RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth at 2 p.m. on Wednesday for his latest briefing on Virginia's response to COVID-19.
The governor has been providing regularly scheduled briefings at 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to provide the latest updates.
On Wednesday, he announced that he was postponing Virginia's June primary election and recommending that local elections in May be postponed to November by the General Assembly.
In last Monday's briefing, he issued a 'Stay at Home' order for all Virginians that is scheduled to run until June.
You can watch each of those briefings live on WHSV on your TV or through WHSV's livestream at whsv.com/livestream or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps.
Latest updates from Gov. Northam's April 8 briefing
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 advised all members of the party to apply to vote absentee 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.
Gov. Northam also announced in Wednesday's briefing that the state had sent out 1.5 million gloves and 430,000 N95 masks to medical providers across the commonwealth.
He said several thousand more N95 masks were sent on Tuesday and Wednesday, with numerous shipments to localities.
New Virginia ABC license and fee changes
Northam said in Wednesday's briefing that he has directed the Virginia ABC to defer all fees for licenses and permits that are up for renewal through June as a way to assist restaurants and Virginia businesses.
Many restaurants that have been forced to close due to COVID-19 still have active Virginia ABC licenses for serving alcohol, and Northam said the change would help more than 6,000 businesses that would otherwise have to pay fees for licenses they can't use right now.
But for those restaurants still open and offering takeout, Northam announced other ABC change as well.
Restaurants and facilities with mixed beverage licenses through the state board will be allowed to serve mixed beverages for takeout as of midnight Thursday morning, effectively allowing locations that serve takeout to include mixed drinks with someone's takeout order.
Outstanding legislation from the March General Assembly session
Gov. Northam said about 460 bills remain that the General Assembly passed a month ago, early in March, which he has not yet acted on, including the legislators' budget amendments.
He said he's signed more than 800 bills so far and will act on all the remaining bills by Saturday night. The actions taken on those bills will all be public by Monday morning.
UVA Health working on modeling for surge in Virginia
When asked about the status of a model Gov. Northam mentioned on Monday that UVA Health researchers are working on to develop projections with Virginia-specific data for a peak in cases, the governor said researchers are continuing to collect data to put that model together as quickly as possible, but it is still in progress.
Response to outbreaks in Virginia nursing homes
When asked about Maryland's announcement that they are sending "strike teams" to nursing home and retirement communities across their state to facilitate response to COVID-19, Northam said Virginia has already been doing essentially the same thing, though without the same name.
He commended nursing homes and retirement communities for doing everything they've been able to throughout the crisis.
The statewide situation in Virginia
On March 30, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a 'Stay at Home' order for all Virginians by signing Executive Order 55, effectively instructing all Virginians to stay home except for essential needs.
Virginia remains under a state of emergency until June 10, and Northam's previous order that closed many non-essential businesses, Executive Order 53, remains in place for that length of time as well.
That order is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. You can learn more about what police enforcement of Northam's executive orders looks like here.
All elective surgeries have also been postponed in Virginia hospitals through a public health order signed by Northam on March 25, designed to help preserve critical equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear.
Case totals as of April 8
By April 8, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 3,645 cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
Those positive test results are out of 30,645 people that have been tested in Virginia, which comes out to nearly 12% of Virginians tested for the coronavirus receiving positive results.
At this point, 615 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and 75 have died of causes related to the disease.
Those hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the outbreak and not the total number currently in the hospital. Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health.
The Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 website is updating with the latest statewide numbers at 9 a.m. each day.
The numbers that appear on that list are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department's numbers reflect those new results.
In our area, as of April 8, there were at least 13 confirmed cases in Augusta County, 36 cases in Harrisonburg, 20 cases in Rockingham County, 3 cases in Page County, 13 cases in Shenandoah County, 1 case in Staunton, 3 cases in Waynesboro, 46 cases in Frederick County, 15 cases in Winchester, and 3 cases in Rockbridge County, along with 3 in Lexington.
Just to the east, there have been at least 41 cases in Albemarle County, 23 in Charlottesville, 4 in Greene County, and 3 in Nelson County.
The numbers provided here are a blend of the data provided by the Virginia Department of Health and case updates provided directly by our local health districts.
Why do some cases that have been confirmed in my area not appear on the state map?
The VDH numbers always lag behind the numbers reported by local health districts because of multiple factors.
First, they're based on the test results that healthcare providers and laboratories submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so any positive cases announced in the late afternoon or evening, as well as on the day of the case count update, cannot appear on the department's list.
In addition, representatives for local health districts have told us their first priority when a new case is confirmed in their district is to work on tracing the contacts the patient had to let anyone who may have potentially been exposed to the virus know. With that as the priority, sometimes reporting of local cases to the Virginia Department of Health falls lower on the ladder and those results may not show up on the state tally for another day or two.
Plus, the exact locations of cases can sometimes appear differently on the state map than they do for local health districts that know their localities better.
Considering all of those factors, as an example, the April 2 state website update did not show one case in Staunton that the Central Shenandoah Health District confirmed to WHSV on March 29, though it had updated to show two cases confirmed in Augusta County at the same time.
There was also, initially, a glitch in the system for updates from the Lord Fairfax Health District being sent to the Department of Health that caused some of their numbers to not display correctly for weeks. However, as of April 6, Dr. Greene, representing the district, said that issue had been resolved.
With those lapses between local case reporting and the VDH, while we report every morning on the latest statewide totals, we're also reporting local case numbers based on results directly confirmed to us by local health districts.
West Virginia's communication system between the local and state health departments is a little different, and their numbers, at this point, are considerably lower, so a similar discrepancy hasn't been seen there yet.
Reporting by local health districts
Local health districts are no longer sending individual updates for every new case, as they expect, realistically, that numbers will keep rising until we hit the peak of cases, which current models, highlighted by Gov. Northam on Wednesday, don't project until most likely some time in May.
Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.
Previous updates from Gov. Northam's April 6 briefing
Compliance with the 'Stay at Home' order
The governor started out Monday's briefing by thanking Virginians for following the 'Stay at Home' order, saying that crowds were not seen on beaches and in state parks this past weekend like they had been the weekend before.
He reminded Virginians that "social distancing is for everyone," adding that Virginia Department of Health data shows that nearly half of all cases in Virginia have been in people under the age of 50.
He also reiterated that people can transmit the disease without showing symptoms, which is one of the key reasons for social distancing requirements, as well one of the primary factors for the CDC now recommending that people wear face coverings when out in public.
Guidance on face coverings
Northam discussed the latest CDC guidance on face covering recommendations, reminding Virginians that they are an effective way to reduce spread of the virus from people who may have the disease without showing symptoms and knowing. Masks make it less likely that droplets from a sneeze or talking will get out to potentially infect others.
The governor encouraged people to go online and find instructions for how to make masks, adding that there are guidelines online even for people who can't sew, mentioning that securing a bandanna with a rubber band is an easy option.
He also added, though, that people should not assume that wearing a face covering means that they can do anything, and they should remember that social distancing remains critical.
Northam demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask, covering both your mouth and nose, using his own mask, which was one of the series of masks produced by the Virginia Department of Corrections.
When asked why he and none of the state cabinet officials present at the briefing were wearing face masks, Northam said they are following guidance not wearing masks inside the building, but are wearing them when outside in the public, as encouraged for everyone.
Gov. Northam emphasized that police will not be enforcing Virginia's state law against wearing masks 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.
Shortage of PPE
Gov. Northam said the commonwealth has been working every angle to find ways to buy more personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers and hospitals across Virginia.
He mentioned a $27 million contract with Northfield, a Virginia-based logistics company, to produce more PPE for Virginia locations, as well as a contract with SD's Trucking to handle distribution.
Northam said the state health department has also shipped out a million masks that had been held during the H1N1 outbreak to hospitals and shipped out a third round of supplies from the National Stockpile for Virginia medical facilities.
The governor said the state has shipped out MREs to local food banks and also shipped out a million bottles of hand sanitizer.
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 Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association dashboard 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.
The governor said while people are staying home more and limiting their exposure to others, social distancing and hand washing remain the most powerful weapons against COVID-19.
"We cannot relax our vigilance" against this virus, Northam said.
What about recovery numbers?
Dr. Norm Oliver,, Virginia's state health commissioner, was asked about why the Virginia Department of Health does not include recovery numbers on their state website tally of cases, 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 VHHA numbers are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set from the VDH information.
Sending supplies to hot spots?
Gov. Northam, when asked if we will be sending supplies, like ventilators, to New York or other hot spots, as some states have done, said Virginia is working with other state governors and federal leadership to track inventory needed.
However, he said that Virginia has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in patients in our hospitals.
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.
When asked why non-essential businesses that weren't required to shut down as "arts and recreation" are allowed to remain open even when the governor has told people to only leave home for essential purposes, Gov. Northam said non-essential businesses can still stay open by following Executive Order 53, which requires limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people and thorough cleaning in business locations.
If they can't comply, Northam said, they must close, and he emphasized that the administration will stand by that policy.
As for why the businesses can remain open, Northam used the example of someone out to get groceries stopping to pick up a book to help get them through self-isolation as one example of non-essential businesses staying open during the Stay at Home order.
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.
Closures of some trails and recreation facilities
A number of trails and recreation sites across Virginia have shut down in recent days due to people not complying with social distancing guidelines, including the popular Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia.
"This virus knows no borders," Northam said, when asked about those decisions in areas with relatively few cases, like Abingdon.
"People weren't abiding by our guidelines, so the decision was made to protect everyone's health."
Details of the 'Stay at Home' order
In Northam's Monday briefing, he announced that he was immediately implementing a 'Stay at Home' order for Virginia, taking effect from March 30 until June 10, unless it's later amended or rescinded.
The move came after Maryland's governor announced a similar order in the morning. West Virginia and North Carolina each already had similar orders in place before Monday.
The order Northam announced in his press conference is Executive Order 55.
What does a 'Stay at Home' order mean?
It, essentially, means that Virginians can only leave home for food, supplies, work, medical care, or exercise/fresh air purposes.
Only leave home if you have an essential reason to do so — Going to visit a friend for a poker game would not be essential. Going to visit a friend to help care for them because they have a broken leg would be essential. Exercise common sense about what is or isn't essential, and if it isn't, then don't go out.
You're still free to leave the house to get groceries or go to the pharmacy. You're also still free to go on a run or go for a hike, so long as you're following social distancing. But if you're not doing something essential and if you're not following social distancing orders, then just don't do it.
“Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing," Northam said.
It doesn't mean you have to be barred inside your home and cannot leave at all; but it does mean you should limit leaving homes as much as possible.
What changed from Friday to Monday?
Last Friday, when asked why he had not issued a 'Stay at Home' order at that time, Gov. Northam said, "We're talking semantics here."
Northam said his message, repeatedly each day, had been to tell Virginians to stay at home, and that that was the same message that all states were giving.
But on Monday, the governor said after seeing people not following social distancing guidelines and packing beaches and trails, he was changing course and issuing an order.
"This was a suggestion," Northam said. "Today, it's an order."
Anyone holding a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor while the order is in place. That's through the previous Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential business across Virginia.
Any violations of the parts of the order requiring the cancellation of in-person college classes, the closure of public beaches, and the closure of short-term stays at overnight campgrounds can also be charged as Class 1 misdemeanors.
What about non-essential businesses?
The language from Gov. Northam's previous executive order, Executive Order 53, remains in place, which allows restaurants and "non-essential" brick-and-mortar retail stores to continue operating, so long as they limit people in any space to 10 and stick to delivery, takeout, and pickup services at restaurants.
Any business that cannot follow the social distancing order of 10 patrons or fewer is required to close, according to Northam.
Previous updates on the situation across Virginia
Elective procedures postponed
Gov. Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA directed all Virginia hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries and procedures in order to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment.
The direction came in Order of Public Health Emergency Two.
The order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient and does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs.
“Hospitals and medical facilities in Virginia and around the country are in desperate need of additional masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment,” said Governor Northam. “While we work to increase our supply, it makes sense to decrease the demand on that equipment where we can. Postponing elective surgeries allows us to divert more PPE to the medical staff who are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak so we can better protect the men and men on the front lines of this public health emergency, fighting to keep us all safe.”
Licensed inpatient and outpatient surgical hospitals, free-standing endoscopy centers, physicians’ offices, and dental, orthodontic, and endodontic offices may perform any procedure or surgery that if delayed or canceled would result in the patient’s condition worsening.
Outpatient surgical hospitals are encouraged to work with local inpatient hospitals to assist with surge capacity needs.
Gov. Northam announced that all Virginia state parks will be day-use only, meaning that all cabins, campgrounds, and bath houses at state parks will be effectively closed.
That order will last until at least April 30.
According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, all reservations for stays at state parks will be canceled and reservation holders will receive automatic refunds.
The parks themselves will remain open as "an essential good to the general public for day-use activities such as hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and exercise."
Anyone using the parks in those ways is asked to keep the following in mind:
• Stay close to home.
• Guests should bring their own soap and hand sanitizer to use during day-use visits.
• Groups and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and these restrictions will enforced by park staff.
• Guests should keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others at all times. While on trails, alert others of your presence and step aside to let others pass at a safe distance.
• Parking fees remain in place. Guests should be prepared to self-pay with cash or check at the contact station.
Schools closed for the rest of the academic year
In Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 2 p.m. press conference on March 23, he announced that all K-12 public schools across the commonwealth would be ordered to remain closed at least through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Previously, Northam had ordered school closures through this coming Friday and said that the commonwealth would reevaluate as that date got closer.
By Monday afternoon, bordering states to Virginia, including North Carolina and West Virginia, had already taken similar measures to close schools.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said Governor Northam.
According to Northam and state officials, the Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance to help individual school districts execute plans to carry on instruction for students while ensuring that everyone is served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs.
Officials say that will include options for instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
Individual school districts will determine next steps as to how to proceed with graduation for seniors.
The state has already applied to the Department of Education to be able to waive end-of-year testing requirements for the year.
School districts across our area have stepped up in recent weeks to continue providing meals to students while they're at home. You can find a list of how local schools are providing meals here.
Northam also announced on Monday that he would be signing Executive Order 53, which would take effect at the end of Tuesday (11:59 p.m. on March 24) ordering some non-essential services, including all recreation and entertainment services, to close.
The order covers three categories of businesses:
1. Recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys and theaters, which must close their doors by midnight on Tuesday.
2. Non-essential retail stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they can limit patrons to 10 at most, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, and follow CDC guidelines on sanitation.
3. Restaurants and food service establishments, which can remain open for carry-out, curbside pickup, or delivery, but not in-house dining.
Hair salons, barbers, massage therapists and similar non-essential services who can't feasibly carry out social distancing must close.
Dining and on-site alcohol establishments are allowed to keep operating through delivery and takeout services, but must close on-site dining to the public. That includes restaurants, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and tasting rooms.
Grocery stores, health services, businesses in supply chains, and other essential businesses will be able to remain open no matter what. Virginia ABC stores are also considered an essential service, Northam clarified in response to a reporter's question.
The construction industry and construction supply stores are also considered essential services.
Here's a comprehensive list of businesses considered essential that may remain open during normal hours:
• Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
• Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
• Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
• Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
• Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
• Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
• Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
• Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
• Retail located within healthcare facilities;
• Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
• Pet stores and feed stores;
• Printing and office supply stores; and
• Laundromats and dry cleaners.
All essential businesses must still adhere to social distancing as much as possible and implement enhanced sanitation practices.
According to a press release issued by Northam's office following the briefing, the following list of businesses must close to the public as off 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday:
• Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
• Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
• Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;
• Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
• Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.
Professional businesses not in any of the above lists must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines.
Businesses violating the governor's order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"I know the next several weeks will be difficult," Northam said. "These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”
The order will remain in effect for at least 30 days in Virginia.
State leaders said that the Virginia Employment Commission received more than 40,000 applications for unemployment from March 16-23.
They reiterated that the state's 1-week waiting period to receive benefits has been waived, as well as the regular work search requirement while so many employers remain closed due to the coronavirus.
You can find more information on unemployment claims at www.vec.virginia.gov.
A FAQ guide from the Office of the Governor also outlines policies for workers that have been temporarily laid off or discharged during the public health crisis.
Stress and anxiety
Northam also touched on the stress and anxiety that many people are feeling due to the spread of the virus and encouraged people to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK if they are feeling thoughts of suicide. He noted that the Disaster Stress Hotline is also available to provide counseling and support for people during an emergency like this one at 1-800-985-5990.
At this point, state health officials have confirmed that there is ongoing "community spread" of COVID-19 between Virginians, especially in distinct "clusters" of cases seen in parts of northern and eastern Virginia where the virus has been the most prevalent.
Those clusters have been detected in the northern, central, and Peninsula regions of the state.
Everyone living in those areas is asked to stay home, practice social distancing, and follow all CDC and VDH guidelines for prevention of the virus.
State leaders clarified in their March 19 conference that Medicaid coverage covers testing and treatment for patients with COVID-19.
Gov. Northam directed the Dept. of Social Services to modify Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program, which is currently caring for 25,000 children, to increase support and flexibility for enrolled families and providers. These modifications include:
• Expanding eligibility for school-aged children currently designated for part-day care to full-day care.
• Increasing the number of paid absences from 36 to 76 days for both level 1 and level 2 providers.
• Automatically extending eligibility for families due for eligibility redetermination in the near future by 2 months and temporarily suspending the requirement for face-to-face interviews.
Northam announced on March 19 that Virginia's application to the Small Business Administration for businesses to apply to the SBA for federal disaster loans as a result of COVID-19 has been approved.
The SBA’s Disaster Loan program is designed to help small businesses and nonprofits meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot otherwise be met as a direct result of COVID-19.
To learn more about the program, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center has a rundown on their website of what to know about the program. You can also find more directly through the SBA at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/EIDLLoans.
State officials said the sales taxes owed by Virginia businesses on Friday, March 20, could be extended to April for some businesses that apply to the state. The process requires applying, however.
Virginia Tax will consider requests from sales tax dealers for an extension of the due date for filing and payment of the February 2020 sales tax return due March 20, 2020. If the request is granted, Virginia Tax will allow filing and payment of such return on April 20, 2020, with a waiver of any penalties that would have applied. However, interest will accrue even if an extension is granted.
Dealers can submit a request for extension by using a secure e-mail system available on the Virginia Tax website.
State leadership is also extending the due date for Virginia individual and corporation tax payments to June 1. Tax returns will still be due on May 1 across Virginia, but the date for Virginians to pay any taxes owed will be extended.
Gov. Northam announced on March 19 that they would be asking Virginia State Police to suspend enforcement of vehicle inspections for the next 60 days.
Northam encouraged everyone in his March 18 address to donate blood for the American Red Cross, which announced yesterday that they're seeing an extreme shortage due to thousands of canceled blood drives.
The governor said he would be donating blood Wednesday afternoon and emphasized that there's no evidence the virus can be transmitted through blood. Officials encouraged people to make an appointment at their local blood centers.
In the March 18 briefing, the governor also said the Virginia Dept. of Elections is encouraging people to vote absentee in any upcoming May elections, but is not planning at this time to postpone any elections.
The governor announced that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would be closing all offices (about 70 across Virginia) to the public from March 18 to April 2, at least. That closure was later extended to at least April 23.
People who have licenses or registrations expiring by May 15 will be granted 60-day extensions.
Northam also encouraged Virginians to take care of DMV tasks online, at dmvNOW.com, if possible.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued an order directing utilities it regulates, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia, to suspend service disconnections for 60 days to provide immediate relief for any customer, residential and business, who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some, like the SVEC, have also temporarily suspended late or nonpayment fees.
The Supreme Court of Virginia granted a judicial emergency in response to COVID-19. From Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 6, non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings in all district and circuit courts are suspended absent a specific exemption.
This includes a prohibition on new eviction cases for tenants who are unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.
All non-exempted court deadlines are tolled and extended for a period of 21 days.
State of Emergency
On March 12, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, with many local officials doing the same in the following days.