Gov. Northam announces lifting of elective procedure ban, talks testing challenges

RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth on Wednesday for his latest briefing on Virginia's response to COVID-19.

Image from Gov. Northam's April 29 COVID-19 briefing

The governor's Wednesday briefing comes after he outlined a blueprint on a timeline for reopening Virginia on Friday and discussed the situation at meat processing plants and the need for continued pediatrician visits at Monday's briefing.

Northam's blueprint on reopening Virginia established on Friday calls for the commonwealth to see two weeks of declining daily case totals before we can enter Phase 1 of the process.

Virginia had two days of declining cases from Saturday to Monday, but that short trend was broken by a rise of 804 cases from Monday to Tuesday. From Tuesday to Wednesday, cases rose by 602.

Virginia first crossed 2,000 cases on Friday, April 3; 3,000 cases by Tuesday, April 7; 4,000 cases by Thursday, April 9; 5,000 by Saturday, April 11; 6,000 by Tuesday, April 14; 7,000 by Friday, April 17; 8,000 by Saturday, April 18; 9,000 by Tuesday, April 22; 10,000 by Wednesday, April 22; 11,000 by Friday, April 24; 12,000 by Sunday, April 26; 13,000 by Monday, April 27; and 14,000 by Tuesday, April 28.

Virginia's projected peak, according to most data modeling, should be around now, but the number of reported cases may continue to rise significantly as Virginia works to majorly ramp up testing.

You can watch each of the governor's briefings through WHSV's livestream at whsv.com/livestream2 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.

The latest updates from Gov. Northam's April 29 briefing

The situation at meat processing plants in Virginia

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 confirmed that multiple employees at New Market Poultry have tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier this week, Cargill confirmed to WHSV that an employee of their Dayton plant had died of COVID-19 and outlined the procedures they say they're following.

With President Trump using the Defense Production Act to deem meat processing facilities critical, 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.

Elective procedures can resume this Friday

Gov. Northam also announced in Wednesday's briefing that Order of Public Health Emergency Two, 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 order was extended by Gov. Northam on April 23 by one week.

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.

Dentist offices reopening

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.

The response from hospitals

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.

He highlighted the VHHA's statistics 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.

Response from veterinarians

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.

Student loan announcement

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.

Testing resource challenges

As Republican state lawmakers in recent days have issued public letters to Gov. Northam asking why Virginia's per-capita testing has been so low, 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.

More specific data soon available

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.

What about the possibility of reopening businesses on a regional level?

At Monday's briefing, Gov. Northam said he was open to the prospect 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.

School reopenings

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.

Looking for a trend of case declines to reopen

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.

The statewide situation in Virginia

Virginia remains under a series of public health orders and executive orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. The timeline of those measures can be seen below.

On Thursday, April 23, Gov. Ralph Northam extended Virginia's ban on elective surgeries by one week and extended the closure of public DMV offices by two weeks, bringing the expiration dates of those orders more in line with other statewide orders.

Last Friday, Northam signed a new executive order easing some license restrictions to allow more medical providers to practice in Virginia during the state of emergency, and talked about the federal guidelines for reopening the state.

Last Wednesday, he announced an extension of his Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. That order is now set to run through at least May 8.

The previous Friday, he announced plans to establish a nursing home task force, proposed the release of inmates with less than year left in their sentences, and emphasized a need for volunteers.

On April 8, 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.

On March 30, Gov. 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 order that closed many non-essential businesses, Executive Order 53, remains in place until at least May 9.

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.

Case totals as of April 29

By April 29, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 14,328 confirmed and 633 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.

Since an April 21 update to the VDH system, the department clarifies the difference in cases confirmed by lab tests and "probable" cases, which are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test.

Those positive test results are out of 85,307 people that have been tested in Virginia, which comes out to more than 17% of Virginians tested for the coronavirus receiving positive results.

At this point, 2,259 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 522 have died of causes related to the disease.

Each of those numbers are the 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, when then report it to the state health department.

Since April 21, the state website shows a lot more detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county.

The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the outbreak and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats, the VHHA offers more helpful data.

Local cases

In our area, as of April 29, there were at least 41 confirmed cases in Augusta County, 411 cases in Harrisonburg, 220 cases in Rockingham County, 91 cases in Page County, 95 cases in Shenandoah County, 12 cases in Staunton, 11 cases in Waynesboro, 2 cases in Highland County, 101 cases in Frederick County, 36 cases in Winchester, and 5 cases in Rockbridge County, along with 3 in Lexington.

Local outbreaks

Part of the Harrisonburg number, which has the most confirmed cases in our region, comes from an outbreak at Accordius Health Harrisonburg, where the Virginia Department of Health and UVA Health collaborated to test every resident and staff member, finding 81 residents and 12 staff members positive.

By Tuesday, April 28, the facility had confirmed 21 deaths due to coronavirus.

A separate outbreak in Harrisonburg, at the Harrisonburg Men's Diversion Center, has resulted in at least 25 positive cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

In Page County, which went from 30 cases on Friday to 91 as of Tuesday, a large part is accounted for from an outbreak at Skyview Springs Rehab, where 59 residents tested positive for the virus amid an outbreak.

The facility has 115 residents total. According to Dr. Colin Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, about 10-15 percent of staff members there have tested positive as well.

The Central Shenandoah Health District currently has 11 identified outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District also has 11.

Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of those outbreaks, given that Virginia state code requires permission to be granted by a facility for their information to be released to the media. Many 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.

Hospitalizations

Of the state's total hospitalizations, at least 43 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 2 are in Augusta County, 26 in Harrisonburg, 14 in Rockingham County, and 1 in Waynesboro.

In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 37 hospitalizations. Eleven of those have been in Shenandoah County and ten in Page County.

Deaths

As far as deaths, there have been two reported in Shenandoah County, one in Page County, one in Augusta County, 11 in Harrisonburg, and one in Rockingham County.

Although the statewide numbers list 11 deaths for Harrisonburg, the Central Shenandoah Health District confirmed on Tuesday that 21 residents of Accordius Health Harrisonburg have died of coronavirus-related causes.

While the state-listed number remains for Rockingham County has remained at one, WHSV has confirmed with Cargill that an employee of their Dayton plant has died of COVID-19.

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 the delay 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 – the same process is how flu deaths are reported.

Other local updates

Just to the east, there have been at least 81 cases in Albemarle County, 52 in Charlottesville, 10 in Greene County, and 7 in Nelson County. There have been 59 hospitalizations there.

In the part of West Virginia we cover, three case have been confirmed in Pendleton County, four cases in Hardy County, and one case in Grant County.

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

What about testing on a local level?

As of April 29, the Thomas Jefferson Health District had reported 3,176 total COVID-19 tests performed. The Lord Fairfax Health District had reported 3,197 tests, and the Central Shenandoah Health District had reported 2,528 tests.

For context, on a state level, of the COVID-19 tests administered, a little more than 17% of people tested have received positive results. Of the tests administered in the Central Shenandoah Health District, around 27% of people tested have received positive results.

Testing numbers for the Central Shenandoah Health District should rise in the coming days as free testing is offered in two Harrisonburg neighborhoods.

According to Dr. Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, those testing numbers reported by the Virginia Department of Health may not include all the tests that have actually been conducted. He said tests performed by private labs aren't always reported to the state if they came back negative, so advised that those numbers generally don't show the full picture.

Dr. Forlano, the state's deputy health commissioner, said in a Wednesday briefing that the state data is meant to give at look at overall trends more than it's meant to show every single case.

Recovery

Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case.

But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their online dashboard indicates that, as of April 29, at least 2,042 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 1,566.

The data used by the VDH to report cumulative hospitalizations is based on information reported in hospital claims. On the other hand, the numbers reported by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set.

Previous updates from Gov. Northam's April 27 briefing

Developments on the PPE pipeline

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.

Testing progress

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.

Concerns for meat processing plants

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, but in Virginia, not much information has been shared with workers or the public.

Early this month, workers at Pilgrim's Pride in Timberville protested what they said were unsafe conditions amid the pandemic, 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 new guidance for meat processing facilities 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.

Statement from the Virginia Poultry Federation:

Poultry plants across Virginia are taking significant and unprecedented steps to protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting the workforce is a high priority, and poultry plants are following CDC guidelines for essential food production facilities and working closely with regional health department districts.

The Department of Homeland Security lists the food and agriculture sector, including the poultry industry, as a critical infrastructure workforce. The Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have issued guidance for prevention and control of COVID-19 for meat and poultry processing plants.

Following are some examples of measures plants are taking:
• Increasing cleaning, sanitation and fogging frequencies and intensities for equipment and common areas at processing facilities
• Increased frequency of hand washing/sanitation for employees
• Requiring the use of face masks or face shields
• Practicing social distancing not only in common areas, such as break rooms and cafeterias, but also on production lines where possible
• Where social distancing is not possible on production lines, companies are installing plastic dividers between workstations and cleaning or replacing the dividers between shifts
• Heightened employee screening for any signs of illness, including non-contact temperature checks before entering the plant
• Educating employees about the virus and ways to avoid catching it
• Each company policy is different, but companies are offering paid sick leave, bonus pay, making paid time off policies more flexible, and other ways to show appreciation for workers

In addition to all the measures we are taking in poultry operations, it is critical that everyone practice social distancing and protective measures while not at work. VPF appreciates efforts of localities to ensure compliance with the Governor’s prohibition on social gatherings in violation of the stay at home order. This is a critical component of maintaining heathy workplaces and stopping the spread of COVID-19.

VPF thanks the hardworking people employed in the poultry industry for their dedication to producing essential food during this challenging time.

The need for children to keep getting vaccines

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.

The toll on mental health

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.

Business and infrastructure funding

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.

Absentee voting

With local elections in May delayed by two weeks, 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.

Response to the ruling on a Lynchburg gun range

On Monday morning, a judge in Lynchburg ruled that an indoor gun range can continue operations, 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.

The science

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.

What is the plan for Phase 1?

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.

Contact your health care provider

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.

Especially with elective procedures resuming this Friday, he encouraged everyone to get in touch with their providers to discuss their health and any needed visits.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 24 briefing

The General Assembly's re-convened session

The governor praised state lawmakers for a variety of actions they took in their re-convened session earlier this week, including their delay of raising the minimum wage due to the pandemic and giving the Department of Corrections the authority to release some low-risk inmates.

May elections postponed

But the governor acknowledged that they did not pass his recommendation to delay local elections in May until November.

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 Executive Order Fifty-Nine.

“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 law to allow no-excuse absentee voting 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 elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo or by downloading and printing a request form at elections.virginia.gov/forms 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.

Unemployment

With nearly 500,000 people filing for unemployment benefits in Virginia 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.

Elective surgery ban and DMV closures

Gov. Northam reiterated the announcements he made on Thursday, extending Virginia's ban on elective surgeries by one week and extending the closure of public DMV offices by two weeks.

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.

Northam's 'Forward Virginia Blueprint'

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. You can find all of those slides here.

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 seen its peak in cases as of Friday.

But he and his staff said that everyone must continue to work to keep the case count low.

Where Virginia is now

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 more than 1,600 Virginians have been treated successfully and recovered from COVID-19.

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.

The criteria to reopen

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.

Testing

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.

Downward trends needed for Phase 1

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.

Having adequate PPE supplies

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.

Hospital capacity

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.

Phase 1

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.

Overall guidelines on the future

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.

How do we increase testing to the needed point?

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.

Can parts of the state open up sooner than others?

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."

When will Phase 1 happen?

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.

Response to Virginia GOP letter

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.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 20 briefing

Testing plans

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.

Testing work group

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.

Clinical diagnoses

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.

When can we ease restrictions?

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.

Expanded data

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 COVID-19 dashboard.

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.

What about rapid testing?

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.

Food processing plants

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.

What does Gov. Northam have to say to 'ReOpen Virginia' protesters?

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.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 17 briefing

President Trump's guidelines to 'Reopen America' and increasing cases

Gov. Northam started out Friday's press briefing by addressing the guidelines the Trump administration has released 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.

PPE

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 UV decontamination implemented by UVA Health.

Gov. Northam signs Executive Order 57

The governor announced that he had signed Executive Order 57 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.

The response to long-term care centers

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 at Accordius Health in Harrisonburg, 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.

Reduction of population in jails

The governor also discussed moves his administration has made to lower the population at jails across Virginia. You can learn more about those reductions here.

Unemployment

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.

Responding to President Trump

A reporter asked the governor about his response to a series of tweets from President Trump calling for people 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 here.

Why aren't numbers available on outbreaks?

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.

What about more recovery data

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.

Response to protesters

Asked for a response to the protesters who called to "reopen Virginia" in a rally on Capitol Square 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.

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 13 briefing

The latest modeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing education

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

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

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

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

In addition, Northam highlighted the new 'VA TV Classroom' program, through which four public media TV stations have partnered with the Virginia Dept. of Education to provide education over the air.

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

Long-term care facilities

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

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

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

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

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.

Challenges

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

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 10 briefing

Task force to respond to outbreaks at nursing homes

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

The move was especially prompted by the situation at Canterbury Rehabilitation and Health Care in Henrico County, where dozens of people have died in recent weeks.

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

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

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

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

They've also identified 525 cases among those facilities.

Proposed amendment to make inmates eligible for release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unemployment changes

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

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

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

You can learn more about the coming unemployment insurance changes here.

What about hope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 8 briefing

Elections

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

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

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

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

The Virginia GOP and local-level Republican parties had 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.

New Virginia ABC license and fee changes

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

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

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

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

UVA Health working on modeling for surge in Virginia

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

Relevant updates from Gov. Northam's April 6 briefing

Guidance on face coverings

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

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

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

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

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

Gov. Northam emphasized that police will not be enforcing Virginia's state law against wearing masks throughout the pandemic.

Genetic testing

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

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

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

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

Modeling

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

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

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

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

New data

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

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

Testing

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

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

When asked about why the 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.

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.

Construction companies

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

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

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

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

Pardons?

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

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

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

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

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

Details of the 'Stay at Home' order

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

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

The order Northam announced in his press conference is 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.

Possible consequences

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

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

What about non-essential businesses?

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

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

Previous updates on the situation across Virginia

Elective procedures postponed

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

The direction came in 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.

State parks

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

That order will last until at least April 30.

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

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

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

• Stay close to home.
• Guests should bring their own soap and hand sanitizer to use during day-use visits.
• Groups and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and these restrictions will enforced by park staff.
• Guests should keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others at all times. While on trails, alert others of your presence and step aside to let others pass at a safe distance.
• Parking fees remain in place. Guests should be prepared to self-pay with cash or check at the contact station.

Schools closed for the rest of the academic year

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

Previously, Northam had 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.

Business restrictions

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.

Unemployment updates

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

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

You can find more information on unemployment claims at 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.

Child care

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

• Expanding eligibility for school-aged children currently designated for part-day care to full-day care.
• Increasing the number of paid absences from 36 to 76 days for both level 1 and level 2 providers.
• Automatically extending eligibility for families due for eligibility redetermination in the near future by 2 months and temporarily suspending the requirement for face-to-face interviews.

SBA loans

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

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

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

Tax changes

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

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

Dealers can submit a request for extension by using 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.

Vehicle inspections

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

DMV closures

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

Utilities

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.

Courts

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.

What to know about preventing the coronavirus

Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Avoid non-essential travel.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you're encouraged to check both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.