scheduled for Monday.
Northam's Chief of Staff Clark Mercer answered a reporter question on Virginia's businesses, providing some insight into Virginia's decision to only close select non-essential businesses throughout the pandemic.
Touching on Northam's point that Virginia is already at what "Phase 1" is for some other states, he said Virginia never closed many non-essential stores, like toy stores, for instance, and only required the closure of businesses where social distancing isn't possible, like hair and nail salons and wineries.
Mercer said that was because they did not want, as a government, to define which businesses could sell the same type of product, effectively forcing people away from local toy stores into big box stores that also sell toys, to continue his toy store example.
Mercer said the key has been for all the non-essential stores allowed to remain open to keep following guidelines on social distancing and abide by the state's limit on gatherings of 10.
The governor, acknowledging studies showing that Virginia's per-capita testing was among the lowest in the country, said that the commonwealth focused on high-risk populations to start with, but is moving to a new strategy as they ask doctors to not turn away patients and have anyone who meets the CDC criteria for testing tested.
Northam said the goal is to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting they trust. To do that, his administration is developing guidance for doctors to provide more tests in outpatient settings.
The latest Virginia Department of Health numbers released on Friday morning appeared to show around 15,000 tests administered from Thursday to Friday, which would have been a huge increase over previous highs of about 5,000 tests a day.
That increase, according to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, was largely due to a change in methodology.
While testing did increase on Friday to around 5,800, the spike in testing numbers appeared because the VDH numbers now display the total number of tests administered overall, whereas they had previous reported the number of people tested.
According to Dr. Oliver, previously, it was not uncommon for a sick patient to get tested, get tested again in the hospital, and potentially get tested again going to a skilled nursing facility, and that would all display as one test on Virginia's system. Now, the system will indicate every single test, rather than just the total number of people tested.
The rationale behind the change, according to Northam's staff, is because every test administered uses testing supplies, reagents, and PPE that is critical to the state response.
They estimated about ten percent of people positive for COVID-19 received more than one test, causing the increase in Friday numbers.
It also is one explanation for why Virginia's testing numbers had been so low, compared to surrounding states.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Northam established a nursing home task force to set up COVID-19 testing at any facilities in the state with at least two confirmed cases. The testing, known as point-prevalence, has involved testing every single resident and staff member on the same day to determine the scope of outbreaks.
It's been performed in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, UVA Medical Center, VCU Health, the Virginia state lab, and the National Guard, which helps run tests when needed.
Now, Northam says any long-term care facility in the state can reach out to their local health district to request point-prevalence testing at any point, thanks to the efforts of the nursing home task force.
The governor reminded people that the National Guard is in areas to help perform tests, and reminded Virginians that seeing their vehicles should be no cause for alarm.
The governor reminded Virginians that it's not too late to respond to the U.S. Census, saying it's critical to count every single person living in Virginia. He urged anyone who has not yet filled it out to do so online or through the mail.
May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Gov. Northam said at this time, it's a reminder that many people of Asian descent have faced increased bigotry and harassment simply because the coronavirus originated in China, and reminded people that that is unacceptable.
May is also Foster Care Month, so Gov. Northam thanked foster parents for all they've done to welcome children into their lives and the social workers who support them.
Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Education has allocated $238.6 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, with 90% going directly to local school districts and 10% to statewide efforts.
Gov. Northam said so long as Virginians keep doing what they're doing, he's confident that K-12 schools will be able to begin again in August and September, as usual.
He said there's been no discussion on a start date for year-round schools who have been looking at July.
When asked about a previous projection that Virginia may be able to enter Phase 1 and start reopening non-essential businesses on May 8, Northam said the plan for reopening businesses remains under consideration with the state's COVID-19 Business Task Force and will be fleshed out in his Monday briefing.
He said the task force is working on a blueprint and criteria to determine exactly what Phase 1 will look like
He thanked people for their patience as his administration considers a lot of data to make the decisions, and said he understands that consumers want to be reassured that entering a business is safe for them.
Dr. Norm Oliver was asked about Virginia's workforce on tracing the contacts of positive cases after Virginia did not have data to report to NPR when they reported on numbers for contact tracing nationwide.
He said the Virginia Department of Health does not have a central roster of the people doing contact tracing because it's handled by local health districts.
Citing an example of one district that increased their normal number of people working on contact tracing from 5 to 20, he estimated the number for Virginia as a whole is "in the hundreds" and said they're working to increase it to about 1,500.
The governor was asked, for at least the third time in a briefing, if Virginia will be able to report the specific facilities where outbreak have been identified, especially involving long-term care centers.
For at least the third time, Dr. Norm Oliver explained that it's not a decision the Virginia Department of Health or the governor can make, because Virginia's state code defines facilities and businesses as "persons" and requires the health department to protect the anonymity of all "persons," effectively meaning that they can't identify facilities with outbreaks unless the facility agrees.
There's no way for that to change, Dr. Norm Oliver highlighted once again, unless legislators were to change the state code.
Gov. Northam said while Virginia has still seen the total number of cases doubling, it's happening with less frequency. At the start, Virginia saw its cases double around every 2 to 3 days. Now, that's around 9 to 12 days as the curve slowly begins to flatten.
Dr. Remley said part of the increase in Virginia's cases is due to an increase in testing, but that cases are increasing as well.
Gov. Northam said in a prior briefing that he was open to the idea of reopening parts of Virginia on varying schedules, depending on the status of cases in each region.
However, on Friday, he said feedback on that idea from the state's business task force has been mixed.
He highlighted a concern from one business in southwest Virginia, where few cases have been reported, that reopening their business while similar businesses elsewhere in the state remained closed could result in people traveling from hot spots to them, ultimately causing a spike of cases in their area that would then force them to close again.
Northam said feedback from the business task force is being considered and once again pointed to Monday as the day he'll announce guidance for businesses looking toward Phase 1.
Gov. Northam said the Virginia Employment Commission has been inundated with applications, seeing more in a week than they had in the previous three years.
As many Virginians report not getting their unemployment benefits and a nearly impossible system to navigate, with a phone line that almost never gets you to a person and instead hangs up on you, Northam said VEC workers are "doing all they can" to handle the surge of claims.
Gov. Northam reminded everyone to keep washing their hands, social distancing, and taking care of their friends, family members, and neighbors.
The governor said his administration will continue to reach out to businesses over the coming days and continue to assess data to establish new guidelines for Phase 1 of reopening.
Governor Ralph Northam began Wednesday's briefing by addressing the ongoing situation regarding outbreaks at meat processing facilities across Virginia.
Just hours before the briefing, WHSV
for COVID-19. Earlier this week, Cargill
and outlined the procedures they say they're following.
With President Trump
, requiring them to stay open throughout the pandemic in order to prevent supply chain disruptions for meat, Gov. Northam said his number one concern is workers.
The governor reiterated his announcements from Monday in which he said that the CDC had deployed teams to Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware to assess the situation at meat processing plants and ensure that they're following the guidelines established by the CDC on Sunday.
Highlighting the fact that many of Virginia's poultry and other meat processing facility workers are people of color working with low incomes, Northam took time to discuss some of the bills passed by the General Assembly that he said would benefit those workers, including a law to allow undocumented immigrants to gain driving privileges, among others.
Northam said he fully understands the importance of the facilities to Virginia's food chain and the agriculture industry and thanked farmers, truck drivers, and all members of the agriculture supply chain in Virginia.
But he said that supply chain depends on having workers who are healthy and safe.
He said it's imperative to protect the health and well-being of any workers declared essential and said he spoke to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask them about policies being put into place on a federal level to support the president's executive order by supporting the health of workers.
Northam said he directed Virginia's Department of Labor to make sure Virginia's meat processing facilities are following the new CDC guidelines and OSHA guidance as well.
As the CDC and Virginia officials assess the situation directly at facilities, the governor said more should be known in the coming days.
He said his administration is developing plans to make sure all meat processing facility employees can get tested and receive access to adequate medical care.
Gov. Northam also announced in Wednesday's briefing that
, which he signed about five weeks ago to temporarily ban all elective procedures at Virginia hospitals, will be allowed to expire at midnight Thursday night.
That effectively means that, on Friday, medical facilities across the commonwealth will be able to resume all elective procedures.
It allows dentist offices to reopen for all appointments, rather than just emergencies, and veterinarian offices to fully reopen as well.
The governor said he appreciates the cooperation of health care providers and facilities throughout the ban on procedures.
He reiterated that his administration took the step to prepare for the possibility of a surge in cases back in March, as the state was seeing rises in cases and there were legitimate worries that hospitals could be overwhelmed by a surge in cases like had been seen in Italy and New York.
At many of the governor's first regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefings, plans for potential surplus medical care facilities to handle cases if hospitals ran out of capacity were discussed.
But Gov. Northam said Virginia's efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have shown success, which he said is why hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
At this time, medical facilities across Virginia have not run out of personal protective equipment, with regularly replenished supplies, and many facilities have adapted by implementing new cleaning procedures to allow them to reuse more of the equipment.
"We took the right actions," Northam said, and slowed the spread of the virus, effectively preventing the scenarios that had been feared.
Now, with plenty of capacity at medical facilities, he said that they are ready to reopen for elective procedures and said dentist offices are ready to reopen safely.
The governor encouraged all Virginians to reach out to their healthcare providers now.
The Virginia Dental Association issued new guidelines on Tuesday to help guide dentists through safe ways to reopen amid the pandemic.
Dr. Reynolds, representing the association, spoke at Northam's Wednesday briefing in-depth about the plans for dentists specifically.
She said some, though not all, offices will resume regular operations with the start of May, but with new protocols in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Those protocols will include adjusted appointment times and schedules to allow time for cleaning, minimized patient counts in waiting areas, staff all wearing masks and PPE, screening patients for symptoms, and minimizing the use of air and water in cleanings to reduce aerosols, which are how COVID-19 spreads.
Dr. Reynolds said dentists are "excited and prepared" to get back to work fully and encouraged all Virginians to call their dentists now to figure out treatment plans.
Starting on Friday, hospitals across Virginia will resume elective surgeries, from knee replacements to some cancer treatments.
Gov. Northam said if medical facilities see COVID-19 cases rise again, they will be ready to take swift action as needed.
Dr. Mike McDermott, the chairman of the VHHA's board of directors, spoke on how hospitals have responded, expressing gratitude to the governor for taking needed steps and for hospital staff unifying to respond.
showing more than 5,000 hospital beds available across Virginia and abundance of ventilator supplies, as well as the adequate supply of PPE at almost all Virginia hospitals.
With enough beds, PPE, and supplies, he said hospitals are ready to resume elective procedures.
As they do so, he said a coalition has been formed of hospital administrators and healthcare experts to establish a framework on how to guide the process of resuming procedures safely.
As they restart a wider variety of procedures while continuing to try to slow the risk of COVID-19, he said medical facilities will collaborate to track testing and PPE supplies as they work to slow the spread of the disease, working together, ready to adjust their approach as needed to address the COVID-19 crisis while also meeting Virginians' health needs.
While he said the financial impact to medical centers across Virginia from the elective procedure ban has been at least $200 million, he said the important factor has been the health and safety of people and not money.
Gov. Northam thanked veterinarians for their full cooperation throughout the crisis and thanked them on behalf of his family's dogs as well.
He said vets can offer full services as of Friday, so long as they continue to follow Virginia's guidelines and practices on the safety of patients.
While the federal CARES Act allowed many people to have payments on select federal loans delayed, it did not help many people with other kinds of student loans.
Northam said that another 200,000 Virginians with privately held student loans are now eligible for at least 90 days' forbearance of their payments and to have late payment fees waived.
Loans eligible for the new forbearance option include commercially-owned Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans, Perkins loans, or privately held student loans.
As Republican state lawmakers in recent days
, at less than 1% of the state population tested, Northam acknowledged on Wednesday that the state had very limited testing capacity to start with, like almost all states across the country.
Due to the scenario faced at the start of the crisis, the Virginia Department of Health chose to focus the available testing on the highest priority patients, including people with severe cases, people exposed to directly confirmed cases, and health care workers.
That move was to preserve PPE at medical facilities rather than have it used on tests for more patients who may test negative.
But now, with more capacity of tests, PPE, and medical facilities available, more people can be tested, including high risk groups like people entering long-term care facilities and meat processing facility employees.
Gov. Northam said that Virginia received a shipment on Tuesday of 200,000 more test swabs from FEMA to help boost testing now.
So, with tests preserved at the start of the pandemic for high priority patients and a lot of people not tested at the start, including hundreds who have received clinical diagnoses for the virus without lab testing, doctors say it's likely that more positive tests will be coming in the near days and weeks for Virginia.
But, even with the rise in cases, hospitalization numbers have stabilized, because we can now test more people and not just those with the worst symptoms.
That's a big part of why elective procedures are being allowed to resume.
Dr. Remley, who is heading up Gov. Northam's testing task force, says they're working to create a database of all the tests available in the state, including tests at Virginia's state lab, as well as at private and public hospitals and private labs, to maximize the use of available tests at all facilities.
In response to reports of some private labs having unused testing capacity, she said all of Virginia's hospitals are no longer relying on the Virginia state lab or private labs, but are instead using their own labs or other partner hospital labs.
The tests at the private labs will be included in the new database, those many of those labs, she said, require direct payment and don't accept insurance, which has caused some of the discrepancy.
Dr. Remley said more on the database will be discussed Friday.
Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's state health commissioner, said as of today, the Department of Health has approved the release of Virginia's latest COVID-19 numbers to be broken down not just by health district and locality, but by zip code.
Dr. Oliver said transforming their data syetm will take some time, so the new system should be available in the next few days.
At Monday's briefing, Gov. Northam
of phasing business reopenings in Virginia on a regional level, starting with areas with fewer cases.
On Wednesday, when asked about it, Northam said he and the state's COVID-19 Business Task Force are still working through a plan to find a way to potentially open businesses regionally.
He said the key is looking at data on the ability of regions to test and their PPE available, as business leaders collaborate to discuss how to open back up public areas.
The governor said his administration took aggressive steps back in March as numbers began to rise, including closing schools for the rest of the academic year, which he said was the hardest decision made so far.
The concern, Northam said, wasn't necessarily about students themselves, since children have far better health outcomes than older adults, but that they live at homes with others who are at high risk and could have contracted the virus at school, not had symptoms, and then spread it to family members, causing the feared surge in cases.
If we continue following current guidelines though, Northam said he expects children should be back in school by August and September for the fall.
Governor Ralph Northam was asked about whether the 14-day decline of daily new cases that the state is looking for is a straight 14 days with every day having a lower new total (which could easily be broken by a surge one day due to a delay in case reporting in one region) or if it's about an overall trend.
Northam said his administration is looking for an overall trend, so that a one-day rise out of an overall 14-day decline wouldn't skew results and prevent reopening.
However, he said the most recent numbers don't yet show a flattening, so his earlier hopeful projection that maybe Phase 1 could start on May 8 seems highly unlikely.
He also acknowledged that as more tests are processed through Virginia's blueprint, numbers will go up even more, and as turnaround times for improve, the same will happen.
But Northam said the health department is looking into ways to take those number adjustments into account while focusing on the overall trend rather than just the raw increase in number.
He also said currently, the state's positive rate appears much higher than some other states because tests were focused so long on high risk areas like nursing homes. But as more people can be tested, that rate should go down.
Governor Northam announced that the Virginia state government received a delivery of 800,000 gloves and 300,000 surgical masks on Monday from Northfield Medical Manufacturing, which is a Virginia company the state government negotiated a contract with earlier in the crisis.
The governor said 14,000 test swabs for COVID-19 testing were also provided on Monday from FEMA.
Additionally, he highlighted the Virginia Department of Corrections, which has manufactured 470,000 masks throughout the crisis to distribute across the state.
The governor said there's been a 41% increase in testing statewide over the last week, with the commonwealth reaching about 4,000 tests administered a day over the last two days, which meets a key criteria of the governor's blueprint announced on Friday.
He said the Department of Health is prioritizing testing in public housing, prisons, and long-term care facilities to try and focus on people in some of the most vulnerable populations.
Gov. Northam took a significant part of Monday's briefing to address rising concern about the spread of COVID-19 in meat processing plants across Virginia.
Similar facilities nationwide have seen outbreaks,
Early this month, workers at Pilgrim's Pride in Timberville
, and protests on behalf of poultry workers were continuing on April 27 too.
The governor acknowledged Virginia's many poultry processing plants, which are primarily focused in the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Shore.
He said facilities along the Eastern Shore have recorded a rising number of coronavirus cases in recent days, as have facilities in Delaware and Maryland.
The governor acknowledged that many meat processing facilities are in rural areas that may have excellent access to health care, but said one of the main concerns is how quickly health care facilities in their areas may be overwhelmed by outbreaks.
With the close quarters of the work in such facilities making social distancing and isolation extremely difficult, Northam said he and the governors of Maryland and Delaware wrote a joint letter to the White House with their concerns about poultry workers.
In response, the governor said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is deploying teams to each state to work with local health departments to assess the overall situation at poultry and other meat processing facilities.
The CDC also released
on Sunday, establishing ways for the businesses to follow necessary steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam said he and is staff spoke with corporate leadership of meat processing facilities across Virginia this past weekend to ensure they take need steps to fight the spread.
With more than 120 federally inspected meat processing facilities across the commonwealth, including many in the Shenandoah Valley, Northam said that his administration is working on ways to ensure that all workers can be screened, provided care if sick, and protected if other workers are showing symptoms.
The governor said as the pandemic continues, it's important to remember who many epidemics in the U.S. and worldwide have been avoided because of vaccines that have been developed for other diseases that have killed millions in history.
With Monday marking the start of National Infant Vaccination Week, Northam encouraged all parents to keep up with their children's vaccination schedules and not avoid going to the doctor because of COVID-19.
He said it's essential to keep up vaccinations on their needed schedules to prevent dangerous diseases for children, saying that the last thing Virginia wants to see is an outbreak of a communicable disease, like measles, on top of COVID-19.
Studies have shown a decline in immunizations throughout the coronavirus pandemics, as many parents have avoided seeing their pediatrician.
But Northam said that vaccinations are critical and called on all parents to call their pediatricians and discuss their options.
Gov. Northam said it's key to remember that in addition to the physical effects of the coronavirus, the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health for many people as well, including substance abuse, depression, and more.
He said research has shown that some of the people at risk of feeling the most stress in a crisis include children, teens, health care workers, and those with existing substance abuse disorders.
Northam said those people need more help now more than ever, as well as people on the front lines of the crisis, dealing trauma on a daily basis.
Saying that treatment needs to continue for those who need it, Northam announced that the state received a $2 million federal grant, from which funds will be distributed to the community service boards across Virginia to help providers continue providing telehealth for behavioral health needs.
Virginia received $14.6 million for a new program to support business needs, with a focus on resilience and recovery. Those funds will be for local businesses across the state.
He also announced that the Commonwealth Transportation Board is allocating more than $100 million received from the CARES Act to offset revenue losses for transportation projects at local levels.
According to the CTB, those stimulus funds "enable local governments, small urban, and rural transit agencies throughout the Commonwealth to offset the substantial revenue losses, as well as sustain essential mobility functions related to the prevention, preparation, and response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
From the CARES Act, Virginia got a total of $456 million for transit assistance, including $47.2 million for discretionary allocation to small urban transit agencies and $52.5 million for for discretionary allocation to rural transit agencies, the Virginia Breeze intercity bus service, and the Appalachian Development Public Transportation Program.
The federal CARES Act funding does not require a state or local match, and is nearly three times the amount of federal transit funding appropriated to Virginia transit agencies in FY 2020.
, Northam encouraged all registered voters in Virginia to vote absentee by mail.
He outlined Virginia's deadlines, reminding voters that the last day to request a mail-in absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 12. You just need to contact your local registrar's office.
That absentee ballot then needs to be returned by Election Day on May 19.
On Monday morning, a judge in Lynchburg
, despite the inclusion of gun ranges in Gov. Northam's executive order that closed non-essential businesses in Virginia.
Asked about that ruling, Northam said that his administration's decisions on business closures have been "to promote and provide health" by limiting the spread in businesses where people would be in relatively close quarters.
He said they singled out no particular businesses. The governor emphasized that his goal is to get the health crisis behind the state so that Virginia can move on to addressing the economic crisis and getting businesses of all types back open.
Asked about his statement that he bases his decisions on the science regarding COVID-19, when so much data on the virus differs right now, Gov. Northam reiterated that COVID-19 is a "novel coronavirus."
It's new, and research on it is still constantly developing, so there are a lot of unknowns about it, he said.
He went back to Virginia's timeline, pointing out that Virginia's first confirmed case was on March 7 and how much has developed since then.
Specifically noting that we don't know yet if COVID-19 may be a seasonal virus, that there is no treatment, and there is no vaccine, he said those are critical reasons to follow the science as it evolves and research continues.
Last Friday, Gov. Northam outlined a blueprint for Virginia to be able to get to Phase 1 of reopening the state. On Monday, he was asked if there's a specific plan for Phase 1 yet.
The governor said it's being developed "as we speak" and that his Monday afternoon meeting with the COVID-19 Business Task Force would be a critical part of that, discussing plans with business leaders from different industries around the state.
He said his team is looking at data every day on the amount of PPE available, testing increases, and bed capacity to be able to get Virginia into Phase 1.
Northam ended Monday's briefing with a plea for Virginians to contact their health care providers.
He said it's "very, very important that we all take care of our health care needs and those of our family."
As businesses work to develop plans on how to reopen safely, he told Virginians that no group is working harder right now than health care providers and hospitals, saying doctor's offices and hospitals are safe and that "it's okay" for anyone in need of healthcare to go to those locations.
, he encouraged everyone to get in touch with their providers to discuss their health and any needed visits.
The governor praised state lawmakers for a variety of actions they took in
, including their
due to the pandemic and
But the governor acknowledged that they
While the governor alone cannot move local May elections to November, he said he would invoke the Virginia governor's statutory authority to postpone the May local elections by two weeks, from May 5 to May 19 to provide additional time for restrictions to begin to ease amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was done through
“Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health,” said Governor Northam. “I am grateful to the House of Delegates for taking action to move our upcoming elections, but unfortunately the Senate failed to make the same commonsense decision. While we strongly encourage every Virginian who can vote by mail to do so, we will also take every necessary step to conduct these elections in a way that ensures in-person voting is done safely and responsibly.”
Since local elections will go on in May, though a little later, the governor strongly encouraged absentee voting and said that elections officials will work to establish strong guidelines on health and safety at poling places.
The General Assembly's recently passed
hasn't yet taken effect — so the Department of Elections advises people requesting an absentee ballot to choose the reason of having a disability or an illness.
Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them at
or by downloading and printing a request form at
and then returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax, or scanned attachment to an email. Contact information for General Registrar offices is on the form. Forms are also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.
Voters completing a paper application may use reason 2A, “my disability or illness” to complete their form. Voters completing an online application to request an absentee ballot will need to follow the prompts and select “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day.” You will then have the option to choose “my disability or illness” as the reason for your request.
“Elections are a critical function of our government,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “We will do everything in our power to maintain the integrity of our democratic process while ensuring the safety of all Virginians.”
The June primary elections remain postponed to June 23 rather than June 9.
since March 15, the governor highlighted that the state launched its pandemic unemployment assistance program this past weekend to allow self-employed and gig workers, as well as other workers who were previously not eligible for unemployment assistance, to apply for unemployment assistance.
The governor thanked the Virginia Employment Commission for their work, though he said he is aware that many people have been frustrated by website problems and wait times.
He said the VEC has worked with Microsoft and Virginia Interactive to update their sites and launch an online portal for people to better access the system.
Northam said Virginia has the 10th lowest claims per participant in the labor force in the country.
Gov. Northam reiterated the announcements he made on Thursday,
Elective surgeries will be able to resume on May 1 and DMV offices will be able to reopen on May 11, per the new guidelines.
While Gov. Northam said the commonwealth is working to find a way to ease restrictions, he said we're not there yet. But the governor and his administration have developed an outline to determine when the state can ease restrictions.
It's being called the "Forward Virginia Blueprint," and was displayed through a slideshow at Friday's press conference.
The governor said Virginia is taking aggressive action and is hard at work delivering results on the pandemic.
“We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and builds public confidence,” said Governor Northam. “Businesses know that customers will return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. Our blueprint for the path forward is data-driven and provides clear guidance, so Virginians will know what to expect and understand how we will decide to when to lift certain public health restrictions.”
"We are all in this together," Northam emphasized, as he has before.
According to at least one model, the governor said it's possible that Virginia may have
But he and his staff said that everyone must continue to work to keep the case count low.
Daily cases in Virginia are still rising, but the growth rate is slowing. Hospitalization rates have also remained flat for several days, with plenty of hospital beds available and medical facilities in Virginia not expected to surpass capacity.
Northam said the good news is that
He also said the state's pipeline of PPE supplies is flowing and that the state has ordered three decontamination systems to clean as much equipment as possible.
But Northam said the key is that we "need to keep doing what we're doing" for now.
According to the governor's plan, which is based on the guidelines established by the CDC and announced by the White House, Virginia needs to see a decline in daily cases for 14 days and also see adequate testing available statewide before the commonwealth can move into Phase 1 of reopening.
He said the major thing needed is to vastly increase testing, and that will be the key to moving forward.
Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner, who's been leading Virginia's testing task force, spoke on a plan for "Testing Virginia.
According to Dr. Remley, Virginia has seen about 4,000 new COVID-19 tests reported a day in the past two days, which is a significant step up from an average of about 2,600 tests a day before that.
Dr. Remley said the increase is because the state has expanded testing criteria to include not just priority one people – medical workers and patients showing symptoms and with exposure – but also high-risk people.
That's Step 2 of testing.
Next is Step 3, which calls for about 7,500 tests a day to get a better sense of how many cases Virginia really has. Getting to Step 3 requires more comprehensive testing from the state lab, private labs, and hospitals across Virginia with their own testing systems, like UVA, Virginia Tech, and VCU.
Then comes Step 4, which calls for around 10,000 tests a day, including tests for asymptomatic people to get a real sense of how many people have been infected in Virginia. That testing step could potentially include recently developed antibody tests.
Finally comes Step 5, which would bring another reduced testing amount, with around 2,600 tests a day again, at which point most cases have ideally already been identified.
According to Gov. Northam, the key to moving into Phase 1 of reopening Virginia, based on the results of the increased testing per Dr. Remley's testing plan, requires a downward trend of positive tests over 14 days, a downward trend of hospitalizations over 14 days, increased testing and tracing, and enough hospital capacity for all needs in Virginia.
In Northam's blueprint, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) is listed as one of the critical steps to be able to ramp up testing, expand the medical workforce, and ensure the safety of healthcare staff.
Northam said the state's PPE pipeline is improving and hospitals are managing their supplies, but cautioned that easing restrictions safely would require an ongoing stable supply chain across all health care sectors that can be replenished.
The governor said Virginia has ordered 17.4 million N95 masks, 8.3 million surgical masks, 17.1 million gloves, 1.7 million gowns, and 1 million face shields, in part through a contract signed jointly with Maryland and the District of Columbia for 5 million N95 masks.
Governor Northam announced that a second shipment from Northfield Medical Manufacturing was scheduled to arrive on Friday with 3 million nitrile exam gloves, 100,000 N95 masks, 500,000 3-ply procedure masks, and 40,000 isolation gowns.
Northam said hospitalizations and ICU admissions are stable for the most part in Virginia, even as case counts rise, but said he extended the ban on elective surgeries to help make sure that remains the case.
Stable and open hospital capacity is another key guideline for Virginia to be able to start easing restrictions.
The governor said the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps bolstering local health departments and health care facilities will help meet that goal as well.
Once all those criteria are met, Phase 1 can begin, with some businesses reopening.
Phase 1 will still include social distancing measures, teleworking, recommended face coverings, and safety restrictions for the businesses that have opened back up, as well as limits on travel and public gatherings.
The governor said he is meeting with a new business task force, including owners of barber shops, campgrounds, manufacturers, entertainment venues, vineyards, and more, to discuss the "right way to ease restrictions" and consider methods that would actually be practical for workers.
Northam said he'll use their input, combined with feedback from government officials, to develop comprehensive guidance for businesses.
Once Phase 1 arrives, he says the state will have established rules for businesses to have everyone on the same page of when it's safe to operate.
The Commonwealth is developing two sets of guidance: one with broad based recommendations for all businesses, and another with industry specific recommendations for public-facing businesses like restaurants and non-essential retail. The guidance will be provided to businesses in early May.
As Phase 1 begins, officials will develop plans for Phases 2 and 3.
Gov. Northam emphasized once again that any restrictions must be eased in a safe manner, grounded in data, and that it can't be done "like flipping on a light switch."
Northam said the most important part of efforts moving forward is people looking out for the health of others and not just themselves — Wearing face masks and social distancing help protect others even if you don't know that you may have the virus.
His overall stance is that Virginia needs to get the health crisis behind us before reopening the economy.
State health officials said Virginia will be able to get to the called-for 10,000 tests a day for reopening the state by working with hospitals like UVA, VCU, and Virginia Tech, as well as with private labs to increase testing capacity across the state.
Health leaders said the clinical community has done what they've been asked to do, increasing telehealth measures and collaborating with each other to get every medical professional trained on testing procedures.
Gov. Northam was asked if parts of Virginia that have fewer cases than others – like Highland County vs. Fairfax County, for instance – could open sooner.
Northam said that he is trying to be as consistent as possible in the name of Virginia as a commonwealth, since the virus "knows no borders."
While the actual dates of Virginia's road to recovery depend on the testing data day by day, Gov. Northam said he hopes that we can move into Phase 1 as soon as May 8, when Executive Order 53 is set to end and lift restrictions on non-essential businesses.
But he said the data shows it's not happening any sooner than that.
When asked about a letter from the Virginia GOP calling on him to end Executive Order 53 and lift business restrictions earlier, Gov. Northam said that his plan is in accordance with CDC guidelines passed down to states by President Trump, and that he will continue to focus on trusting and following the CDC's recommendations.
The governor started Monday's briefing by emphasizing that the ability to run a large number of tests is key to any plan to ease restrictions on businesses or gatherings.
He ran through a timeline of how testing has gone throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the beginning, in which Virginia, like all states had to rely on CDC tests and ship them to Atlanta to receive any confirmation of results. Following that, the state lab developed the ability to perform in-house testing, and after that, as capacity increased on the state lab level, hospitals, private labs, and universities developed their own tests and well and steadily scaled up capacity.
That included tests developed by UVA and VCU.
Governor Northam said that, thanks to the efforts of all those facilities developing in-house testing, initial backlogs of tests have largely been reduced.
The governor said the state lab can now perform 300 tests a day, and, with equipment sent from Altria this week, will be able to run 400 tests a day by next week.
That only represents part of the tests being run each day across the commonwealth, though, with so many tests performed at health care systems and private labs that have been boosting their own testing capacity.
But, with Virginia, like all states, competing for testing supplies from federal stockpiles and corporations, the governor said the process has faced delays.
Until shortages of key supplies needed for testing, like the swabs used for tests and container to safely store tests, are addressed, the governor said capacity will face problems.
To help the state face the problems affecting testing, Gov. Northam said he had established a new testing work group, headed by Dr. Lillian Peake, the state epidemiologist, and Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner.
Northam said the testing work group would focus on expanding test sites and testing criteria to get more tests utilized across the state.
According to Dr. Remley, their group will try to move Virginia's testing plan into a new phase, coordinating with doctors, private labs, and others to make sure everyone is aware of their role in a statewide plan for testing.
Dr. Remley said coordinating those efforts will help open up more testing for more people and help better manage supplies on a statewide level.
As of Monday, testing criteria in Virginia focused on patients hospitalized with symptoms, emergency responders, people exposed to known cases, and also people who are being admitted to long-term care centers.
State health officials said in Monday's briefing that the key strategy is not just on increasing the number of tests a day, but focusing increased testing capacity in a helpful way to address patients in the most need of them.
Governor Northam said the initial lack of testing supplies, especially near the beginning of outbreaks in Virginia, resulted in a lot of clinical diagnoses – doctors determining that a patient had COVID-19 based on symptoms without performing a test.
The governor said a large part of that was because of the original testing plan, which could take a week to 9 days for test returns to come back, so doctors would make quicker decisions for their patients.
Now, according to Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, the Virginia Department of Health will be sending a clinician's letter encouraging every doctor who made a clinical COVID-19 diagnosis to test those patients to receive verifiable results.
Governor Northam said he knows the biggest question on many people's minds is when we'll be able to open businesses back up and ease restrictions on gatherings.
But he said the commonwealth has been following CDC guidance that was put out through the White House's 3-phase guidelines for reopening America.
Those guidelines state that states need to have 14 days of declining new case totals before phase 1 can be implemented, and Virginia is not at that point yet.
Dr. Remley, helping lead the new state testing group, said getting to the point where we can have accurate numbers to reflect that decline will depend on testing and coordination, as their group works to make sure everyone knows how they fit into the statewide plan for testing.
Although Virginia has seen lower totals in new cases reported over the past three days, the commonwealth has still seen increases of about 500 cases a day. Northam said the 3-day statistic could be misleading, and that he and state health officials are waiting to see the peak in the curve for Virginia cases, which is projected for late this week, according to UVA modeling.
When asked about the discrepancy between Executive Order 53 running until May 8, appearing to mean that non-essential businesses can reopen then, but the Stay-at-Home order requiring people to only leave home for essential reasons running until June 10, the governor said his administration is working to develop plans to make guidance on reopening non-essential busineses clearer.
He said when they have that, they will make it as clear as concise as possible.
The governor said he and his team have made every decision so far in this pandemic based on science and data.
To reflect that and let people see more of the data that they see every day, he said the Virginia Department of Health, starting today, will start sharing more in-depth data on their
Statistics breaking down cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities will be provided by each locality and each health district, along with demographic information by district.
Until today, hospitalization and fatality numbers have not been available by locality.
New tests have been under development across the nation and the world to test people for antibodies to determine if they contracted COVID-19. The tests, in theory, should provide much quicker results than current testing and should be able to determine if someone has had the virus in the past.
However, according to Dr. Remley, Virginia is awaiting federal validation, which has not yet been provided for any of the commercially available antibody testings, before using any on a widespread scale.
Several universities and private labs, like Granger Diagnostics, have been working on developing their own tests in Virginia, but none have yet been approved and made widely available.
In response to a question about workers concerned about their safety at food processing plants, Dr. Norm Oliver said that many similar facilities across the country have been sites of outbreaks and confirmed that several in Virginia have been as well.
However, as previously noted by Dr. Oliver, information on which facilities in Virginia have had outbreaks can only be provided if the facilities agree to the sharing of their information.
In our area, even with multiple confirmed outbreaks, most affected facilities have not identified themselves or agreed to the health department identifying them.
According to Dr. Oliver, local health departments have been working with plant managers at affected food processing facilities to provide personal protective equipment, provide testing, and trace the contacts of anyone with confirmed cases.
He said they're also providing suggestions and finding ways to contain the spread at those facilities, hoping to make sure workers are as safe as possible.
As the Republican Party of Virginia doubled down in an official statement on Monday backing President Trump's tweet to "liberate Virginia," the governor said he wants to remind Virginians of a message Vice President Mike Pence told governors in their Monday call: "one team, one mission."
The governor said that his administration has been following the White House guidelines on waiting for a 14-day downward trend in cases, so then seeing tweets from the president calling to "liberate" the state sends mixed messages.
Northam said he is just as anxious as anybody else to see restrictions eased and that he "doesn't really need protesters to remind" him that the economy needs business to open back up.
He described looking out the windows of the governor's mansion during a protest last week and seeing groups of children inches apart on blankets and about 50 adults gathering without wearing masks.
"We're all trying to get through this together," Northam said, adding that, based on his experience as a doctor, he finds the most frustrating thing to be that protesters are putting themselves at risk, all of us at risk, and putting health care providers and their families at risk.
"This is not the time to play politics," Northam said, saying it's instead a time to work together to get through the situation.
Gov. Northam started out Friday's press briefing by addressing the
for governors to gradually reopen businesses in their states.
The governor said Virginia's approach has been consistent with those guidelines, which call for a phased approach to reopening based on science and data.
According to Northam, the first phase of the CDC guidelines requires 14 days of declining cases. However, in Virginia, new cases are continuing to increase. Our projected peak of cases, according to UVA modeling, will not be until late April or early May.
That means that Virginia cannot yet enter Phase 1 of the new guidelines.
But Northam said that his administration is planning for when the day comes of a downward trend in the commonwealth by establishing new guidelines and finding new ways to focus efforts on screening, testing, and tracking for the virus.
The governor emphasized that more resources are needed for that. He said Virginia has received $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds to be used for statewide response and to aid local governments.
He also said the state is getting money from FEMA to assist first responders to help Virginia get to that downward trend.
For those who say that cases are continuing to go up and social distancing may not be needed, the governor pointed out that social distancing is meant to slow the spread, not eliminate it entirely, and that it is working to do that.
Northam said that actions by Virginians to follow social distancing guidelines and the Stay at Home order are keeping cases at a level that is manageable by hospitals, which models show would see surges beyond their capacity if people did not follow the guidelines.
But for hospitals to be able to continue meeting their manageable caseloads, the governor said workers at those locations need more personal protective equipment to keep up their response.
Gov. Northam said Virginia has received its first shipment of PPE through a contract with Northfield, providing thousands of new supplies that he said are being distributed to medical centers around the commonwealth.
Northam said more shipments are expected in coming weeks.
He said supply chains on a national level remain an issue, but that Virginia is diversifying its sources on national and international levels to get more supplies for Virginians.
The governor praised medical facilities for finding new ways to reuse equipment, like
The governor announced that he had signed
on Friday as a way to help hospitals and long-term care facilities respond to the ongoing pandemic.
The order eases licensing restrictions on nurse practitioners and doctors licensed in states other than Virginia to allow them to respond in Virginia.
“While we are seeing promising signs in our ongoing fight against COVID-19, we must continue to prepare for all scenarios, and that includes making sure we have to the necessary staff to confront a potential medical surge,” said Governor Northam. “This pandemic is placing extraordinary demands on our doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners, and these policies will enable us to expand our health care workforce so more trained medical professionals can step in and help.”
The order adds physician offices and other health care facilities to the section in Executive Order Fifty-Two allowing hospitals, nursing facilities, and dialysis facilities to have out-of-state licensees provide in-state care.
It allows Virginia-licensed nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement. It provides additional flexibility to hospitals in the supervision of interns, residents, and fellows, and allows hospitals to use fourth year medical students in the provision of care.
Executive Order 57 also allows for expanded use of telehealth. Physicians with licenses from another state who have current Virginia patients may continue to treat their patients via telehealth, which will help ensure Virginians who live in border communities to not have to travel out-of-state for care.
Gov. Northam said that his administration has waived a number of regulatory rules around staffing so that long-term care centers across Virginia can recruit staff and volunteers quickly.
The governor said Virginia's Medical Reserve Corps is being mobilized to long-term care centers to help respond to outbreaks, like
, which Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's health commissioner, specifically mentioned in his part of Northam's Friday briefing on the rise of cases in the past day.
State health administrators said the National Guard is also being utilized to help train staff at long-term care centers on proper practices for using personal protective equipment.
They also announced that Virginia's expanded testing criteria, which should be announced publicly on Friday or Monday, will include people about to be admitted to congregate settings, like long-term care centers, and not just people who are already rsidents there.
Northam said any facility with an outbreak should be able to test every resident and employee, with help from several of the state's medical systems, including UVA, VCU, and the state lab.
The governor also discussed moves his administration has made to lower the population at jails across Virginia. You can learn more about those reductions
Northam acknowledged the recent statewide numbers of 410,000 total claims for unemployment in Virginia over the past month, and said those numbers don't even include the number of newly eligible workers under the CARES Act, including self-employed and gig workers.
He said the Virginia Employment Commission has received payroll records for about 80% of all people who have applied for unemployment benefits, and that an online portal will go live Friday night for people to submit that documentation if theirs has not yet been received.
The governor also said the VEC will be able to provide backpay for anyone who's faced delays receiving unemployment insurance benefits due to issues with the system and massive response overwhelming it.
Fifty new employees have been hired at the VEC headquarters, and they've set up at least two more call centers across the state to handle the large volume of calls.
A private call center is also being established to start running next week.
A reporter asked the governor about his response to
to "LIBERATE" several states from COVID-19 restrictions, including Virginia.
Northam said he and his team are busy fighting a biological war and that he doesn't have time to involve himself in a Twitter war.
The governor said earlier in the press conference that he wants to get back to a place where all Virginia businesses can be open again, but that we have to get there using science and data available. Otherwise, he said, the sacrifices being made by health care professionals and first responders would be for nothing if we ignored the data, reopened too early, and caused another surge of cases.
That projection, based on UVA's modeling that the governor's team uses for Virginia planning, has been mentioned in each of the governor's briefings this week. Essentially, the model shows that Virginia hits a peak of coronavirus cases in late April or early May, but also shows if restrictions on social distancing and gatherings were to be lifted suddenly and early, Virginia would see a second surge of cases that would not peak until August. You can learn more about the Virginia modeling
A reporter asked the governor to explain why, as with Accordius Health in our area and other facilities with outbreaks in other areas, the Virginia Department of Health continues to treat facilities like people and will not release any detailed information, like the number of confirmed cases at facilities.
Dr. Oliver said it's a statuary requirement of Virginia code the department cannot release information on a facility without the facility's permission.
When asked if he could override that part of the Virginia code, Gov. Northam said that is something that legislators would have to do.
The state of Maryland has established an online registry where people can report if they have recovered from COVID-19 while self-quarantining with a confirmed case or with symptoms and a clinical diagnosis without a positive test result.
Dr. Oliver said academic institutions in Virginia, including UVA, Virginia Tech, and more are establishing their own version of a registry like that to help Virginia's numbers.
Asked for a response to the
on Thursday, the governor said they were putting themselves at risk, but more importantly, "putting all of us at risk."
The governor called for all Virginians to unite to "be a part of the solution." While acknowledging that everyone has the right to protest, he said joining together as a team could help Virginia face the crisis together.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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