Gov. Northam announces new symptom checker, strongly suggests mask order coming
Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth on Friday for his latest COVID-19 briefing as Virginia enters Memorial Day weekend in Phase 1 of
, the governor discussed healthcare access amid the pandemic and announced vetoes of several healthcare-related General Assembly bills, among other updates.
, the governor announced a plan for Virginia Beach to reopen for recreation this weekend, discussed planning underway for Virginia schools, talked resources available for people facing evictions, and more.
You can find detailed breakdowns of those press conferences farther down on this page.
Most of Virginia began Phase 1 a week ago on May 15, except for Northern Virginia, which received a 2-week extension to Phase 0 a few days before the start, and Richmond and Accomack County, which each requested and
just hours before the official start of Phase 1.
According to the governor,
will last at least two weeks, and how data trends on Virginia's COVID-19 tests, hospital bed capacity, and PPE supplies will determine when the commonwealth can move to Phase 2. At this point, no date has been set for Phase 2 and no date has been set for when Northam will announce a date for Phase 2.
, testing remains generally higher across Virginia and the 'percent positivity' rate of how many Virginians are testing positive for COVID-19 has been steadily decreasing.
Northam has said that the restrictions in Phase 1 established by his administration are "the floor" and that it's up to individual businesses whether they are able to safely reopen and individual regions can request changes if their data is different from the state's overall.
As of May 22, Virginia
, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, with 1,136 total deaths and 4,145 cumulative hospitalizations.
According to the
, there are currently 1,459 Virginians hospitalized with either confirmed COVID-19 tests or pending COVID-19 test results and 4,963 patients who were hospitalized and have recovered.
In general, over the past three weeks, test results have yielded lower daily case totals and increased testing, showing the "curve" of Virginia cases moving downward.
But the commonwealth is still working to overcome an earlier backlog in testing and catch up to the national average of how much of the population has been tested, although state health officials say their focus is getting tests to the most vulnerable and most affected people.
You can watch each of the governor's briefings through WHSV's livestream at
or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps. You'll also be able to watch it live in the video player above during the briefing.
As has been the norm for Governor Northam's COVID-19 briefings, he began Friday's by reviewing the latest data on Virginia's cases and testing, which has shown the number of tests trending upward the percent of positive tests trending downward.
However, as positive test percentages continue to trend down, the governor says it's just as important, if not more important, to continue following the basic guidelines on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing of at least 6 feet, hand-washing, and wearing a face covering in public.
Gov. Northam emphasized that wearing a face covering could potentially save someone else's life, since they are worn to protect others from yourself, with many people carrying the virus without symptoms.
The governor said face coverings are an important part of Virginia's next steps and that he'll have more to say on that next week, when the next state briefing happens on Tuesday.
While not outright saying that he'll be issuing a mask order, he very strongly suggested it.
Later in the briefing, the governor was asked about Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's request for a mask order for the capital city. Northam said he has been in communication with Richmond officials about it, but has also been discussing plans for a policy with his COVID-19 task force and working through the details.
He said one of their focuses is on equity: being able to make sure everyone has access to a mask, and pointed to many ways people can wear face coverings without purchasing a specific surgical mask, like using bandannas, or following online instructions for DIY masks without needing to sew.
Another focus, he said, has been how his administration could enforce such an order.
Masks are intended to protect other people, Northam reminded Virginians, and said that's the main goal for COVID-19 response.
He clarified that his announcement on Tuesday will be for all of Virginia and will especially apply to places of business.
The governor said he knows everyone is wondering when Virginia will enter Phase 2 and when northern Virginia, Accomack County, and Richmond will be able to enter Phase 1 with the rest of the state.
He said his team is in constant communication with the localities that are still in Phase 0 at their requests, and he'll have more on the timeline for the next phase for those areas and the rest of the state next week as well.
Governor Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health is launching a new tool to let people check their symptoms and find the closest testing site to their location.
It's called "COVID Check," a telehealth and online risk assessment tool that you can find:
Northam said it will ask you for your symptoms, and, based on your responses, give recommendations on what you should do next, including options on where you can go to get testing.
Northam highlighted the Virginia Department of Health's community testing events across the commonwealth, which included more than 4,300 tests given this week.
He thanked the Virginia National Guard, which has conducted over 10,000 tests so far, and showed a slide featuring multiple community testing events organized by the health department for the coming week, including
After thanking the National Guard for their testing assistance, Northam also thanked them for their work rescuing people from severe flooding in southwest Virginia over the past few days.
The governor also announced the pilot project approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week to allow Virginia families who receive SNAP benefits to order groceries online through select retailers and have them delivered.
Right now, the plan
, but more retailers are expected to be added in the coming weeks.
It will launch on May 29, Northam said, and will allow families with low incomes to get access to nutritious food without having to leave their homes and will help keep people with underlying conditions from having to go out.
He thanked Virginia's senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, for pushing to make the pilot program possible.
Virginia had 44,000 new claims for unemployment insurance over the past week, bringing the state's current unemployment rate up to 10.6%.
Gov. Northam pointed to the state's 2.8% rate before the pandemic as a sign of how strong Virginia was doing on the business front before COVID-19, but said his administration is working to help those left unemployed as much as possible.
Thousands of Virginians
, left unable to access a real person for help with questions and left without receiving benefits, though.
To help respond to that, Northam said on Friday that he knows many people have had difficulties, and the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is opening up a new call center with 315 additional employees to help handle the influx of calls.
With high schoolers and college students across Virginia not able to have their traditional graduation ceremonies this year, Gov. Northam announced that Virginia Public Media will be airing a celebration of all Virginia graduates called "Virginia Graduates Together" next Friday, May 29, at 5 p.m.
Across the state, all public TV channels will air the ceremony, which will feature special guests to honor 2020 graduates.
He encouraged graduating seniors to submit photos, videos, and special messages for the ceremony to Virginia Public Media at
This weekend marks Eid al-Fitr, holy days for Muslims, and Gov. Northam wished all Muslims in Virginia a blessed and joyous celebration, but encouraged safe celebrations amid the pandemic.
With this coming Monday marking Memorial Day, Gov. Northam said he's asking all Virginians to remember this weekend what the day is for and to recognize all members of the U.S. military who have given it all and made the ultimate sacrifice.
He encouraged reflections on their sacrifices and said the Virginia War Memorial's annual event will be a virtual one this Monday.
Virginia state flags will be flying at half-staff to honor all the sacrifices of the military on Monday, and at half-staff to honor COVID-19 victims over the weekend, just like President Trump's order for U.S. flags on federal buildings.
While people mark the holiday weekend, Northam encouraged all Virginians to maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and wear face coverings.
Throughout this pandemic, the Virginia Employment Commission
for people to receive unemployment insurance.
Megan Healy, Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief workforce development adviser, explained that that requirement will not be re-instituted until the Virginia Employment Commission's 61 work search centers are reopen. At this point, they all remain closed and employees are working remotely.
Healy said reports that Virginia's trust fund for unemployment insurance is running out of money are correct.
While the additional $600 a week for unemployment and the PUA program are paid for directly by the federal government, she said the large influx of unemployment claims across Virginia, like around the nation, have drained the state's unemployment insurance fund, which is normally paid for through state taxes.
The state is asking the federal government for assistance.
Minutes before Gov. Northam took the podium for his briefing, President Donald Trump
and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend.
Asked for his response, Governor Northam said he wants to be sure people can practice their faith safely, and that's why his administration moved houses of worship to the same guidelines as retail in Phase 1 of the 'Forward Virginia' plan.
Both places of worship and retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity with social distancing measures and increased sanitation in place.
However, he said he's not requiring houses of worship to open up to in-person services and knows many have chosen to continue drive-in or live-streamed services. It's up to the individual church, mosque, temple, or other house of worship.
Asked about one day this week in which the Virginia Department of Health statistics indicated a rise of dozens of deaths in a day, the governor reiterated a point state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has made before, which is that the deaths added to the state database in a given day don't necessarily line up with when the deaths occurred. That's due to delays between death certificates being filed, the healthcare agency reporting that death to their local health district, and the health district then reporting the death to the health department.
So on the state level, they are focusing directly on the death certificates and their issued dates to analyze any potential spikes, following every death, because he said every death is important.
Dr. Forlano, who has been heading up Virginia's task force focused on responding to COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Virginia, said there are 43 facilities statewide in the process of testing everyone for COVID-19 at this moment. That's in addition to point prevalence testing conducted at other facilities in recent weeks.
While they'll be releasing aggregate data from that testing on the overall situation at Virginia long-term care facilities, they are not planning to provide specifics about the number of cases at any given facility, in line with previous health department guidance treating facilities as "persons."
The governor issued a reminder that all Virginians in areas that are still under Phase 0 – Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County – are still under the 'Stay at Home' order and should only leave home for essential reasons.
He urged them not to travel over Memorial Day weekend to other parts of Virginia that may be further along the reopening process.
Asked about how those ares being behind the guidelines for the rest of the state will affect the overall reopening timeline, Gov. Northam once again went back to his description of the state guidelines as "a floor," with regions able to have more restrictions, but not less.
That plan is not changing, the governor said, but the rest of Virginia will not have to wait on Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County either. He said each of those areas will stay on their own timelines and is expected to move into Phase 1, 2, and 3 at different times than the rest of the commonwealth.
Asked about why Virginia does not report the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19, health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver explained that the VDH system is set up to identify cases as they're reported and then trace any people potentially exposed to the Virginians with confirmed cases.
The department does not provide care to the patients, so he said they don't necessarily know any information about the recovery of each person with a case.
Instead, the health department's limit is reporting the cases as they get them, providing the information on those cases – including on local levels down to the ZIP code – and that's about it, because they don't have continuing data on each case.
However, state officials do point people to the
reported each day, which tracks the number of active hospitalizations for COVID-19 and the number of previously hospitalized patients who have been discharged.
There's a lot of information on patients who have recovered, officials said, especially since that encompasses at least 95% of people who contract the virus. And we should celebrate those who survive and recover, they said.
Dr. Laurie Forlano said the VDH website has guidelines on when providers should use different kind of testing, like antibody tests, but said everyone is still learning about the best role of antibody testing in the process. She encouraged people to talk to their healthcare providers directly about potential antibody tests.
In addition, health commissioner Dr. Oliver encouraged any Virginians who have gotten antibody tests and tested positive for the COVID-19 antibody to still take all necessary precautions to prevent getting the virus, because it's not clear yet whether testing positive for the antibody actually prevents someone from being infected.
Public health secretary Brian Moran said traffic on Virginia's roads has been significantly reduced throughout the pandemic as people stay at home, and they expect low numbers this Memorial Day weekend, but they have seen some ridiculous three-digit speeding tickets of drivers taking advantage of the empty roads.
He encouraged anyone traveling this weekend to observe the speed limit, stay safe, and arrive safely.
Governor Northam closed out Friday's briefing by asking Virginians to mark Memorial Day with respect and remembrance for the many men and women who have paid the ultimate price in service of their country.
He said to thank any active duty military members and veterans if you see them this weekend as well.
He also said that he likes to give homework over the weekends, as he has mentioned at past briefings, and this weekend's has to do with masks.
Even more strongly suggesting a pending mask order than earlier in the briefing, he said all Virginians should make plans this weekend for you and your family to have face coverings.
All children 3 and up are encouraged to wear face masks in most guidance so far, and Northam said that's because children are likely to carry the virus without showing symptoms and potentially spread it to others.
He encouraged Virginians to find any way to get face coverings that is available to them – whether that's by buying them at local stores, making them with online instructions, or using bandannas or other materials you already have.
And be ready on Tuesday to go out with those face coverings when conducting any public business, if you're not already, he said.
Meanwhile, his administration will be doing their work by finalizing the details of the new policy they expect to announce on Tuesday.
Most of Virginia officially entered
on May 15, but the commonwealth remains under a series of public health orders and executive orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
, which closed many non-essential businesses across Virginia and established Virginia's 10-person gathering limit, no longer applies in its original form as businesses originally deemed non-essential begin gradually reopening, but the 10-person gathering limit is still in place and still enforceable.
, the 'Stay at Home' order signed by Northam on March 30, is now a 'Safer at Home' order, instructing all Virginians to continue staying home as the safest way to prevent COVID-19's spread and specifically telling Virginians vulnerable to the virus to stay home except for essential needs.
Virginia's state of emergency runs until June 10.
The Virginia Supreme Court's judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, expired on May 17 and
on Monday, May 18. In light of that, with some eviction cases resuming, Gov. Northam's office
while still with income affected by COVID-19.
DMV offices in Virginia began gradually reopening on Monday, May 18, and will soon
by appointment only for specific reasons. During the closure, Virginia State Police have not been enforcing inspections and extensions have been granted to people with expiring credentials for themselves or their vehicles.
Elective procedures and related offices, like dentists, were able to resume on May 1 after Gov. Northam
Of the orders in place, Executive Order 53 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
have each been postponed by two weeks. Virginia officials are encouraging all voters to request absentee ballots.
By May 22, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 33,208 confirmed and 1,742 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
"Probable" cases are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test – also known as clinical diagnoses.
Those positive test results are out of 249,940 total tests administered in Virginia, which included 26,507 antibody tests (The Dept. of Health announced last Thursday that
, following criticism for initially reporting the two together.)
From Sunday to Monday, 7,568 new tests were reported to the health department, followed by 6,598 newly reported tests from Monday to Tuesday, then 10,208 tests reported from Tuesday to Wednesday, 6,758 test results reported from Wednesday to Thursday, and 7,983 new test results from Thursday to Friday.
Overall, considering testing numbers and positive results, about 14% of Virginians who have been tested have received positive results. At the start of May, that percentage was standing steadily around 17%, but with increased testing, it's come down over time. However, some localities have much higher percentages, as outlined in our "local cases" section below.
At this point, 4,145 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and at least 1,136 have died of causes related to the disease.
The hospitalization and death numbers are totals confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, which are always delayed by several days due to the logistics of medical facilities reporting information to local health districts, which then report it to the state health department.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the pandemic and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats,
shows a lot of detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county, and are
, if you want to track cases on a neighborhood level.
Overall, according to the Virginia Department of Health's May 22 breakdown, 249,940 tests have been run for the virus in Virginia, with 34,950 positive results.
The department's breakdown and location map, available to the public
, shows the number of cases confirmed each day, number of people tested, total hospitalizations, total deaths, demographic breakdowns, and testing numbers, as well as breakdowns by health district.
Here's a breakdown of cases for our region as of 9 a.m. on May 22. You can find the breakdown for the entire state in the chart at the bottom of this article.
• Augusta County - 86 (+1 from Thursday)
• Buena Vista - 12
• Harrisonburg - 704 (+9 from Thursday)
• Highland County - 3
• Lexington - 6
• Rockbridge County - 13 (+1 from Thursday)
• Rockingham County - 444 (+10 from Thursday)
• Staunton - 34
• Waynesboro - 36 (+3 from Thursday)
13, with 4 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a healthcare setting, 6 in congregate settings, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in an educational setting
• Clarke County - 21 (+2 from Thursday)
• Frederick County - 249 (+4 from Thursday)
• Page County - 172 (+6 from Thursday)
• Shenandoah County - 358 (+3 from Thursday)
• Warren County - 110
• Winchester - 121 (+11 from Thursday)
15, with 7 in long-term care facilities, 3 in healthcare settings, and 5 in congregate settings
• Albemarle County - 142
• Charlottesville - 74 (+2 from Thursday)
• Fluvanna County - 84 (+1 from Thursday)
• Greene County - 21 (+1 from Thursday)
• Louisa County - 67 (+3 from Thursday)
• Nelson County - 13
6, with 4 in long-term care facilities, 1 in a correctional facility, and 1 in a congregate setting
• Culpeper County - 555 (+29 from Thursday)
• Fauquier County - 267 (+6 from Thursday)
• Madison County - 27
• Orange County - 73
• Rappahannock County - 12
6, with 1 in a long-term care facility, 1 in a healthcare setting, and 4 in congregate settings
As numbers have climbed in parts of the Shenandoah Valley, much of the increase has been attributable to outbreaks within particular facilities. By May 22, the Central Shenandoah Health District had identified 13 outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District had 15.
Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of our outbreaks, because the Virginia Department of Health has interpreted Virginia code as treating facilities the same as "persons," meaning their anonymity has to be protected. So information about outbreaks is only released to the public if a facility grants permission for that to be released, and that has not been often.
Of the outbreaks in our area, several have been confirmed at long-term care centers, including at
" target="_blank">Skyview Springs, where there have been 16 confirmed deaths
, where Augusta Health has confirmed a "COVID situation" but no exact numbers have been provided; and three outbreaks in Shenandoah County, including one at an unnamed nursing home and two at unnamed assisted living facilities.
The largest of those outbreaks was the one at
, where 81 residents and 12 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in April. By Tuesday, May 5, the facility
due to coronavirus. By a little later in May,
In Page County, the outbreak at
resulted in 59 residents and 23 staff members testing positive for the virus. By May 13,
" target="_blank">16 people there had died of COVID-19-related causes
The facility has 115 residents total.
Dr. Colin Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, told WHSV on May 11 that the Skyview Springs outbreak was the only major outbreak in the Page County area.
However, he said they were monitoring five active outbreaks in Shenandoah County. Due to Virginia code preventing the identification of facilities with outbreaks, he could not identify the exact locations, but said two were at businesses, two at assisted living facilities, and one at a nursing home.
Outbreaks have also been confirmed at
, with at least 25 positive cases, and
, which had at least six cases by the end of April but then stopped providing updates on their employee hotline so that media outlets would not have access to the information, which was not publicly provided.
Also, New Market Poultry Products, which has more than 100 employees working on a daily basis,
– though an exact number was not provided and no update has come since then.
None of the other Shenandoah Valley poultry plants have released any information about COVID-19 cases to the public, though
and Cargill in Dayton has confirmed the death of one employee due to COVID-19 – though never any information on the number of cases at the facility.
Poultry plants and other meat processing facilities have been hotspots for the virus across the country and a focus of Gov. Northam's in Virginia. State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has also referenced the situation at poultry plants in Harrisonburg leading to a disproportionate number of cases among the Latino community in the Shenandoah Valley, though, again the facilities themselves have released no information publicly.
Many of the local outbreaks that do not have confirmed locations have been identified in congregate settings, which could include workplaces, apartment complexes, churches, gyms, or any setting with a group of people in one place.
Of the state's 4,145 total hospitalizations, at least 106 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 2 have been in Augusta County, 1 in Buena Vista, 51 in Harrisonburg, 47 in Rockingham County, 3 in Staunton, and 2 in Waynesboro.
In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 96 hospitalizations. Thirty-four of those have been in Shenandoah County and 20 in Page County.
As far as deaths, there have been 12 reported in Shenandoah County, 19 in Page County, one in Augusta County, 21 in Harrisonburg, and six in Rockingham County.
Deaths, like all health department data, are reported by a person's listed residence.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state's health commissioner, has said that it often takes several days before local health districts are able to enter death information into the state database. Dr. Laura Kornegay, director of the Central Shenandoah Health District, told WHSV that deaths first have to be reported to them by medical facilities, which is a major cause for delays that have often been seen on the numbers reported for our area.
Dr. Kornegay also explained that if someone has tested positive for COVID-19, that's what goes on their death certificate. Those death certificates have a space to list secondary causes of death, and that's where ongoing health issues like heart disease and cancer are listed. Some people have accused medical facilities of artificially inflating death tolls by doing that, but it's the same process by which flu deaths are reported every year.
In the part of West Virginia we cover, there have been 6 confirmed cases in Grant County, 34 confirmed cases in Hardy County, and 5 confirmed cases in Pendleton County.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case. Individual health districts may track cases as "active" and "non-active," but that data is not published anywhere in aggregate.
But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their
indicates that, as of May 22, at least 4,963 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 1,459.
The data used by the VDH to report
hospitalizations is based on information reported in hospital claims. On the other hand, the numbers reported by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set.
Governor Ralph Northam began Wednesday's briefing by noting that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management started offering a version of his briefings on Monday with live Spanish language interpretation on the VDEM Facebook page. That will continue for the foreseeable future.
As is the norm for the governor, who has been noted throughout the pandemic as the nation's only medical doctor serving as a governor, he reviewed the most recent data on Virginia's COVID-19 case trends.
Northam pointed to the state's percent positivity, which has been steadily decreasing over the past week with more testing.
He reminded Virginians that there are multiple ways to get tested for COVID-19 amid the pandemic, including the most common avenues through healthcare providers, hospitals, and clinics, as well as through community testing events sponsored by local health districts.
A key part of the testing process comes after a test returns with a positive result, and that's contact tracing – through which health department officials determine anyone who was in close contact with an infected person and instruct those people to self-quarantine.
The governor touched back on a topic that state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has been addressing for a few weeks, which is that the Virginia Department of Health is working to hire 1,000 contact tracers and 200 supervisors for contact tracing efforts in the state.
After questions were raised in recent days regarding the supply of personal protective equipment in Virginia, Gov. Northam said that PPE is at a place where hospitals have an adequate supply.
No hospitals have reported problems obtaining PPE for a few weeks now, but this week, the
, and there are at least 10 without enough N95 masks and 21 without enough isolation gowns.
The governor said the Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a stockpile available for any facility in need, but that healthcare providers need to let the department know, so that resources can be provided.
According to Northam, VDEM, so far in the pandemic, has distributed more than 795,000 N95 masks, 1.3 million surgical masks, 3 million gloves, 285,331 isolation gowns, 427,000 face shields, and 24,359 containers of hand sanitizer to facilities around the state.
He said the department's priority is to support response at facilities deemed high risk and to support those reporting need.
But, Northam said, the directive has been that healthcare providers should exhaust supplies of PPE obtained from private supply chains before asking for public supplies. He said the Department of General Services established a rapid review process for vendors that can supply PPE to healthcare providers and has a list of suppliers online at
Northam also described a Virginia partnership with Amazon to support PPE orders directly and an effort by FEMA to ship PPE directly to Virginia nursing homes, with two shipments so far, each with at least a week's worth of equipment.
If a facility has run out of PPE obtained through private supply chains, he said the facility needs to contact the Virginia Department of Emergency Management so that state officials can get them more.
Governor Northam took part of Wednesday's briefing to discuss access to health care in Virginia, which he said he believes is a right.
The governor said the
has allowed more than 421,000 Virginians to enroll in Medicaid coverage, offering health care to people who did not have access before.
Praising the Medicaid expansion, Northam said families have been able to get treatment for underlying conditions that can make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, and said everyone "should be grateful" for the expanded coverage during this pandemic.
However, he said there's more work to do for all Virginians to have access to health care, so to help with that, he announced that he's convening a new work group that will focus on identifying ways to reduce costs and increase access to healthcare for all Virginians.
Also, in light of his efforts to expand access, Northam commended the General Assembly for banning "balanced billing" in the most recent legislative session, but declared that he's vetoing three bills: Senate Bill 861, Senate Bill 235, and House Bill 795.
The governor said each of those bills passed by lawmakers would address health care costs for targeted groups of Virginians but that he felt it best to veto them to focus on "more broad-based health care solutions for all Virginians."
He encouraged the bills' sponsors to work with the new work group to find solutions for a broader group.
AARP Virginia swiftly issued a response applauding the governor's vetoes, saying he "used his veto power today to stop three health care measures that would have had a calamitous impact on older and sicker Virginians."
Gov. Northam said he's well aware that people in recovery from substance abuse disorders are facing increased challenges during the pandemic, describing increases in overdoses in Roanoke County and
He said his administration is working to respond to that situation by encouraging telehealth and loosening restrictions to allow more telehealth options for substance abuse treatment, promoting video meetings for recovery groups, and pushing other similar options.
The governor said the Department of Behavioral Health has a list of ongoing virtual recovery groups on their website.
, Gov. Northam said the day went smoothly, thanking Virginia's Board of Elections and the thousands of volunteers around the state who helped maintain safe polling places for in-person voting.
Northam also thanked Virginians for following the state's recommendation to vote absentee by mail. He said more than 55,000 absentee ballots were cast for Tuesday, compared to around 1,700 in the comparable May local election in 2016.
Looking ahead to the next election, Virginia's June primaries, he said the state is again is strongly encouraging people to vote absentee by mail.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot, which can be done online or through your local registrar's office, is 5 p.m. on June 16, a week ahead of the election day itself o June 23.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, Virginia's Health Equity Work Group, which Gov. Northam has frequently discussed at his briefings, will be holding a live meeting that Virginians can view on WRIC, the ABC affiliate in Richmond.
As the Virginia National Guard has worked around the commonwealth to provide testing through local health district community testing events and coordinated nursing home testing, four Guard members have tested positive for COVID-19.
The head of Virginia's National Guard said those four members were out of over 120 helping provide testing statewide and that none of the National Guard members working in the field are carrying the virus.
He said they are rigorously screened ahead of each testing event.
The Guard is focusing on testing as many long-term care centers as possible, with health department coordination, but that's just one component of their overall testing effort, according to Command Sergeant Major Ronald L. Smith Jr..
They've also requested funding from the federal government for the Guard to offer more resources at local testing events.
Asked how Virginia is responding to the need for tests in low-income and minority communities around Virginia, Gov. Northam said he'll bring a list on Friday to highlight the lower socio-economic communities around the state with planned health district testing events.
Northam said it's key to be able to enter Phases 2 and 3 that adequate testing is available to everyone around the commonwealth, and said Dr. Karen Remley's testing work group is working hand-in-hand with the health department to make that possible.
He also thanked the work of free health clinics across Virginia, which have seen
, even with dropping donations as they work to expand access to health care.
Calling healthcare a right, the governor said he wants "all Virginians to have access to quality and affordable care."
Asked what data metrics he and his cabinet are using to determine when Virginia can begin Phase 2 or determine if any localities need to go back to increased restrictions, the governor said they're using the same metrics that were used to enter Phase 1.
In particular, those focus on the number of new cases, percent positivity, the amount of PPE available, testing capability, hospital capacity and equipment available at hospitals, as well as staffing available at healthcare centers.
Northam said each of those is based on guidance from the CDC and the White House, and their focus is on trends in the data over week and two-week spans: not particularly paying attention to day by day numbers, which vary.
He said they currently do not have any specific thresholds, like a specific percent positivity increase, that would result in increased restrictions for a locality.
However, the governor said his team meets every day to review the latest data to catch any potential dangerous increase in cases at a locality's level, since the best way to prevent escalations is to catch them at the start.
He said if trends rise in a specific locality or zip code, action will be taken as needed, whether that be offering more testing or reversing Phase 1 guidelines, but said that hasn't had to be done yet.
If any localities choose to ignore the state guidelines, regardless of data, Northam said he'll direct concerns about that to the locality.
Governor Northam said his staff is in daily communication with leaders throughout Northern Virginia to determine how that region, which remains in Phase 0 at local leaders' request, will move forward.
Asked about his response to specific localities, including parts of counties and cities in the area, requesting to enter parts of Phase 1 guidance, he said the policy is for the guidelines in place to be "the floor" and that localities within the area can go farther with restrictions but not loosen them to keep consistency for the region, which has also been coordinating with Maryland and Washington, D.C.
While his team is following the latest data trends, Northam said he does not have a specific date set yet for the start of Phase 2, which would come, at the earliest, on May 29.
Northam said it will happen when the data supports it and when local leaders are comfortable with it.
Asked about funding being provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Northam said a significant amount will be directed toward testing supplies and staff to administer tests at long-term care facilities, as well as boosting Virginia's contact tracing capability.
On the note of contact tracing, health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked about the process and how information on people is shared.
Dr. Oliver explained that contact tracers working with local health districts speak someone who has just received a positive test for COVID-19, have them isolate themselves, determine who the person has been in close contact with, and reach out to each of those people to instruct them to self-quarantine.
Throughout the time that someone is self-quarantined, contact tracers stay in communication with them to help them manage the process and check in on how they're doing and progressing. If their condition changes, they're urged to seek treatment and testing.
While people are under observation in self-quarantine, Dr. Oliver said their names are not released to the public, but that they do encourage people to release their names to healthcare providers for help with monitoring conditions, and assistance with getting food, medicine, and other services.
Anytime a community testing event has been scheduled, the governor said health districts are reaching out to legislators and local officials for their help spreading the word, as well as looking to local media to share the information on when and where the events are happening.
When testing is available in a particular neighborhood, Gov. Northam said they encouraged not only people with symptoms to get tested, but anyone who may be concerned they were exposed or worried because they live with a vulnerable person and want to be sure they won't spread the virus. Those providing the testing will not turn anyone way.
Northam said if any specific locality wants health district testing, they can notify their local health district and the Virginia Department of Health, which will then work with them to get their area testing. If they let VDEM know the situation, more PPE can be provided as well.
Asked to reflect on Virginia's progress in the pandemic, Northam said that it was a rough start, like most of the country, but pointed to better supplies, better testing capacity, and better healthcare preparedness now, thanking Virginians for working through a difficult time for everyone and for following the state's guidelines.
He compared the novel virus to a novel, saying that every day brings a new chapter or two to the situation, and that while he wishes he knew how the last chapter will read, no one does yet, and everyone is in it together to get there as safely as possible.
Virginia's deputy secretary of commerce and trade came to the podium to address a reporter's question about guidance for businesses that may not fit the traditional definitions for which most guidance has been offered.
She said the department has a comprehensive suite of guidelines for businesses that can open with restrictions in Phase 1, but any events and/or businesses, like flea markets and yard sales, that aren't brick-and-mortar retail establishments just need to meet the general guidelines for Phase 1, including face coverings for workers who interact with people, sanitation of high-touch surfaces, protections for workers, and all basic guidelines that apply to businesses in general.
Governor Northam said there is no specific date for Phase 2 at this point. His team will keep watching the data in the coming days, with the earliest possible date being May 29, but as of now, no date is set and no date is set for him to announce a decision, since it's based on data changing day by day.
The Virginia Employment Commission, which manages the unemployment insurance program in the commonwealth, is overseen by the federal government and has to follow federal guidelines.
Because of that, while schools have been closed, their closure has provided a legally acceptable reason for unemployment, summer coming means that is about to change, and they'll be federally mandated to stop unemployment benefits when that's the provided reason.
So the VEC says they are working to figure out options related to childcare in the summer months.
Governor Northam said he wants to let everyone know he understands everyone has been through a very difficult time over these months, as a lot of people have made sacrifices, many have lost their jobs, access to healthcare and PPE has been a challenge, and addition has become its own crisis.
However, he said he wants people to remember that everyone is on edge right now. He mentioned the ice cream shop in Michigan that had to close back down due to customers being extremely rude on their first day back open, and said people need to understand that everyone has been under stress.
We can agree to disagree on specific things, the governor said, but "at the end of the day, we all have to work together."
He said his message to Virginians, who live in the best state in the country, is to "be kind," because that's how everyone can get through the pandemic together and get the health crisis and then the economic crisis behind us.
Governor Ralph Northam began Monday's briefing with a reminder for all Virginians to keep following all CDC and VDH guidelines for their safety throughout Phase 1.
It's a gradual process of lifting restrictions and does not mean that the pandemic is over, he reminded everyone, and, if anything, said it's more important than ever as more places open up to keep following all recommendations.
Speaking about masks and face coverings, Northam said some people may find it inconvenient, but urged everyone to remember that it can save other people's lives.
He said from what he's seen, most people have been following the guidelines, and he appreciates that.
Gov. Northam quickly highlighted the latest data on COVID-19 testing in Virginia, showing graphs and charts that have become a mainstay of his thrice-weekly briefings.
The latest numbers continue trends of increased testing in Virginia, along with decreased percent positivity – the amount of Virginians who got tests who test positive over a 7-day span.
He said his team's focus has been to ramp up testing specifically in areas with at-risk populations, using a map from the Virginia Department of Health showing all the current health department-sponsored testing sites in at-risk areas, with many in northern Virginia, which has seen, by far, the highest proportion of cases in the commonwealth.
Northam also pointed to the work of Virginia's Health Equity Group, which is distributing masks and hand sanitizer, along with educational flyers, in high-risk areas identified by health officials.
The next plan for that distribution is in Petersburg, alongside testing, on May 23.
The group previously rolled out a similar initiative
and will carry out another one in Richmond.
Governor Northam announced in Monday's COVID-19 briefing that Virginia Beach will be opening up to the public for recreational activity as of Friday, May 22, kicking off Memorial Day weekend.
The governor said Virginia Beach specifically had been working on a comprehensive plan to reopen their beach safely, with social distancing measures in place, for weeks, and that he had asked Virginia's director of natural resources to help them toughen up their plan.
With a new plan in place that the governor says will allow safer use of the beach, he approved Virginia Beach's request to reopen on May 22 for activities including swimming, surfing, fishing, and other recreational activities.
Not allowed will be group activities, including group sports like volleyball, speakers playing music to large groups, alcohol, tents and groups of umbrellas, and other group-related activities.
The city's parking garages and parking lots for the beach will be limited to 50 percent capacity as a way to reduce group sizes.
However, Gov. Northam said if people swarm the beach and ignore restrictions, he "will not hesitate" to put restrictions back into place and go as far as closing the beach if necessary.
Northam said his message to any beach-goers is simple: "You must be responsible."
The governor invited the Virginia Beach mayor to the podium, and the mayor said he believes opening up beaches is healthy for people physically, mentally, and emotionally.
However, he said he and the governor share a primary concern, which is making sure that people who go to the beach to receive those health benefits do it safely.
The mayor said the city's plan is meant to protect visitors, residents, and the thousands of frontline staff who keep businesses along the beach running.
To do that, the city has hired hundreds of people to serve as "beach ambassadors," who will help coordinated efforts to clean high-touch surfaces and will enforce the beach's regulations.
They'll also have teams dedicated to educating visitors about the new rules.
Acknowledging that beaches around the country have faced compliance problems, he said he wants people to know that they are welcome to Virginia Beach and are safe, but that the city is asking them to comply with the rules.
Those rules, the mayor said, will benefit everyone as friends and neighbors.
Governor Northam emphasized that the opening applies only to Virginia Beach and First Landing State Park – not to any other beaches in the state.
But he encouraged other beaches to look to Virginia Beach's plan as a model for any reopening plans for the future.
The Virginia Republican Party's response on Monday was mixed.
"We're finally seeing movement in the right direction, but there is still a disappointing lack of trust in people and local governments to be able to use what we know about this virus to be able to open as safely as possible," said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert. "We can’t stay shuttered forever. The Governor’s energy should be focused on providing specific guidance to people and businesses on how to interact safely rather than telling them what they can’t do."
In late March, Gov. Northam became the first state governor
, followed in the coming weeks and months by similar decisions in other states.
Northam said on Monday that his administration's decision on school closings proved to be the right choice.
But, moving into the summer, he said he knows that school staff and administrators, along with families, are looking at what will come next in the fall.
In regards to that, Gov. Northam
that will meet with Virginia's public health team in the coming weeks to develop specific "next steps" for public and private K-12 schools, as well as for colleges and universities.
The team is made up of local school superintendents, public and private college and university presidents, school officials, the Virginia Department of Education, and student representatives.
It's called the Virginia COVID-19 Education Work Group, and representatives of the group say they're focusing their guidance on making sure Virginia schools have consistent guidelines on continuity of learning.
Responding to a question about how important is is to him to get students back into schools by the fall, Northam said it was an easy question because "it's very important."
He commended educators for the work they've done throughout the pandemic to move into new forms of virtual educations and other ways to keep students learning, but said it's not a perfect solution.
His view, he said, is that children will be better off back in classrooms because, as he described it, it's an equity issue. He pointed to the 550,000 families across Virginia who don't have access to broadband and don't have ways to access virtual education.
"I am hopeful that our students will be back in the classroom this fall," Northam said.
The newly appointed team will find ways to make that safely happen.
Most courts across Virginia
after the end of a judicial emergency order from the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Unfortunately, Northam said, that means some eviction cases that been put on hold will be moving forward.
While the governor is not specifically deferring eviction cases or taking any similar action, he highlighted a number of actions his administration has taken and resources available.
The governor said his cabinet is working with Virginia Housing, the state housing agency, which has committed $12 million to support nonprofit housing support services for anyone who may have lost housing.
He also said legislation was amended earlier in the pandemic to allow tenants a 60-day deferral on eviction if they can prove COVID-19-related economic hardships.
Northam said his team is pushing the federal government to include money for rent assistance in any future federal stimulus package.
In addition, the governor said
has resources for landlords, tenants, and the homeless, as well as a summary of resources for people in need of housing assistance.
Asked if he'll be taking any further measures, like have been taken in some states to defer the need for people to go to court to submit financial documents to prove financial hardship, the governor reiterated the moves he had already described.
Gov. Northam announced that Dr. Jeff Stern, the coordinator of emergency management for Virginia, is moving on to work with FEMA, where he will train emergency managers around the country.
Local elections in many areas around the state are happening on Tuesday, and Gov. Northam said he hopes most Virginians already voted absentee by mail, but said crews will be hard at work cleaning and putting social distancing measures in place at polling locations so everyone can be safe as possible when voting.
The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps will be helping to staff polling places to reduce risk to many normal volunteers who may be in vulnerable populations.
Some candidates for local elections in November have a deadline to file a petition with enough signatures to get their names on the November ballot by June 9.
State officials said that neither Virginia's department of elections, nor the governor, can change that deadline under their statutory authority.
However, Northam encouraged all candidates to find ways to be creative going forward to try and get those petitions completed, and said, if unable, they can petition the courts for relief.
Gov. Northam was asked why facial coverings are mandatory for some sectors of retail in Phase 1 while not for others. He said a lot of what went into that decision boiled down to focusing on those who serve others, like restaurant and grocery store employees, which led to a priority for facial coverings.
Coming back to a point made in past briefings, Northam said it's very important to his administration that Virginians can make it known if they don't feel comfortable in their workplace. While Virginia has to work within federal guidelines on unemployment insurance and other standards, the governor again issued a reminder that any employee can file a complaint through the
if their workplace is unsafe or can contact OSHA.
He said he's tried to be as open as possible about that and encouraged Virginians to use the options available to them.
Remdesivir is the only drug to receive some level of FDA approval as a potential COVID-19 treatment. It has showed effectiveness in shortening symptoms for some of the most severe cases of the viruses and in reducing mortality.
According to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, Gilead Sciences, the developer of the drug, donated about a million and a half doses to the federal government, which then sent out initial shipments to hospitals with high numbers of cases, including in northern Virginia.
After that, any new distributions have been sent directly to the Virginia Department of Health, where a medical advisory committee of healthcare providers has developed an allocation process to randomly select hospitals in Virginia for remdesivir distribution.
Dr. Oliver said the process is set up so that every individual patient hospitalized with COVID-19 in Virginia has an equally random chance at receiving the medication.
For instance, Virginia recently got 10 cases of the drug, which were distributed through that process, and has 96 cases, containing enough medication for about 400 patients, coming in now. Dr. Oliver said the process will be used for that shipment as well to give everyone an equal chance of receiving it.
As testing has increased in Virginia, percent positivity has been slowly declining. Dr. Forlano said the goal for Virginia is to get down to a 10% rate or lower. The trends are moving in that direction, but it will take some time.
Last week, the Legislative Black Caucus
, saying that black people would be "used as guinea pigs" in the reopening plan.
Gov. Northam was asked again on Monday about how he's addressed their concerns, and he pointed back to his answer on Friday, which primarily related to the work of Virginia's Health Equity Group, which has focused on getting tests, PPE, and support into minority communities at high risk of the virus.
The CDC has recently
around the country that appears to be connected to COVID-19.
State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said the Virginia Department of Health has learned of one case of the syndrome in Virginia and is getting more data.
Gov. Northam said the situation surrounding the potential effects on children is a great example of the need for antibody tests, because the syndrome can happen weeks after a child was exposed to the virus, when a PCR test would give a negative result but an antibody test would show the child had contracted the virus.
Dr. Karen Remley, head of Virginia's testing task force, said that about two weeks ago, the recommendation in Virginia was for anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or anyone who had been in close contact with someone with symptoms to get tested for the virus.
Those were the criteria regular testing sites, like hospitals, were looking for.
However, she said many opportunities for others have been available around the states, including testing for people getting elective procedures, for mothers about to give birth, and at some pharmacies.
As far as testing offered by local health districts in certain communities,
, Dr. Remley said the testing is designed to focus on high-risk areas, and that will remain their first focus.
She also said that any health department event is meant for people who are symptomatic or who think they've been exposed, but their approach is to never turn anyone away from testing at those mobile testing sites.
Dr. Remley also said some labs and clinics in the state are still submitting COVID-19 test results through paper methods while they continue working to get their electronic systems to sync up with the Virginia Department of Health, so that has resulted in delays between some tests being processed and when they appear in the state system. As that gets resolved, testing numbers each day should appear higher.
On Monday, the VHHA
> across Virginia.
One of the key things it showed was that a number of nursing homes are still reporting difficulties obtaining personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and isolation gowns.
Gov. Northam said the state has PPE in stock and has an incoming shipment. He essentially said that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) has the supplies if nursing homes follow the correct process to request more.
The governor said the department is working with licensed nursing facilities to make sure they know the process, and said it's unacceptable that nursing homes would ask workers to use the same equipment until it's unsafe, as some workers have reported happening.
Virginia has a great stock of PPE now, after earlier shortages, Northam reiterated, and said it's available to any nursing home, prison, hospital, or similar facility that requests it through VDEM.
If anyone is hearing of PPE shortages at local nursing homes, he told them that the administrators can request the material and then state officials will work to get it to them.
"This virus has not changed," Northam said, emphasizing that it's critically important for people to keep following CDC guidelines, keep physically distancing, and keep wearing face coverings to protect others as more places open up.
"We are all responsible for the health of our neighbors and of our community," he said.
Governor Ralph Northam began Friday's briefing by discussing the way testing data is reported in Virginia, which became a hot topic earlier this week.
On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health
, rather than only reporting all tests together.
Gov. Northam said he first became aware that the department was reporting the testing data altogether on Monday. That's the same day health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked in the state briefing why his department was counting the antibody tests in the total number reported each day.
At the time, Dr. Oliver said the health department had tried to follow all CDC guidelines on testing, but that without a federal guideline on whether to count antibody tests with lab tests, Virginia looked to other states and followed their lead to include all the tests together.
Chief of staff Clark Mercer defended the practice, saying "we can't win" because the state gets criticized for low testing numbers by not including something like serologic tests while other states include it and then gets criticized for including it when they try to be consistent with other states.
Dr. Oliver then said they would look into listing the numbers separately each day.
On Friday, the governor said he became aware of the situation on Monday, and, knowing that the FDA has found antibody tests to be less reliable than diagnostic tests, went to the health department and asked for the info to be separated out.
Refining the system to display that information on the VDH website dashboard took several days to get the tool working properly, according to the governor.
Essentially, diagnostic (or PCR) tests are the nasal swabs processed in labs to confirm a case of COVID-19. Antibody (or serology) tests test a person's blood for antibodies to COVID-19 to determine if they have had the virus. At the start of the pandemic, antibody tests were extremely rare, but more and more are being administered now.
With Virginia's testing data separated, it shows about nine percent of the total tests have been antibody tests.
But, Northam said, the key is that when the antibody tests are taken out of the number, the trends remain largely the same, with declining case averages and increasing test numbers.
From this point forward, the testing data will be reported separately, especially as more antibody tests are approved by the FDA in the weeks to come.
Governor Northam says Virginia has continued to make significant process on testing more people around the commonwealth, pointing to there being 58 public testing sites on April 21 and 215 as of Friday, with 52 more lined up next week. Those are in addition to standard testing sites.
He thanked the cooperation of facilities from hospitals to free clinics to health departments and pharmacies, but did not mention the announcement he had hinted at earlier in the week about testing coming in partnership with Walmart.
Phase 1 of reopening Virginia has officially begun, and the governor reminded Virginians that it is a slight easing of restrictions. He has previously described it as turning a dimmer switch up slightly rather than flipping a light switch.
This phase of reopening, which will last from two to four weeks, comes with the Stay at Home order shifting to a 'Safer at Home' order that asks Virginians who are most vulnerable to the virus to stay home and encourages all others that it's the safest option.
Social gatherings of more than 10 are still prohibited and social distancing still needs to occur, per CDC guidelines. Teleworking is also still a strong recommendation, and the governor is strongly encouraging everyone to wear face masks in public, though not requiring it.
He said his primary concern throughout the pandemic has been public health and said that reason is why he approved the requests from Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County, to delay entering Phase 1 by two weeks.
Governor Ralph Northam addressed the April 2020 Revenue Report that was released on Thursday, acknowledging that it was the first report to show a major loss in state revenue due to COVID-19.
It recorded a 26.2% decrease in state revenue from April of 2019, which came out to around a $700 million decrease.
By the end of June, Gov. Northam is predicting a $1 billion total loss for Virginia revenue.
His finance secretary, Aubrey Layne, said the report wasn't all bad news though. He said payroll revenue was still up, showing that while the state has been impacted, economic activity has not shut down and many people have still been working.
Layne also said that 20% of Virginia's revenue comes from sales tax, which stayed even for April, largely reflecting increased online sales and a lot of activity at large grocery stores.
He also pointed to
Layne said having a strong economy going into the pandemic has helped Virginia, but attributed much of the April reduction to state tax revenue that would normally be collected but was not this year, given the extension of tax deadlines.
He highlighted a number of a ways the state is sending money to local governments, including around $650 million being distributed by the start of June to help with coronavirus response, as well as $121 million sent through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to boost testing.
Gov. Northam said his administration knows some employees will have concerns as businesses reopen and expand operations during Phase 1 and moving forward. The governor said anyone who feels their workplace is unsafe can contact the
to report their workplace and make a complaint.
As far as workers who are afraid to return to work because of medical reasons or underlying conditions in family members, the governor said the state is restricted by federal guidelines on unemployment insurance. Northam formally asked Virginia's Congressional delegation earlier this week to work to provide more flexibility in unemployment standards, but Congress has not yet acted on that.
Northam said he's also instructed the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to provide flexibility if any worker can show their workplace is unsafe for them and that his cabinet will work to get them support.
Noting that May's local elections are coming up this coming Tuesday, the governor encouraged all Virginians to vote absentee if possible.
Northam said easing restrictions "does not mean we can behave like we used to." Instead, it means a gradual reopening while people should stay at home as much as possible, wash their hands an increased amount, stay six feet away from others, and wear face coverings to protect themselves and others.
Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said the Virginia Department of Health is now in the final stages of their massive hiring effort to get 1,000 new contact tracers and is developing the onboarding plan for all of the new hires.
As usual in the state briefings, Dr. Oliver recapped the latest case statistics for Virginia, including the demographics of results. As of May 15, about 44% of all cases identified in Virginia have been among the Latino community and 23% of all cases among the African-American population. About 24% of deaths have been among black Virginians and 10% of deaths among Latino Virginians.
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said the Virginia Department of Corrections has "gone to extraordinary steps" to protect the health and safety of inmates and correctional staff at Virginia's prisons.
He highlighted a recent court ruling that dismissed an allegation of cruel and unusual punishment against Virginia correctional facilities, saying the judge's decision to toss that case shows the work they have done.
When asked about the situation at Dillwyn Correctional Center, Moran said the reason they know there are so many cases there is because they were able to conduct point prevalence testing, as they've done at multiple facilities across Virginia and plan to do at more in the coming week.
Asked about prisoners being on "lockdown," he said it simply means that units are kept separate to reduce any potential spread of COVID-19 between different units in a prison, saying that's in the best interest of officers and offenders.
Responding to a question about what went wrong at Dillwyn, he said "nothing went wrong," pointing to their continued following of CDC guidelines.
With Northern Virginia, Accomack County, and Richmond all not entering Phase 1 for at least two weeks, Gov. Northam said he's aware that granting requests from individual localities for their own approach goes against what he said earlier in the pandemic would not be a cohesive approach.
However, on Friday, he said that the change came because the pandemic is "a fluid situation" with constantly changing data and information about the spread of the virus.
"Things change," Northam said, adding that that's his doctor's perspective.
Since the data has progressed with some regions of Virginia not seeing the promising trends that others have seen, he said his team responded to local leaders' requests accordingly because local leaders know their area better.
Asked about a request from some local leaders in the western side of Loudoun County, who asked to be able to enter Phase 1 on schedule and let the eastern side of the county delay, the governor said "carving up counties" and picking particular towns within counties would get out of hand be difficult for the public to follow.
Northam also said picking out data for a particular small area without considering the larger area could show something that's not the full picture as well.
He said his concentration is on public safety to keep Virginians and their families safe.
Northam anticipates that numbers will continue improving, so long as everyone follows the guidelines, so that each of the areas with delays can move into Phase 1 soon.
On Monday, Gov. Northam said after outcry in the city of Petersburg as city officials shut off water to some residents amid the pandemic, the Virginia Department of Health issued a public health order requiring the city to restore water service to 45 homes and blocking the city from shutting anyone else's water off.
On Friday, he answered a reporter's question, acknowledging that the situation was brought to his attention by a state delegate, but said the move was made because he believes all of Virginia has to come together to make sure everyone has access to running water.
The Culpeper County sheriff, who previously made headlines by vowing to deputize citizens in his county if Virginia[s General Assembly passed new gun laws during their session earlier this year, has said he will not enforce the regulations under Gov. Northam's executive order requiring certain business restrictions to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
As of Friday, Culpeper County has 343 COVID-19 cases, 27 hospitalizations, and 5 deaths.
Asked for his response, Northam simply said, "I don't think that's a good idea, and we'll deal with that."
Asked if he sees the role of law enforcement as important to businesses navigating Phase 1 by enforcing violations if needed, the governor's response was "Absolutely."
The briefing then moved on to the next question.
In Virginia, local law enforcement and Virginia State Police can enforce the business restrictions and social gatherings rules set down in Executive Order 53 by issuing Class 1 misdemeanor citations.
With local elections this Tuesday, May 19, Governor Ralph Northam said while he and his administration have encouraged absentee voting, they are using the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps and the National Guard to staff polling places that would normally be filled with volunteers at a vulnerable age to COVID-19, will be providing PPE to polling places, cleaning machines, implementing social distancing, and taking numerous measures to try to keep voting as safe it can be.
"Someone shouldn't have to choose between their health and voting," the governor said.
He said that was the reason for his original request to move May's local elections to November, but the Virginia Senate chose not to vote on the measure after the House of Delegates approved it. "So here we are," the governor said.
He said he appreciates people abiding by guidelines and voting to keep democracy strong.
The city of Richmond officially requested localized data from the Virginia Department of Health this week that would break down the 7-day average of how many tests have come back positive each day.
It's a key metric Northam has been using for the state as a whole, but was not previously available on local levels.
As to why not, the governor said the VDH website is constantly being updated to report data sets in improved and clearer ways, and health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said they are always looking to increase the diversity and granularity of data, like the
State officials said they will keep adding new functionality to the state coronavirus dashboard because COVID-19 is a novel virus and more will keep being learned about the situation.
The governor said the health department moved as quickly as possible to get a tool built to display the 7-day percent positivity average for all localities, though Richmond was the only locality making the request, and it's now available for all localities.
Based on that newly available data, the governor said if any local government decides they need to implement more severe restrictions, they can request that like Richmond, Accomack County, and Northern Virginia did.
Virginia Beach has said that they're working on a comprehensive plan to potentially open up more activity on beaches by Memorial Day weekend.
Gov. Northam said the city is working with state officials on that plan and that he'll be making an announcement, probably on Monday, about Virginia's beaches moving into Memorial Day.
He said Virginia Beach's approach is to make sure everything is done safely, which he supports.
Governor Northam was asked if a count, for instance, has zero confirmed cases and wants to move into Phase 2 earlier than others, how he would respond to that request. He said "we're open for that discussion" but no decisions on the idea have been made yet.
This week, the Legislative Black Caucus
, saying that black people would be "used as guinea pigs" in the reopening plan.
Gov. Northam said he appreciates and listens to the caucus' input and addressed some of the concerns they outlined in their letter to him, saying that his Health Equity Taskforce has been working to get more PPE into minority communities in places like Harrisonburg and Richmond.
With testing as another major concerned outlined in their letter, he said that has also ramped up through the task force, alongside PPE, and that those efforts are still expanding.
Addressing their concern about childcare, he talked about $68 million through the CARES Act that Virginia is putting toward child care.
Overall, he said he is taking the caucus;' input seriously, following the data, and will keep working with them to make sure people feel safe continuing with their lives.
"If we all work together, we can head in a great direction," Northam said in conclusion to Friday's briefing, asking Virginians to continue being vigilant and working together to keep the state moving in a positive direction.
The last thing the state needs, he said, as a health and an economic issue, is to have to go back to earlier restrictions.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced earlier this week
until "further notice" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, Governor Northam said that the department's customer service centers would all be closed through at least May 18.
On Wednesday, he announced a new plan for DMV offices moving forward.
Starting on Monday, May 18, Northam says the DMV, which has had all public offices closed since March, will begin gradually reopening their locations.
It will start with 11 DMV centers in seven of Virginia's eight regions. The governor did not state which specific centers will be included.
With Northern Virginia facing a 2-week delayed start to Phase 1, no locations in that region will reopen yet.
The 11 customer service centers that will open on Monday will focus just on services that require going to the DMV in person, including getting an original driver's license or registration or title, vital records, and getting disabled parking permits.
They'll also only be open by appointment, and customers will wait in their vehicles before going inside.
The governor still encourages people to
if at all possible.
Gov. Northam highlighted the increase of testing around Virginia in the recent weeks, rising from around 2,000 tests a day to more than 8,000 as of Wednesday's case updates.
He said that is moving closer to the goal of 10,000 tests a day in the commonwealth.
Much of that testing, the governor said, has been at long-term care centers, and those facilities will continue to be a testing priority for the health department.
Northam also said drug stores and pharmacies have been stepping up efforts to provide testing in many communities, specifically mentioning work by Rite Aid, which he said has performed hundreds of tests.
Exciting news is coming, the governor said, in the coming days about testing efforts that Walmart will be handling.
Governor Northam made Friday, May 15, which he's been pointing to for Phase 1 of Virginia's reopening plan for weeks, officially the start.
The governor said the commonwealth has continued to meet the required health metrics he's outlined in past briefings, including a downward trend in the percentage of positive tests in Virginia, plenty of availability of hospital beds, and plenty of PPE supply.
As a commonwealth, he said, all of those statistics are heading in the right direction overall, if not in northern Virginia specifically.
Gov. Northam returned to a metaphor he's used often in the past week about Phase 1, saying that it will not be flipping a light switch to reopen the state, but more like turning a dimmer switch up a bit.
He recapped the restrictions being put into places for businesses that can open on Friday, including the requirement for gyms and fitness centers to do outdoor fitness classes and nothing indoors; the limit to 50% capacity for restaurant outdoor seating and non-essential retail spaces; the social distancing requirements and required face coverings for salons and barbershops; the 50% capacity limit for churches; and the limit for childcare centers to prioritize child care for the children of essential workers.
Northam said any essential workers in need of help finding child care can call 866-KIDS-TLC.
Throughout Phase 1, the governor reminded Virginians that the state's ban on public gatherings of 10 or more will remain in place and face masks will be strongly encouraged in public.
While face masks are not being required for all Virginians and instead heavily recommended, they are required for workers in some businesses, like restaurants and personal grooming services. Businesses in those industries are being required to provide face coverings for all essential employees.
"This virus has not gone away," Northam reiterated, encouraging all Virginians to continue following CDC guidance, wear face masks in public, and remember that you will be "safer at home."
"Moving forward requires all of us acting responsibly," he said.
After discussing the restrictions that will continue for Phase 1, the governor again touched on his previous statements that those restrictions are "a floor, not a ceiling" and that local governments can take a stricter path if they deem it necessary.
So far, that has only happened in Northern Virginia, where local government leaders requested Northam delay their reopening and
, delaying Phase 1 for the region by two weeks.
To discuss the situation in northern Virginia, Gov. Northam had leaders from around the region speak in Wednesday's briefing through remote video.
Overall, each of thanked the governor for accepting their request to delay reopening and said that northern Virginia has to be treated differently than the rest of the commonwealth because they are "one cohesive region" with Washington, D.C. and Maryland, as thousands of people cross the borders between those areas each day.
Considering the massive numbers moving between the area, they said they did not want any variation in the rollout of reopening phases throughout the area.
"As we know, the virus does not respect boundaries," said the Falls Church mayor.
Acknowledging that their region has one third of Virginia's population but more than half of all COVID-19 cases and deaths in the commonwealth, the leaders each encouraged their northern Virginia constituents to stay home, keep supporting local restaurants through carryout and delivery, and keep following all CDC guidance to keep themselves and others safe.
They said the region will move to Phase 1 "the moment" their health directors determine it's safe to do so, but until then, people need to be personally responsible and follow the guidelines until they can see a declining number of cases for two weeks like the rest of Virginia.
Governor Northam said $650 million is heading to localities across Virginia through CARES Act funding for local response, including boosting testing.
The Virginia Department of Health is working to hire 1,300 total contact tracers and supervisors to boost local health districts' workforces examining who's been exposed to the virus.
According to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, they've receiver 3,000 applications since they began the hiring process and are reviewing all of them.
As Virginia moves into Phase 1, he said identifying cases, isolating patients, and contacting people who may have been exposed is key to avoiding any "second wave" or resurgence of the virus.
So their plan is to increase the contact tracing workforce by 1,300 to reach a goal of having 15 for every 100,000 people in Virginia's population.
That goal is based on guidelines from Harvard researchers, who recommended 15-30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people. Dr. Oliver said their plan is to get to the 15 per 100,000 goal and then ramp from there if needed.
Each of the people working on contact tracing throughout Virginia will determine any and all primary contacts of a person with a confirmed case and instruct those people to self-quarantine to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
The White House has recommended every nursing home resident and staff member in the country be tested in the next two weeks.
With about 260 long-term care centers in Virginia, Gov. Northam said they are committed to testing everyone at all of them, but that two weeks is a "bit of an ambitious goal."
With the help of the National Guard, which has facilitated testing at many facilities already, including at outbreak sites in the Shenandoah Valley, Northam said Virginia will get everyone at the facilities tested.
He also mentioned that any long-term care facility can request testing through private labs, like Quest, as well as the state-provided testing.
The goal is to test all of them, Northam said, but depending on the results and the ongoing situations, there may be reason to go back and test residents and /or staff again too, in order to do everything possible to keep them all healthy.
Governor Northam said his administration is open to requests from any local government in Virginia that does not feel their region is ready to reopen yet, but he said, so far, they have only heard from leadership in Northern Virginia, resulting in the delay there.
He said if any other region wants to delay reopening, their leaders need to go through the same process that Northern Virginia has. But no other region has made any similar request.
As we begin reopening Virginia, there is concern, like there is around the country, that new cases could emerge with fewer people staying at home.
Gov. Northam said the reason his staff determined Virginia is able to enter Phase 1 is because there is enough hospital capacity, PPE, and testing capability to handle more cases now, if they come.
His concern, he said, is also for the fall and winter, assuming no vaccination or cure is developed by that time. So his administration, like many, is planning not just Phase 1, but planning for months and possibly years down the road.
"We weren't ready" when the virus hit the U.S., Northam said, saying that Virginia and the country did not have the testing capacity, PPE, or plans to be able to properly respond to COVID-19. But now, he said, "we've learned our lesson, at least here in Virginia" and have the supplies and capacity to be ready for coming months and years, if the virus sticks around.
He reminded Virginians that "this is a novel virus" and that everyone is learning more every day about how it affects people, mentioning the ongoing research into Kawasaki syndrome among some children that have been infected with the virus.
It's "pretty difficult" to say exactly what Virginia will need in a month or a year from now, Northam said, "but we're preparing."
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran responded to a question about prisons with outbreaks in Virginia, saying that none have experienced staffing shortages.
He thanked "great commitment on the part of correctional officers" to their jobs and said the Department of Corrections takes "extraordinary steps" to separate affected units in facilities with outbreaks from others who could be exposed.
Moran also thanked the National Guard for their work to do more testing at facilities like Dillwyn Correctional Center.
Gov. Northam said he and his staff are asking for the cooperation of Virginians to follow the state's guidelines and restrictions and that most people have done exactly that.
However, he said law enforcement, including Virginia State Police, as well as local law enforcement agencies, will continue to have the authority to enforce guidelines laid out on the state level, including 50% capacity restrictions for businesses.
"We will have a stick if we need to use it," the governor said.
While enforcement is not the goal, Northam said everyone following the guidelines to prevent more cases is critical to get to Phases 2 and 3 of reopening.
Gov. Northam, again repeating a hallmark of some of his earlier briefings, said Virginia is in the middle of both a health crisis and an economic crisis.
However, Northam says his guiding principle is that "until we get the health crisis behind us," the economy will not be able to recover, which is why his focus has been on the health crisis.
He said he knows people are making "tremendous sacrifices" amid the economic fallout, and said that's why it's important for Virginians to work together to get the virus under as much control as possible to be able to move on to the economic crisis.
Highlighting statistics from February, Northam said Virginia has been #1 in the country for state business environments, with record breaking capital investments and one of the lowest unemployment rates in years. "We were strong before COVID-19," Northam said, "and if we continue to work together, we'll come out as strong."
With Memorial Day coming up on May 22, Gov. Northam announced that briefings after that, instead of three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, will come twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with special announcements held as needed.
Governor Northam began Monday's briefing as he's begun many of the most recent briefings, presenting a slideshow of graphs and charts showing the data metrics his team is reviewing each day to determine Virginia's next moves.
The governor specifically highlighted infographics on Monday showing the number of cases per day and people tested per day, pointing out that those will continue trending upward as the commonwealth ramps up testing capacity.
He also showed a chart indicating how many of Virginia's tests come back positive, which highlighted a decline in that rate. A 14-day decline for that number is what the governor announced in April that he wanted to see to be able to start Virginia's reopening plan, and the rate has steadily declined.
Northam also featured data on the number of Virginia hospitals experiencing PPE difficulties, which dropped to zero and has stayed there for days, as well as data on hospital bed, ventilator, and ICU capacity, all of which has been staying steady.
He said continuing to meet each of those data metrics is key to entering Phase 1, which he remains confident will happen on Friday.
Asked when he'll be able to say definitively that Friday will start Phase 1, rather than tentatively, Northam said that will happen in Wednesday's briefing. But, he said, he sees no indication in the current data trends that the date would change.
After showcasing the data metrics his team is following for Virginia as a whole, the governor again reiterated his statement from last week that the restrictions planned for Phase 1 are "a floor, but not a ceiling." Essentially, he's said that no region may move faster than the overall state guidelines, but that his administration is open to some regions moving more slowly.
Specifically, Northam spent time on Monday discussing the situation in Northern Virginia.
Over the past weekend, he said officials representing several northern Virginia counties sent him a formal letter that showed a unified response in the region to request a delay. Each county leader requested a responsible, data-driven, health-focused approach, and essentially said that their region isn't ready for Phase 1 yet.
Gov. Northam said the northern Virginia officials are reviewing the same data metrics as the rest of the state and presented more slides to show the stark difference.
From Sunday to Monday, just under 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Virginia. Of those, more than 700 were in northern Virginia, which makes up around 40% of the Virginia population, and the rest of the state accounted for under 300.
As the rest of Virginia has fallen to around a 10% rate of people who are tested receiving positive results, northern Virginia has about a 25% rate. In the region, COVID-19 patients also make up a significantly higher percentage of hospital beds filled than in the rest of the state.
Northam said his staff is working with NoVa officials to develop a plan for a slower move to Phase 1 in their region, with comprehensive testing as the key to learn more about the situation there.
He said there's no set time yet on how long the region would extend restrictions, and that that is being determined in their ongoing discussions, based on giving the region time to follow ongoing data trends.
Coordination between Maryland and Washington, D.C. was also a major factor in the decision to move northern Virginia to a slower beginning of Phase 1, Northam said.
When asked how slowing down the region's reopening fits with his previous statements that regional reopening plans could be problematic with people traveling from hot spots to areas with fewer cases, the governor said he is strongly encouraging anyone in an area with more cases to stay at home and stick with the CDC guidelines and other restrictions that he says have worked so far.
While his administration does not have a specific plan to stop people from traveling from northern Virginia to other areas with open businesses, he said the coordination with Maryland and D.C., which share the most traffic with the region, should help address some of that.
He also expressed that he thinks the continued restrictions being implemented as part of Phase 1, including required masks and PPE in salons and non-essential retail stores, should help reduce any potential impact from people traveling from northern Virginia if they choose to do so regardless of recommendations.
"As soon as they feel comfortable and we feel comfortable collectively," the governor said, is when northern Virginia will be able to move into Phase 1 with the rest of Virginia.
Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia's chief diversity officer, came to the podium to discuss the work the Health Equity Taskforce and Health Equity Working Group have been doing to increase testing and resources available to under-served communities in Virginia.
Dr. Underwood said the taskforce meets twice every day and the working group, a much large coalition, meets every Tuesday to review ongoing campaigns designed to ensure women and minority-owned small businesses have a seat at the table to discuss Virginia's COVID-19 response.
She said one of their main priorities has been to collaborate with local governments to provide support to under-served communities by providing personal protective equipment, education materials, and resources as needed.
Specifically highlighted by Dr. Underwood was the Health Equity Group's
this past week.
The group is also launching a similar program in Richmond at a much larger scale, with 20,000 masks and 20,000 bottles of hand sanitizer expected to be delivered in the capital.
With data on both federal and state levels showing that people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Dr. Underwood said they hope these programs the "the first of many" to make sure resources get to the people that need it most.
Dr. Underwood said her partnership with Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed enabled them to set up the program there in just a week, and they are "happy to link arms with everyone."
Governor Northam highlighted several ongoing testing sites in Virginia, including drive-thru testing in the New River Valley, National Guard testing on the Eastern Shore in poultry plant communities, and targeted testing in at-risk Richmond neighborhoods.
He also said Virginians should "stay tuned for exciting announcements" coming later this week as his administration works with retail stores across Virginia to set up more opportunities for community testing.
After outcry in the city of Petersburg last week as city officials shut off water to some residents amid the pandemic, Gov. Northam said the Virginia Department of Health issued a public health order requiring the city to restore water service to 45 homes and blocking the city from shutting anyone else's water off.
Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has
As of Monday, Gov. Northam said that closure is being extended by another week, to at least May 18.
He said they are working to get DMV offices up and running as soon as possible to be able to help high schoolers get their driver's licenses, amid the many other tasks the DMV is needed for.
All drivers with credentials for themselves, like licenses, or their vehicles, like registrations, that are set to expire in the time the DMV has remained closed, get extensions of 60 days.
Drivers are encouraged to take care of any DMV tasks online at
, if possible. You can renew licenses and registrations there, as well as many other tasks. The DMV also offers mail-in options for a number of transactions, including vehicle registration, original title transactions, and driver's license renewal, if mailed a notice.
Virginia's May local elections, which the governor extended by two weeks earlier in the pandemic, are coming up in just over a week on May 19.
Gov. Northam issued a reminder to all Virginians that Tuesday, May 12, is the last day to request an absentee ballot be mailed to you.
He called voting by mail the "safest way to vote at this time" and heavily encouraged it, describing it as very secure as well.
However, he said the department of elections will be working to make sure all polling places and poll workers are as safe as possible as well.
If you plan to submit an absentee ballot, you need to return your ballot by Election Day on May 19.
The General Assembly's recently passed
hasn't yet taken effect — so the Department of Elections advises people requesting an absentee ballot to choose Reason 2A of having a disability or an illness.
Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them at
or by downloading and printing a request form at
and then returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax, or scanned attachment to an email. Contact information for General Registrar offices is on the form. Forms are also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.
Voters completing a paper application are asked to choose 2A, “my disability or illness” to complete their form. Voters completing an online application to request an absentee ballot will need to follow the prompts and select “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day.” You will then have the option to choose “my disability or illness” as the reason for your request.
The June primary elections remain postponed to June 23 rather than June 9.
As state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver addressed the latest overall COVID-19 case statistics in Virginia, he discussed the data from the health department showing that the disease has disproportionately affected Virginia's black and Latino communities.
He once again specifically pointed to
, citing the city's poultry plants and a large number of Latino workers at those sites, which employ disproportionately large numbers of Latino workers.
Throughout the pandemic, Virginia has had one of the lowest per capita testing rates in the U.S.
Asked about how that can improve, Gov. Northam pointed to Virginia's five phases of testing that he highlighted at briefings in previous weeks, with the biggest phase calling for around 10,000 tests a day after he numbers steadily increased.
The governor said the most recent numbers show Virginia is getting there now and that he's proud of the progress made.
"I make no excuses for Virginia," Northam said, but followed it up by saying he thinks the commonwealth is in a good place now.
He also pointed to his announcement earlier in Monday's briefing that new retail testing partnerships will be debuted later this week.
Dr. Remley, who heads Virginia's testing task force, followed the governor's response, and specifically addressed the Johns Hopkins University data that has frequently shown Virginia near last in per capita testing.
She said that data shows cumulative tests and that it would be impossible for Virginia to catch up on those numbers now without testing everyone all at once. Instead, she said, their focus is to get testing to where it's most needed, using state resources like the National Guard to use Virginia's increased test capacity at the locations in most need of testing, like long-term care centers and faith communities.
She said they're also working to look more at how testing is doing at the district level. While a large number of tests have been conducted in northern Virginia because of the amount of sickness there, she said the goal is to be able to reassure everyone in the state that they can know how much disease is in their area.
Basically, Dr. Remley said topping the Johns Hopkins list is not an attainable goal for Virginia, so their goal is to make sure they have the data needed to keep moving Virginia forward into the governor's phased reopening plan.
Asked if Virginia will bring in third party contractors to help expand testing further, as the commonwealth did to get more PPE, Clark Mercer, Gov. Northam's chief of staff, said they are working with a large number of communities at the moment and are close to executing contracts for expanded contact tracing work and more test kits, but those efforts are in progress.
The Virginia Employment Commission has been blasted by thousands of Virginians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as people have struggled with the unemployment insurance system and getting their benefits only to try to call for support and get a message and then get hung up on.
Officials with the agency have encouraged Virginians to just keep calling until they get someone.
Asked about their work to hire more people, Dr. Megan Healy, with the Virginia Chief Workforce Development Office, said the agency had about 1,600 people working during the Great Recession but only about 800 in February. She said they've scrambled to hire as many people as possible and have opened up two new call centers during this pandemic, as well as increased staffing in their headquarters by 100.
She also said they've increased their online capability and encouraged people to use their online system if at all possible.
At each of the most recent Virginia COVID-19 briefings, a move to hire more people to assist in contact tracing across the commonwealth has been a hot topic.
On Monday, public health officials said there were about 200 people in the contact tracing workforce prior to the pandemic, but now they've staffed up to more than 600 and are still actively hiring to get to the goal of 1,000 new contact tracers and 200 supervisors.
As Virginia prepares to begin reopening and Gov. Northam has said time and again that a major goal for him is for consumers and employees to feel safe, he was asked if he's considered making masks mandatory in public spaces.
Gov. Northam said his team has considered it, but at this point is strongly encouraging everyone to wear masks, but not requiring it.
He pointed to the requirements for masks in certain businesses as part of Phase 1, like in non-essential retail stores and restaurants, and said they will continue to review the possibility moving forward while reviewing the data.
The governor said the plan to start Phase 1 on May 15 is still tentative for now, as it's based on constantly changing data, but he expects the plan will go forward and will announce it definitively on Wednesday.
Aside from northern Virginia, he said current numbers show that May 15 meets all his guidelines.
Governor Northam said an amended executive order will most likely be announced later this week as the commonwealth moves into Phase 1 on Friday to set the newest restrictions for the state legally down, and he said those restrictions will help prevent any potential spike from reopening some businesses.
He also said addressing northern Virginia by keeping the region from entering Phase 1 yet should help prevent the possibility as well.
Asked if his Phase 1 guidance for restaurants and non-essential retail is inconsistent by allowing people indoors at non-essential retails stores but only outdoors at restaurants, Gov. Northam said the decision on the guidance was made based on feedback from Virginia's business task force, which included restaurant owners.
He said the limit to outdoor seating was to keep both customers and employees safe and reiterated that it's "just a phase."
With Phase 1 expected to last two to three weeks, Northam said that amount of time serving outdoors at 50% capacity should hopefully allow restaurants to prepare to enter Phase 2 with indoor dining at 50% capacity and tables spaced six feet apart.
Health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver was asked why Virginia counts serologic tests, also known as antibody tests, in its total number of COVID-19 tests reported each day.
Dr. Oliver said Virginia's health department has tried to follow all CDC guidelines on testing, but that there is no federal guideline on whether to count antibody tests with all other tests. In light of that, Virginia looked to other states, saw that many included serologic tests in their test totals, and chose to follow their example to keep Virginia's statistics consistent for comparison's sake, Northam's chief of staff said.
The decision also went along with the health department's decision to report the total number of all tests performed in Virginia, along with the number of unique people tested.
Chief of staff Clark Mercer said "we can't win" because the state gets criticized for low testing numbers by not including something like serologic tests while other states include it and then gets criticized for including it when they try to be consistent with other states.
Dr. Oliver said they'll look into listing it out separately each day, like they do with total tests and unique people tested.
Virginia has conducted a number of large-scale point prevalence testing operations at long-term care centers.
Dr. Forlano said they are looking into providing information on how many tests have been performed in each of those situations, but they cannot provide facility-specific information due to Virginia code. They'll look into sharing that data on an aggregate level, however.
She also said they've been using VDH data to identify facilities that would benefit from point prevalence testing and have not turned down any requests for the service.
Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said workers' compensation is being provided for frontline workers dealing with COVID-19 in certain situations under the Code of Virginia, but not all, and said that it would be up to the General Assembly to set down in writing that healthcare workers can receive workers' compensation amid the pandemic.
As to their plans for workers who may not feel comfortable returning to work in Phase 1, due to underlying conditions or other reasons, Mercer said they're expecting tension with the Trump administration on how they plan to handle the situation, since the federal government is asking states for a list of all workers who reject returning to employment while on unemployment insurance.
He said the state administration continues to review factors to determine how to move forward.
Gov. Northam addressed the work of his cabinet, saying that Dr. Underwood's statement that she works for him was incorrect. He said, rather, all the people in his COVID-19 task force "work for Virginia, not for me."
Moving into Phase 1 later this week, the governor said there are a lot of guidelines to follow, but that's because "we feel we can safely do it, based on data," and because he said Virginia has the tools now that were not available just weeks ago, like increased testing capacity, more contact tracers, and PPE supplies.
He said he would not make the decision to move forward into Phase 1 without the needed tools to do it safely.
"This is in all of our hands," the governor concluded, saying it's up to everyone to be vigilant and continue protecting themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors, and those on the front lines by continuing social distancing, hand-washing, keeping their hands from their faces, and following all the guidance that's been shown so far to work.
As he has done at the past several briefings, Governor Ralph Northam began Friday's briefing by recapping where the commonwealth has been – starting with the first confirmed COVID-19 case just over a month ago on March 7.
The governor said at the start of dealing with the pandemic, he all governors across the U.S. had "one blunt tool" to confront the crisis, which was "shutting everything down."
He provided a brief overview of the actions taken throughout Virginia's response, including directing everyone to stay home except for essential reasons, because he said the only way to slow the spread of the virus was and still is to stay apart, with business closures designed for the same reason.
"And it's worked," Northam said, pointing to Virginia's latest data, which shows that hospitals have not been overwhelmed, that Virginia has a steady supply of PPE with no hospitals reporting any supply problems now, and the percentage of Virginians testing positive now trending downward.
The governor said Virginia is also continuing to work to ramp up testing across Virginia. Friday's numbers indicated more than 6,000 tests over the past day, and Dr. Karen Remley, who heads up Virginia's testing task force, said on Friday that they're working with local officials around Virginia to increase the daily test number to around 10,000 tests a day by the end of next week.
Northam cited an example that officials will be testing about 1,500 people on the Eastern Shore this weekend around the locations of outbreaks at poultry plants there.
He also highlighted the Virginia Department of Health's ongoing effort to hire 1,000 more contact tracers across all health districts in the state, and said that Virginia currently has about 325. Previously, Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, had said they could not identify the exact current number because all tracers are employed at local health district levels.
Gov. Northam said, so long as the current trends in Virginia's COVID-19 data continue, he believes we're set to start Phase 1 of reopening on Friday, May 15.
However, he did emphasize that if those trends change, that date can be adjusted if needed.
"While our tools to fight this virus have changed, our commitment has not," Northam said.
He said beginning Phase 1 will not be "opening the floodgates" or "flipping a light switch" but instead used the analogy of turning a dimmer switch up just a notch to gradually begin reopening Virginia.
Northam said the date of May 15, so long as data trends continue, will begin a three-phase process for Virginia and restrictions will continue because the virus is still in nearly every community.
Science, data, and safety, Northam said, will be his criteria to move Virginia forward.
The governor showcased a variety of charts and graphs to present the data metrics he said he and his staff are relying on to determine when and how Virginia moves forward. He said those will later be available on the state website at
Specifically, Northam showed Virginia's 7-day moving average of new cases, which is steadily dipping; the 7-day average of tests being performed, which is trending upward; the rate of Virginians who are tested that test positive, which is trending downward; PPE supply difficulties at hospitals, which have dropped to zero; hospital bed capacity and surge capacity, which have remained steady; and hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 patients, which have remained essentially flat.
The rate at which cases have doubled in Virginia has also slowed over time, down to 16 days now.
Gov. Northam did say that they are keeping an eye on the hospital capacity numbers as elective procedures resume across the commonwealth to see if that steady rate changes.
According to Gov. Northam's Friday presentation, the overarching guidance for Phase 1 involves the Stay at Home order switching to a Safer at Home order, which means Virginians should still stay home when possible, and that Virginians who are vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, need to continue saying at home except for essential reasons.
The 10-person gathering limit established in Executive Order 53 will remain in place for any public gatherings – though it does not apply to all gatherings within specific businesses, as outlined below.
Face masks are heavily encouraged in public, social distancing is still required, and the state still strongly suggests continued teleworking if possible.
When it comes to industries, there is specific guidance on how limitations are being eased, which is broken down below:
– have been open with a 10-person limit and in Phase 1 can open to a maximum of 50% of their store's customer capacity.
– have been open for takeout and delivery and in Phase 1 can open up outdoor seating at 50% capacity
When asked why restaurants cannot open their doors to in-house dining yet, while non-essential retail stores can open their doors to more customers, Gov. Northam said the decision was made based on a "tremendous amount" of discussion with restaurant owners and that it was their collective decision that outdoor seating, for now, would be in the best interest of customers and employees.
Northam said if data keeps trending downward, and Phase 2 can be entered in hopefully two weeks, restaurants will be allowed to open dine-in eating in Phase 2, with 50% capacity and social distancing between tables.
– have been closed and in Phase 1 will remain closed
– have been closed and in Phase 1 will be able to hold outdoor classes with social distancing
– have remained open only for exercise and fishing and in Phase 1 will continue to be open only for those reasons
The governor said when asked about beaches later in the press conference that the state government is working with localities like Virginia Beach, letting each locality focus on their own comprehensive plans to make sure their beaches are ready before a decision is to made to open them further.
The bottom line, Northam said, is that people need to feel comfortable when they go to a beach, grabbing handrails, standing on the boardwalk, etc., that they won't contract the virus.
He said there's no date yet on when they'll open up to more than exercise and fishing, but it won't be when Phase 1 starts.
- have been able to hold drive-in services and small services with fewer than 10 people and in Phase 1 will be able to hold services inside with 50% of the building's capacity while drive-in services remain allowed
– have been closed and in Phase 1 can open by appointment only, with strict social distancing in place and face masks required
– have been closed and in Phase 1 can open, with restrictions on distance between campsites
– have been open for day use only and in Phase 1 will open up to overnight camping in gradual regional phases. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation issued an update shortly after the governor's briefing
– have been open for working families and in Phase 1 can continue that way
– will remain closed in Phase 1
All of Virginia's guidelines will be posted on the Virginia state website.
Gov. Northam said Phase 1 will last a minimum of two weeks, but may last longer depending on what the data on health metrics shows as we move forward.
The governor said some communities may enter Phase 1 more slowly than others, but those decisions will have to be made by local governments coordinating for an overall region, like northern Virginia, which is not seeing quite the same declines in cases that the rest of the state is seeing.
According to Northam's chief of staff, they have spoken with localities in northern Virginia, including Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax counties, which he said have each expressed interest in possibly delaying entering Phase 1 so that they can meet the criteria the rest of the state is meeting for Phase 1.
But local officials who may plan to do that are in coordination with the state government to determine if they should delay entering Phase 1.
But the state government only plans to allow moves like that on regional levels – not individual cities or counties.
Northam said Phase 1 means that businesses may reopen, but not that they are required to reopen. If a business cannot meet the guidelines of Phase 1, he said they should not reopen yet.
Any economic recovery, Northam said, will be consumer-driven, and he encouraged businesses to take all precautions possible to protect everyone, including their employees.
Gov. Northam said the restrictions of Phase 1 will be enforced like Executive Order 53 has been enforced so far, with local law enforcement and Virginia State Police holding the authority to cite people who do not obey the guidelines.
However, the goal, Northam said, is not to cite people but to protect Virginians.
If there were to be a new surge in cases of COVID-19 across Virginia or a second wave, the governor said previous restrictions can be put in place if need-be because it 's a dynamic, fluid process, with data changing every day.
However, Northam said the entire goal of the restrictions in Phase 1 is to prevent a situation like that.
But if numbers go in a direction that the administration is not comfortable with, based on the same metrics being followed now, like hospital capacity, PPE supplies, and case trends, they will move restrictions back as needed.
Governor Northam said if any workers are afraid to return, even if their business reopens, because they or a loved one has an underlying condition, his administration is developing ways to protect them.
He said restrictions are meant to protect workers as much as customers and that his administration is asking Virginia's Congressional delegation to ask the federal government to give Virginia more flexibility with unemployment insurance if they cannot return to work due to valid COVID-19-related concerns.
They're also asking any workers who are concerned about unsafe conditions at their workplace to report them to the Department of Labor.
The governor's main goal, he said, is for Virginians to be careful and cautious, especially moving into reopening.
"Our efforts have slowed the spread, but they have not cured the disease," he said, adding that it's more important than ever for Virginians to behave cautiously as we ease restriction – if not for their own sake, for the vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
Without a vaccine or a proven treatment, Northam said being cautious is the only way to handle a virus we may be living with for months or years.
With elective procedure resuming across Virginia, Northam also encouraged all Virginians to take care of their health and see a doctor or provider if needed, saying that people cannot let illnesses or injuries go untreated because of coronavirus.
"We're all in this together," Northam said, repeating a phrase he has used frequently throughout the pandemic, and he asked everyone to "continue to act with your own health and the health of others in mind."
The Virginia Department of Health is reaching out to physicians across Virginia to get their expertise, conducting a needs assessment of all doctors to determine how best to move forward for all of them in the weeks ahead.
State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, reviewing Virginia's current COVID-19 case, death, and hospitalization statistics, pointed out that demographic data shows a disproportionately high number of case and death numbers among the Latinx community.
Dr. Oliver specifically pointed to the
, stating that he believes it's largely correlated to outbreaks in and around poultry plants, which employ disproportionately large numbers of Latinx workers.
Dr. Remley, heading up Virginia's testing task force, said officials helping ramp up testing in Virginia are working with free clinics and drugstores to expand testing sites.
But their man focus at the moment, she said, is to work out the testing chain to get everyone on the same page and reach around 10,000 tests a day by the end of next week.
However, she said, even once to that trend, there's no guarantee that number gets hit every day. For instance, testing usually drops over the weekends.
The goal, she said, is to get to a point where every Virginian with symptoms can have the opportunity to get tested.
A representative of the Virginia Employment Commission said they have been able to get benefits for over 70,000 gig workers and self-employed workers since adding a process to expand eligibility through their system.
Acknowledging but largely dismissing reports from many people about problems with the VEC system, the representative said many people are receiving their benefits and that they're still ramping up staff to handle more calls and the appeals process.
As has been mentioned in many of the most recent governor's briefings, facilities in Virginia with confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks cannot be identified by the Virginia Department of Health unless the facility chooses to publicly release their identity.
That has resulted in many long-term care centers, businesses, and apartment complexes, among other kinds of facilities, facing outbreaks that the community never has confirmation about.
Dr. Oliver has said they can't identify the facilities because the Virginia code treats facilities as "persons" and prohibits the release of health information about persons.
However, some state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would change that part of the state code and allow the health department to share more information on places with outbreaks.
Asked if he would support that bill, Gov. Northam said it's difficult for him to respond to questions about if he'll support bills because so much can change about a specific bill as it goes through the process from the House to the Senate and eventually gets to his desk.
But he said he supports transparency and wants to let the public and loved ones know what's going on in long-term care centers.
The governor said, overall, he is open to the idea, but would need to review the details of the legislation.
He said he suspects the part of the Virginia code causing the issue was meant to protect patient privacy, so he said any change would need to still protect that.
Governor Northam thanked business owners and all consumers with plans to move forward to Phase 1.
He encouraged all Virginians to start thinking about what it will take for you to be comfortable going back into places of businesses because that's what he says the state needs to hear to develop future guidance.
Governor Northam started Wednesday's briefing by noting that Thursday, May 7, will mark two months since the first positive COVID-19 cases was confirmed in the commonwealth.
In the eight weeks since, he noted that our lives and the lives of people around the world have changed, but now, Northam said, we're able to start thinking about next steps.
He said Monday's briefing broadly outlined his "Forward Virginia" plan for the future, which calls for three phases over time based on the latest data and science, and that more specific guidance for businesses and the continuing restrictions in Phase 1 will be provided on Friday.
Northam said his administration is working with businesses and local governments across Virginia to determine what the next steps will look like.
Specifically, he said the restrictions being outlined on a state level for Phase 1 are "the floor," stating that local governments can implement more severe restrictions into Phase 1 and beyond if they determine it's needed based on their situations, like in northern Virginia.
When asked for clarity later in the briefing about that, Gov. Northam said his cabinet has been talking to local leaders in some of the hardest hit areas, like counties in Northern Virginia, and they said they may need to increase restrictions beyond the state level.
While the governor has previously said he chose not to move forward with reopenings on a regional basis to keep guidelines consistent across the commonwealth, he said that allowing potentially more severe restrictions in some areas will help on a local level and won't change the overall state guidance.
The governor said all decisions his staff is making are based on the latest metrics, and he hopes that we will be able to enter Phase 1 on May 15, because the data so far indicates that will be possible.
But, he said they'll be continuing to closely monitor the data to guide decisions on reopening and will make changes if necessary.
As far as the specific data guiding the process, Northam said the percentage of Virginians tested who receive positive results – around 16% at last count – is key, and it's been slowly but steadily going down. He also pointed to numbers of hospitalizations, which have remained steady, and the PPE supply in Virginia.
In the last few days, no Virginia hospitals at all have reported difficulty finding PPE.
However, he said the commonwealth still needs to significantly ramp up testing ability and the ability to trace more contacts of people with positive cases.
Part of the effort to ramp up testing and increase contact tracing, Northam said, has been focused in the Eastern Shore, where the health department is working with CDC teams to conduct large-scale testing in the communities surrounding poultry plants with hundreds of confirmed cases.
He did not address
To increase testing around the state, Northam said, we don't just need testing kits, but people – to carry out the tests and perform all surrounding tasks.
He highlighted the work the Virginia National Guard has done for that, providing manpower and logistical expertise.
Twelve facilities across Virginia with ongoing outbreaks have had testing provided with assistance from the National Guard.
Gov. Northam said all the work the Virginia National Guard, which has a dual mission of both federal and state interests, has done has been funded through the federal government.
That's thanks to a federal authorization from President Donald Trump for assistance from the National Guard in states to respond to COVID-19. But that authorization is set to expire on May 31.
Northam is asking President Trump to extend that authorization to enable continued federal funding for National Guard response.
According to Virginia's Secretary of Veterans Affairs, if not granted that extension for Title 32, which authorized the funding, Virginia's National Guard will continue to respond regardless.
He said the authorization is important to Virginia's response, but the response will be the same either way – the difference is whether the cost burden shifts to the state instead of the federal government.
The governor invited Maj. Gen. Tim Williams, with the Virginia National Guard, to elaborate on how the guard has been responding in Virginia.
Williams said their top priority has been to provide additional capacity for COVID-19 testing and mask fitting at long-term care facilities and other outbreak sites across Virgnia.
He said the guard has been assisting with planning and logistical work since Virginia's state of emergency was first declared in March, but recently, about 100 National Guard members have supported sample collection and N95 mask fitting in localities around the state.
Altogether, he said they've delivered more than 730 sample collection kits, assisted with distributing about 50,000 pounds of food across communities, and done much more.
They're currently deployed in central Virginia and will be in the Eastern Shore this coming weekend.
He encouraged any local governments in need of assistance to reach out to their local emergency managers, who can coordinate National Guard response.
Williams also called for Virginians to keep National Guard members and their families in mind, as most on-duty personnel also have full-time jobs and cannot currently return to their families due to a need for isolation.
You can learn more about how the National Guard has been preparing for the work
Gov. Northam also thanked hospitals across Virginia for their work throughout the pandemic and for their assistance to provide resources where needed.
He specifically noted
about their partnership with the health department to provide a range of needed resources to long-term care facilities.
Northam also thanked the Health Equity Group for their work providing donations to send out COVID-19 care kits in Harrisonburg.
Those care kits
, providing face masks, hand sanitizer, and flyers in five languages with information on COVID-19 prevention to hundreds of city residents in Harrisonburg's culturally diverse neighborhoods.
May 6 marks the start of Nurse Appreciation Week, and Gov. Northam took time during his briefing to thank Virginia's nurses, saying he's grateful to every nurse in Virginia for everything they do and that he knows, from his experience as a doctor, that no medical facility could function without nurses.
Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, normally provides an updates on Virginia's latest case statistics just after Northam's remarks in his briefings and before reporter questions.
However, on Wednesday, as the numbers on the state website remained not updated since Tuesday, Dr. Oliver acknowledged the ongoing technical error with the site and said that his team was working very hard to get the data up as quickly as possible.
He said they expect to have the latest numbers posted later in the day.
Regarding the situation at Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, which saw
, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said 27 of 29 patients have been returned to their rooms, recovered from the virus.
He said no others have tested positive since the 29 cases reported last month, and that they have significantly reduced the population at the juvenile detention center.
Last week, the governor announced that Virginia had secured contracts with three private labs to ramp up testing capacity in Virginia.
However, Dr. Karen Remley, who is leading Virginia's testing task force, said on Wednesday that the labs are not processing tests for Virginia, but instead sending test kits to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which then determines when they should be used instead of kits from the state lab, based on where testing is the most needed in the state.
Dr. Remley said the contracts give Virginia additional flexibility on test kits to provide more resources to hard-hit areas.
Dr. Oliver said Virginia has been deploying the National Guard to help provide testing in Virginia's most under-served areas, like rural localities and communities of color, working with VDEM to guide resources to where they're most needed.
He said the health department is also looking at having home health nurses have the capacity to test their patients.
While Virginia is currently running about six to seven thousand tests a day, the goal remains to get to around 10,000 tests a day, and get to a point where "everyone who needs a test will be able to get a test."
When a reporter asked Gov. Northam how he and his staff are doing, he went back to a response he's relied heavily upon throughout COVID-19 briefings, discussing his time as a doctor in the U.S. Army. He talked about his time working in a triage unit during Operation Desert Storm, saying each day blended into another as they treated patient after patient, but said it did end, just as this situation will end.
He thanked his staff for all the work they're doing, saying none of them would be able to say when their last day off was because they're dedicated to making sure Virginians can get through this together.
Dr. Norm Oliver said the majority of cases on the Eastern Shore are in two poultry plants, but described the situation as if the facilities were cruise ships – saying each day, hundreds of people carrying the virus disembark, bringing it beyond the plants into their communities.
He highlighted steps the plants have taken in accordance with CDC guidelines, like installing plexiglass shields between workers on a line, arranging hotel space for workers instead of returning home, where they could spread the virus in densely quartered hosing, and increased sanitation efforts.
He also said community-based testing with the National Guard this weekend should help increase their response.
Dr. Remley explained that it's up to individual long-term care centers to determine how they want to carry out testing, and that they need to reach out to their local health departments if assistance is needed.
She said they're also required to communicate the situation with staff and with the loved ones of people at the facilities.
Virginia's commerce secretary said Virginia, like all states, is getting a vast amount of funding through the CARES Act, which set up about 50 different funding streams, with some of the most money in the PPP program through the Small Business Administration, which remains open for its newest round of assistance payments.
He said that about $3.1 billion has been allocated for local governments across Virginia, with specific guidelines on how it can be used.
That guidance is being reviewed by Northam's cabinet and will be provided to local governments when they receive allocations of the money.
But before it goes to local governments, the state government has to certify that the localities will follow the federal guidelines on its use, which includes money toward testing and contact tracing, among other uses.
Dr. Oliver has previously explained in briefings that the Virginia Department of Health cannot report the specific facilities where outbreak have been identified, involving long-term care centers or otherwise, because Virginia's state code defines facilities and businesses as "persons" and requires the health department to protect the anonymity of all "persons."
There's no way for that to change unless legislators were to change the state code.
A reporter asked is the governor would support a move by lawmakers to do just that after several legislators from both parties have said they'd like to change it in a special session.
Gov. Northam passed the main part of the question, which was about the constitutionality of that part of Virginia code, to another cabinet member, who explained the attorney general's interpretation of the code, and then, when retaking the podium, moved onto the next question before addressing whether he would support lawmakers changing that part of the code.
Gov. Northam and his cabinet have said that they're in the process of ramping up the state;s workforce to provide more contact tracing across Virginia to keep communities safe and detect possible cases and exposures to the virus early.
Dr. Oliver has said they're planning to hire 1,000 new workers for contact tracing, but has also said it's unclear exactly how many are currently employed.
He explained on Wednesday that that is because Virginia's 129 individual health departments manage their own contact tracing workforces and ramp them up or down depending on need on given days.
While he estimates hundreds are currently employed, he said they need about 1,300 to meet the guidelines they're trying to meet to be able to trace exposure in every Virginia community, and said that the health department is handling the new hiring process to be able to know when that number has been met.
He said the whole point of contact tracing is "boxing in the spread" of the coronavirus and that one of their focuses will be on rural and diverse areas.
Dr. Oliver plans to keep the public posted on the hiring process at future briefings.
Secretary Moran said that the Department of Corrections, which initially only tested symptomatic offenders and officers at correctional facilities, will be testing every person at the Dillwyn Correctional Center with point prevalence testing at the end of this week.
He said that kind of early detection will help ensure the health and safety of inmates and correctional officers.
Gov. Northam has said throughout the pandemic that he's been working closely with Governor Hogan in Maryland and Mayor Bowser in Washington, D.C. to keep planning consistent.
On Wednesday, he said that all the areas now have different situations they're facing, requiring different guidelines, but that they continue communicating on how to move forward together with flexibility.
At this point, D.C. is not set to reopen as soon as Northam's plan for May 15 for Virginia.
Once again, during the briefing, protesters gathered outside the Virginia Capitol, calling on the governor to reopen the state immediately.
The governor said his message to them is to consider the Virginia National Guard members discussed earlier in his briefing, to consider the doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic, and to consider the teachers keeping children educated.
He said they can focus their efforts on thanking those people.
With Teacher Appreciation Week ongoing, Northam said he can't say enough about all that teachers are doing across the commonwealth and encouraged everyone to reach out to teachers and thank them this week.
The governor ended Wednesday's briefing by noting that on Friday, he and his staff will provide significantly more detail on the "Forward Virginia" blueprint for reopening the commonwealth, including specifics on Phase 1, business guidelines, and how to keep consumers comfortable when they enter businesses.
Governor Ralph Northam began Monday's briefing, as he's started each of the most recent briefings, by outlining Virginia's history so far in fighting COVID-19.
When Virginia's first case was confirmed on March 7, the governor said it launched very real fears that Virginia hospitals would not have enough ICU capacity or ventilators and realization that there was not enough PPE or testing supplies.
To combat those effects, the governor highlighted the measures that were taken throughout the pandemic: restricting non-essential businesses and limiting gatherings of people with Executive Order 53; ordering Virginians to stay at home except for essential reasons with
; encouraging houses of worship to move services online; asking restaurants to move to carryout and delivery; and more.
He said that as individuals and businesses worked to follow those guidelines, his administration focused on monitoring data, building new PPE supply chains, planning for long-term care facilities, and strengthening Virginia's testing system.
In response, Northam says the measures worked, and that the curve has been flattened, though cases continue to rise.
With plenty of hospital capacity across Virginia, more than enough ventilators, and a steadily reliable PPE supply now established, he said it's time to move forward to a new phase of our response.
However, he emphasized that Virginians cannot forget that the virus is still here – and will not be going away until a vaccination is developed, which could take a year or two.
"We've slowed the virus' spread," Northam said, "but we have not cured the disease."
Considering the reality of the coronavirus' continued existence, Northam said the path forward has to be created with an awareness that the virus is still with us and with no one relaxing their vigilance.
"We re not entering Phase 1 today, nor this week," Northam said after discussing the reality of the virus' continued presence.
However, Northam said, based on the data his team is monitoring, he believes Virginia can enter Phase 1 as soon as next week.
In response, he announced that he is extending
, which was set to expire on May 8, until May 14.
That order is the one that closed many non-essential businesses in Virginia and limited gatherings in Virginia to no more than 10.
Northam said extending that order will give his administration time to monitor the latest data on Virginia's cases, hospital bed capacity, and PPE supplies to be sure that the state can be prepared to enter Phase 1 of reopening.
He anticipates, based on current data, that Virginia should be able to enter Phase 1 at that point, if numbers follow their current trends.
The governor also announced that Executive Order 55, the Stay at Home order for Virginia, is being adjusted to reflect a 'Safer at Home' order for the future as the commonwealth can move into Phase 1.
Asked if he would be able to let businesses know well in advance if Executive Order 53 is set to be extended again, Northam said he fully anticipates moving into Phase 1 on Friday the 15th based on current hospital capacity, steady PPE supplies, and the current trends in case numbers.
"My message today is that we will reopen Virginia next Friday," Northam said.
Governor Northam said Virginia's reopening plan will consist of three phases, each of which is likely to last two to four weeks. He said that duration is in accordance with CDC guidelines for states.
When Virginia does enter Phase 1 on May 15, as Northam currently anticipates, it will come with continued physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and enhanced workplace safety.
But Phase 1 will allow the businesses that were required to close to reopen their doors.
However, every industry will need to continue following guidance on how to operate safely – with continued physical distancing, like spaced-out seating at restaurants; with enhanced cleaning, meaning more sanitation at the restaurant after someone dines there; and more workplace safety measures, like employees wearing face masks or plexiglass shields between a salon worker and a customer.
Essentially, you'll be able to eat at a restaurant and you'll be able to go to the gym – but fewer people will be allowed in those facilities, the employees will be following key safety procedures, and there will be a lot more cleaning.
According to the governor, every industry will be sending out specific guidance for businesses within their fields. That applies to campgrounds, bowling alleys theaters, and all sorts of businesses that have been affected.
Northam specifically stated that houses of worship will be able to reopen, but are not immune from social distancing.
He also specifically talked about farmers' markets, saying they'll be able to reopen to browsing and not just for curbside pickup and online delivery, as many have developed procedures for in recent weeks.
Each of the phases after Phase 1 will steadily loosen restrictions, but at this point, Northam did not provide many details for Phases 2 and 3, saying that Phase 1 is the first priority and future guidance will be shaped by the data as this pandemic develops.
Each phase is set to last 2-4 weeks, like Phase 1, according to CDC guidance.
Northam said entering Phase 2 will require stable PPE supplies and a continued downward testing trend, and the phase will lift the Stay at Home order for most people, but ask all vulnerable populations to continue staying at home.
Entering Phase 3 will require no evidence of a rebound in cases.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert issues this statement in response to Northam's Monday announcements:
To ensure that Virginia sees the downward trend called for in the governor's guidance for reopening, he said the Virginia Department of Health is taking more steps to track as much data as possible.
Acknowledging that cases continue to rise in Virginia, Northam said that is, in part, because of increased testing in Virginia.
Up until last week, Virginia was ranked among the lowest states in the country for per capita testing, but testing has increased significantly since then, rising from about 2,000 tests a day early last week to around 5,000 tests a day now.
Northam said the data being monitored shows the number of people tested and the number of those people testing positive. Looking for a decline, he said what officials are watching is the average of how many tests that are processed come back positive.
And that percentage - around 16% now - has been going down.
The governor said they're also looking for a 14-day downward trend in hospitalizations, which has not happened yet, and for steady hospital bed capacity, which has occurred.
Fewer and fewer hospitals have reported PPE shortages since the start of the pandemic in Virginia, down to only around one hospital, according to one graph the governor showed.
Asked if there's a particular metric he follows, Northam said the number that gets his biggest focus is the number of daily deaths reported. That number has been around 25-40 in recent days and has stayed steady.
"As governor and as a doctor," Northam said his goal is to prevent as many deaths as possible.
To help monitor and prevent future outbreaks, the Virginia Department of Health is also hiring 1,000 people to work as contact tracers, identifying as many people as possible who came into contact with any people with confirmed cases.
Dr. Norm Oliver, state health commissioner, said the state has to take a serious approach to identifying new cases and identifying anyone exposed if Virginia is to reopen safely.
He said the health department has already begun hiring hundreds of case identifiers and is setting up the process to hire 1,000 new contact tracers in the next two weeks.
Governor Northam said the state is continuing to closely track cases at meat processing facilities in the Shenandoah Valley and on the Eastern Shore, though the state's focus has remained on the Eastern Shore, which has seen the highest concentration of cases at poultry facilities.
Last week, Gov. Northam announced that Virginia was opening three new large-scale sites to decontaminate mass quantities of PPE supplies for Virginia hospitals so they can be reused.
On Monday, Northam said the first of the three, in Blacksburg, has opened up.
Northam said Virginia has been working with FEMA, hospitals, and private labs to get more swabs and testing supplies across the commonwealth.
Highlighting the numbers now showing around 6,000 tests a day, compared to 2,000 tests a day a week ago, the governor said he's confident that Virginia's new supply chain will allow us to hit his administration's goal of 10,000 cases a day in the near future.
Dr. Karen Remley, who has headed up the governor's testing task force, said that surveys from clinics and doctors' officers are coming in to help the health department understand where any gaps in testing supplies remain.
She also said the department is holding a webinar for doctors' offices to go over all the guidelines on testing to close any loops in the process.
Doctors are also being advised to start the process of contact tracing for any COVID-19-positive patients, discussing with them any people living in their household and writing that data down as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.
In addition, Dr. Remley said Virginia now has over 160 testing sites across the commonwealth and that they're each listed on the
Asked about the possibility for reopening Virginia on a region-by-region basis, which Northam previously said was something he'd be open to, he said the decision was made against it based on "overwhelming advice" from business owners, including those in rural areas with very few confirmed cases.
Northam said the concern expressed by many business owners was that a regional reopening would result in people traveling from closed areas with more cases to the open areas, unwittingly bringing in new cases and spreading the virus to the areas with the fewest cases.
The governor said it would also effectively "be picking winners and losers" for different regions of the state while he said his goal has been to move everyone into Phase 1 together "as a commonwealth."
He also said a regional reopening would bring tremendous potential for more division, so ultimately, the decision was made for Friday, May 15, to mark the start of Phase 1 for all Virginians.
Gov. Northam said the top priority for when the state moves into Phase 1 is workplace safety, He said businesses were eager to work with the CDC and VDH to develop plans to run their businesses safely.
However, as of right now, the state is still awaiting guidance from the Virginia Employment Commission, which is guided by U.S. Department of Labor policy, on what eligibility for unemployment insurance may look like if people feel unsafe going back to work.
A spokesperson for the governor's cabinet said they are developing criteria to outline specific reasons that workers may meet a qualification to continue receiving unemployment and not return to work, like having pre-existing conditions. Those guidelines would not apply to healthy individuals who simply think their workplace shouldn't be open.
Discussing farmers' markets as a great avenue for farmers to get their items to the market, Gov. Northam invited Virginia Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring to discuss the future for them.
Ring said farmers' markets have done fantastic jobs adapting to the situation so far, setting up online ordering and curbside pick options, and said that Phase 1, on May 15, will mean that people will once again be allowed to browse farmers markets, rather than just order online and pick up their items.
People will need to wear masks and follow all relevant distancing guidelines, but markets will be able to be open for the spring and summer.
In Chincoteague, a church has sued Gov. Northam, claiming that executive orders preventing them from holding gatherings amid the pandemic violated the 1st Amendment. A district judge sided with Northam and the church appealed to the 4th Circuit Court.
Rita Davis, Northam's counsel, acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a statement of interest on behalf of the church, but said the governor's authority was constitutional and she looks forward to the circuit court affirming that.
In response to a separate question about how Northam would respond to Virginians upset with his orders, claiming they were unconstitutional, the governor said all his administration's actions are based on the Constitution.
"My decisions are made to protect Virginians, to keep Virginians healthy and safe, and to prevent deaths," he said.
While he said he understands people are upset, he said he's not trying to punish people but making decisions based on the health and safety of millions of Virginians.
Gov. Northam responded to a question about his calls with the White House by saying that since early March, "we have been fighting a biological war."
Northam said states were "asked to fight this war without any supplies," describing the circumstances under which governors had to compete for supplies with other states. He said they were forced to start "two months behind" because governors had to search for supplies on their own without federal assistance.
However, he said he "commends Washington" for the actions taken in the past few weeks, including the passage of the CARES Act and FEMA working more closely with states to provide supplies.
Northam said he always tries to search for a reason for hope amid dark situations like this crisis, and said that the response of Virginians has provided a silver lining for how we can prepare if something like this ever happens again.
The governor pointed to the work of pharmaceutical companies and universities working as fast as they can to find solutions and treatments, researchers working to develop a vaccine, and those who helped with the clinical trial for remdesivir.
He said the vaccine, in the future, will be the "silver bullet" to put the crisis truly behind us.
He thanked everyone who has made sacrifices during the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders, law enforcement, grocery store workers, and more.
Northam also took time to discuss the
, a New York doctor who took her own life in Charlottesville after witnessing the COVID-19 pandemic in a New York emergency room.
Northam said it's a devastating reminder for people to keep in mind the mental health and stress of front-line workers in this crisis and let them know that we're here for them.
He thanked everyone who has "been a part of the solution" and said "as long as we continue to work together, we'll get through this."
Governor Northam started Friday's briefing by recapping the commonwealth's timeline for COVID-19 leading up to May.
The governor highlighted that when Virginia's first positive COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 7, less than eight weeks ago, there was a real fear that hospitals could be overwhelmed in Virginia, as had been seen in places like Italy and New York.
Northam said the state struggled to obtain supplies for testing and PPE at the start of the pandemic, but implemented restrictions, including the Stay at Home order and business closures, to help prevent that situation from happening.
He said the commonwealth waited to see if those restrictions would work, "and it has worked."
Highlighting the fact that hospitals have not been overwhelmed, with plenty of ventilator and ICU capacity available, Northam said while the case count continues climbing, so does testing.
Testing, Northam said, is the key to moving forward carefully, and he presented a slideshow on where Virginia stands as far as testing.
Showing graphs on Virginia's cumulative testing and daily cases reported, he pointed out the steady rise in cumulative cases and the increase in daily cases, saying that the daily cases will need to begin declining for future steps.
A graph showing hospitalization numbers alongside cumulative cases made the governor's point that capacity is available in hospitals, which he said was part of the state decision to resume elective procedures.
Also key to increasing testing, the governor said, is a steady supply of PPE. To help make that possible, Northam said the state is opening up three new facilities to decontaminate mass quantities of masks and other PPE to allow more supplies to be reused.
Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner who's been leading Virginia's testing task force, took part of Friday's briefing to outline the testing process.
Dr. Remley called it a 5-step process, with the 5 steps being: sick patient, clinician, specimen collection, lab test, test result
Each of those steps, she said, is a place Virginia can improve the process.
First, Dr. Remley said the key is getting patients who are experiencing symptoms to get themselves tested, which she said can still be a challenge. She said patients who are experiencing possible symptoms can go
and find an online map that shows all testing locations in the state with a search by zip code.
As far as collecting the test itself, she said Virginia is implementing the CDC's newest guidance on testing, which allows doctors to let individuals perform their own nasal swab test, using less PPE and allowing testing in many more locations.
For lab tests, Dr. Remley said Virginia's state lab has increased testing capacity by at least 3,000 tests a day with new contracts with private labs in Virginia and North Carolina.
Touching back on the blueprint outlined by Gov. Northam last week for reopening, she said Virginia is now in Phase 2 of testing, which calls for around 5,000 tests to be administered a day.
Phase 3 calls for 7,500 tests a day, Phase 4 calls for 10,000 tests a day, and Phase 5 calls for 2,000 tests a day with a steady rate of testing once most cases have already been identified.
Dr. Remley said the state has gotten increased supplies necessary to ramp up testing, and is doing so, focusing on the people who meet the CDC's priorities for testing, including hospitalized patients, healthcare workers, and high risk populations.
As far as next steps, she said the health department is working with more private labs to do up to 5,000 more tests a week and that local health districts are establishing more drive-thru and mobile testing sites to get more people tested.
She heavily encouraged people to keep following all social distancing guidelines but to go out and get tested if you have symptoms.
Gov. Northam said the big picture of all the data presented is that Virginia is making progress and that the measures taken have worked to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent any surges that would overwhelm hospitals.
He said PPE supplies are now steady, hospital capacity is available, and Virginia is increasing testing.
But what comes next?
Virginia has not entered Phase 1 of Northam's blueprint for reopening, and won't until we see a 14-day trend of declining daily case totals.
But the governor emphasized multiple times in Friday's briefing that where Virginia currently stands is what many states are calling their "Phase 1."
Virginia has resumed elective procedures and reopened dentist offices to non-emergency appointments. Beaches and parks have remained open for the purpose of exercise throughout the pandemic.
Each of those are steps other states are counting as parts of their "Phase 1."
As far as exactly what Virginia's Phase 1 will look like, when it can be implemented, and what it will mean for businesses, Northam said announcements on that will be made at his briefing scheduled for Monday.
Northam's Chief of Staff Clark Mercer answered a reporter question on Virginia's businesses, providing some insight into Virginia's decision to only close select non-essential businesses throughout the pandemic.
Touching on Northam's point that Virginia is already at what "Phase 1" is for some other states, he said Virginia never closed many non-essential stores, like toy stores, for instance, and only required the closure of businesses where social distancing isn't possible, like hair and nail salons and wineries.
Mercer said that was because they did not want, as a government, to define which businesses could sell the same type of product, effectively forcing people away from local toy stores into big box stores that also sell toys, to continue his toy store example.
Mercer said the key has been for all the non-essential stores allowed to remain open to keep following guidelines on social distancing and abide by the state's limit on gatherings of 10.
The governor, acknowledging studies showing that Virginia's per-capita testing was among the lowest in the country, said that the commonwealth focused on high-risk populations to start with, but is moving to a new strategy as they ask doctors to not turn away patients and have anyone who meets the CDC criteria for testing tested.
Northam said the goal is to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting they trust. To do that, his administration is developing guidance for doctors to provide more tests in outpatient settings.
The latest Virginia Department of Health numbers released on Friday morning appeared to show around 15,000 tests administered from Thursday to Friday, which would have been a huge increase over previous highs of about 5,000 tests a day.
That increase, according to state health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, was largely due to a change in methodology.
While testing did increase on Friday to around 5,800, the spike in testing numbers appeared because the VDH numbers now display the total number of tests administered overall, whereas they had previous reported the number of people tested.
According to Dr. Oliver, previously, it was not uncommon for a sick patient to get tested, get tested again in the hospital, and potentially get tested again going to a skilled nursing facility, and that would all display as one test on Virginia's system. Now, the system will indicate every single test, rather than just the total number of people tested.
The rationale behind the change, according to Northam's staff, is because every test administered uses testing supplies, reagents, and PPE that is critical to the state response.
They estimated about ten percent of people positive for COVID-19 received more than one test, causing the increase in Friday numbers.
It also is one explanation for why Virginia's testing numbers had been so low, compared to surrounding states.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Northam established a nursing home task force to set up COVID-19 testing at any facilities in the state with at least two confirmed cases. The testing, known as point-prevalence, has involved testing every single resident and staff member on the same day to determine the scope of outbreaks.
It's been performed in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, UVA Medical Center, VCU Health, the Virginia state lab, and the National Guard, which helps run tests when needed.
Now, Northam says any long-term care facility in the state can reach out to their local health district to request point-prevalence testing at any point, thanks to the efforts of the nursing home task force.
The governor reminded people that the National Guard is in areas to help perform tests, and reminded Virginians that seeing their vehicles should be no cause for alarm.
The governor reminded Virginians that it's not too late to respond to the U.S. Census, saying it's critical to count every single person living in Virginia. He urged anyone who has not yet filled it out to do so online or through the mail.
May is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Gov. Northam said at this time, it's a reminder that many people of Asian descent have faced increased bigotry and harassment simply because the coronavirus originated in China, and reminded people that that is unacceptable.
May is also Foster Care Month, so Gov. Northam thanked foster parents for all they've done to welcome children into their lives and the social workers who support them.
Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Education has allocated $238.6 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, with 90% going directly to local school districts and 10% to statewide efforts.
Gov. Northam said so long as Virginians keep doing what they're doing, he's confident that K-12 schools will be able to begin again in August and September, as usual.
He said there's been no discussion on a start date for year-round schools who have been looking at July.
When asked about a previous projection that Virginia may be able to enter Phase 1 and start reopening non-essential businesses on May 8, Northam said the plan for reopening businesses remains under consideration with the state's COVID-19 Business Task Force and will be fleshed out in his Monday briefing.
He said the task force is working on a blueprint and criteria to determine exactly what Phase 1 will look like
He thanked people for their patience as his administration considers a lot of data to make the decisions, and said he understands that consumers want to be reassured that entering a business is safe for them.
Dr. Norm Oliver was asked about Virginia's workforce on tracing the contacts of positive cases after Virginia did not have data to report to NPR when they reported on numbers for contact tracing nationwide.
He said the Virginia Department of Health does not have a central roster of the people doing contact tracing because it's handled by local health districts.
Citing an example of one district that increased their normal number of people working on contact tracing from 5 to 20, he estimated the number for Virginia as a whole is "in the hundreds" and said they're working to increase it to about 1,500.
The governor was asked, for at least the third time in a briefing, if Virginia will be able to report the specific facilities where outbreak have been identified, especially involving long-term care centers.
For at least the third time, Dr. Norm Oliver explained that it's not a decision the Virginia Department of Health or the governor can make, because Virginia's state code defines facilities and businesses as "persons" and requires the health department to protect the anonymity of all "persons," effectively meaning that they can't identify facilities with outbreaks unless the facility agrees.
There's no way for that to change, Dr. Norm Oliver highlighted once again, unless legislators were to change the state code.
Gov. Northam said while Virginia has still seen the total number of cases doubling, it's happening with less frequency. At the start, Virginia saw its cases double around every 2 to 3 days. Now, that's around 9 to 12 days as the curve slowly begins to flatten.
Dr. Remley said part of the increase in Virginia's cases is due to an increase in testing, but that cases are increasing as well.
Gov. Northam said in a prior briefing that he was open to the idea of reopening parts of Virginia on varying schedules, depending on the status of cases in each region.
However, on Friday, he said feedback on that idea from the state's business task force has been mixed.
He highlighted a concern from one business in southwest Virginia, where few cases have been reported, that reopening their business while similar businesses elsewhere in the state remained closed could result in people traveling from hot spots to them, ultimately causing a spike of cases in their area that would then force them to close again.
Northam said feedback from the business task force is being considered and once again pointed to Monday as the day he'll announce guidance for businesses looking toward Phase 1.
Gov. Northam said the Virginia Employment Commission has been inundated with applications, seeing more in a week than they had in the previous three years.
As many Virginians report not getting their unemployment benefits and a nearly impossible system to navigate, with a phone line that almost never gets you to a person and instead hangs up on you, Northam said VEC workers are "doing all they can" to handle the surge of claims.
Gov. Northam reminded everyone to keep washing their hands, social distancing, and taking care of their friends, family members, and neighbors.
The governor said his administration will continue to reach out to businesses over the coming days and continue to assess data to establish new guidelines for Phase 1 of reopening.
Governor Ralph Northam began Wednesday's briefing by addressing the ongoing situation regarding outbreaks at meat processing facilities across Virginia.
Just hours before the briefing, WHSV
for COVID-19. Earlier this week, Cargill
and outlined the procedures they say they're following.
With President Trump
, requiring them to stay open throughout the pandemic in order to prevent supply chain disruptions for meat, Gov. Northam said his number one concern is workers.
The governor reiterated his announcements from Monday in which he said that the CDC had deployed teams to Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware to assess the situation at meat processing plants and ensure that they're following the guidelines established by the CDC on Sunday.
Highlighting the fact that many of Virginia's poultry and other meat processing facility workers are people of color working with low incomes, Northam took time to discuss some of the bills passed by the General Assembly that he said would benefit those workers, including a law to allow undocumented immigrants to gain driving privileges, among others.
Northam said he fully understands the importance of the facilities to Virginia's food chain and the agriculture industry and thanked farmers, truck drivers, and all members of the agriculture supply chain in Virginia.
But he said that supply chain depends on having workers who are healthy and safe.
He said it's imperative to protect the health and well-being of any workers declared essential and said he spoke to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask them about policies being put into place on a federal level to support the president's executive order by supporting the health of workers.
Northam said he directed Virginia's Department of Labor to make sure Virginia's meat processing facilities are following the new CDC guidelines and OSHA guidance as well.
As the CDC and Virginia officials assess the situation directly at facilities, the governor said more should be known in the coming days.
He said his administration is developing plans to make sure all meat processing facility employees can get tested and receive access to adequate medical care.
Gov. Northam also announced in Wednesday's briefing that
, which he signed about five weeks ago to temporarily ban all elective procedures at Virginia hospitals, will be allowed to expire at midnight Thursday night.
That effectively means that, on Friday, medical facilities across the commonwealth will be able to resume all elective procedures.
It allows dentist offices to reopen for all appointments, rather than just emergencies, and veterinarian offices to fully reopen as well.
The governor said he appreciates the cooperation of health care providers and facilities throughout the ban on procedures.
He reiterated that his administration took the step to prepare for the possibility of a surge in cases back in March, as the state was seeing rises in cases and there were legitimate worries that hospitals could be overwhelmed by a surge in cases like had been seen in Italy and New York.
At many of the governor's first regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefings, plans for potential surplus medical care facilities to handle cases if hospitals ran out of capacity were discussed.
But Gov. Northam said Virginia's efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have shown success, which he said is why hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
At this time, medical facilities across Virginia have not run out of personal protective equipment, with regularly replenished supplies, and many facilities have adapted by implementing new cleaning procedures to allow them to reuse more of the equipment.
"We took the right actions," Northam said, and slowed the spread of the virus, effectively preventing the scenarios that had been feared.
Now, with plenty of capacity at medical facilities, he said that they are ready to reopen for elective procedures and said dentist offices are ready to reopen safely.
The governor encouraged all Virginians to reach out to their healthcare providers now.
The Virginia Dental Association issued new guidelines on Tuesday to help guide dentists through safe ways to reopen amid the pandemic.
Dr. Reynolds, representing the association, spoke at Northam's Wednesday briefing in-depth about the plans for dentists specifically.
She said some, though not all, offices will resume regular operations with the start of May, but with new protocols in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Those protocols will include adjusted appointment times and schedules to allow time for cleaning, minimized patient counts in waiting areas, staff all wearing masks and PPE, screening patients for symptoms, and minimizing the use of air and water in cleanings to reduce aerosols, which are how COVID-19 spreads.
Dr. Reynolds said dentists are "excited and prepared" to get back to work fully and encouraged all Virginians to call their dentists now to figure out treatment plans.
Starting on Friday, hospitals across Virginia will resume elective surgeries, from knee replacements to some cancer treatments.
Gov. Northam said if medical facilities see COVID-19 cases rise again, they will be ready to take swift action as needed.
Dr. Mike McDermott, the chairman of the VHHA's board of directors, spoke on how hospitals have responded, expressing gratitude to the governor for taking needed steps and for hospital staff unifying to respond.
showing more than 5,000 hospital beds available across Virginia and abundance of ventilator supplies, as well as the adequate supply of PPE at almost all Virginia hospitals.
With enough beds, PPE, and supplies, he said hospitals are ready to resume elective procedures.
As they do so, he said a coalition has been formed of hospital administrators and healthcare experts to establish a framework on how to guide the process of resuming procedures safely.
As they restart a wider variety of procedures while continuing to try to slow the risk of COVID-19, he said medical facilities will collaborate to track testing and PPE supplies as they work to slow the spread of the disease, working together, ready to adjust their approach as needed to address the COVID-19 crisis while also meeting Virginians' health needs.
While he said the financial impact to medical centers across Virginia from the elective procedure ban has been at least $200 million, he said the important factor has been the health and safety of people and not money.
Gov. Northam thanked veterinarians for their full cooperation throughout the crisis and thanked them on behalf of his family's dogs as well.
He said vets can offer full services as of Friday, so long as they continue to follow Virginia's guidelines and practices on the safety of patients.
While the federal CARES Act allowed many people to have payments on select federal loans delayed, it did not help many people with other kinds of student loans.
Northam said that another 200,000 Virginians with privately held student loans are now eligible for at least 90 days' forbearance of their payments and to have late payment fees waived.
Loans eligible for the new forbearance option include commercially-owned Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans, Perkins loans, or privately held student loans.
As Republican state lawmakers in recent days
, at less than 1% of the state population tested, Northam acknowledged on Wednesday that the state had very limited testing capacity to start with, like almost all states across the country.
Due to the scenario faced at the start of the crisis, the Virginia Department of Health chose to focus the available testing on the highest priority patients, including people with severe cases, people exposed to directly confirmed cases, and health care workers.
That move was to preserve PPE at medical facilities rather than have it used on tests for more patients who may test negative.
But now, with more capacity of tests, PPE, and medical facilities available, more people can be tested, including high risk groups like people entering long-term care facilities and meat processing facility employees.
Gov. Northam said that Virginia received a shipment on Tuesday of 200,000 more test swabs from FEMA to help boost testing now.
So, with tests preserved at the start of the pandemic for high priority patients and a lot of people not tested at the start, including hundreds who have received clinical diagnoses for the virus without lab testing, doctors say it's likely that more positive tests will be coming in the near days and weeks for Virginia.
But, even with the rise in cases, hospitalization numbers have stabilized, because we can now test more people and not just those with the worst symptoms.
That's a big part of why elective procedures are being allowed to resume.
Dr. Remley, who is heading up Gov. Northam's testing task force, says they're working to create a database of all the tests available in the state, including tests at Virginia's state lab, as well as at private and public hospitals and private labs, to maximize the use of available tests at all facilities.
In response to reports of some private labs having unused testing capacity, she said all of Virginia's hospitals are no longer relying on the Virginia state lab or private labs, but are instead using their own labs or other partner hospital labs.
The tests at the private labs will be included in the new database, those many of those labs, she said, require direct payment and don't accept insurance, which has caused some of the discrepancy.
Dr. Remley said more on the database will be discussed Friday.
Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's state health commissioner, said as of today, the Department of Health has approved the release of Virginia's latest COVID-19 numbers to be broken down not just by health district and locality, but by zip code.
Dr. Oliver said transforming their data syetm will take some time, so the new system should be available in the next few days.
At Monday's briefing, Gov. Northam
of phasing business reopenings in Virginia on a regional level, starting with areas with fewer cases.
On Wednesday, when asked about it, Northam said he and the state's COVID-19 Business Task Force are still working through a plan to find a way to potentially open businesses regionally.
He said the key is looking at data on the ability of regions to test and their PPE available, as business leaders collaborate to discuss how to open back up public areas.
The governor said his administration took aggressive steps back in March as numbers began to rise, including closing schools for the rest of the academic year, which he said was the hardest decision made so far.
The concern, Northam said, wasn't necessarily about students themselves, since children have far better health outcomes than older adults, but that they live at homes with others who are at high risk and could have contracted the virus at school, not had symptoms, and then spread it to family members, causing the feared surge in cases.
If we continue following current guidelines though, Northam said he expects children should be back in school by August and September for the fall.
Governor Ralph Northam was asked about whether the 14-day decline of daily new cases that the state is looking for is a straight 14 days with every day having a lower new total (which could easily be broken by a surge one day due to a delay in case reporting in one region) or if it's about an overall trend.
Northam said his administration is looking for an overall trend, so that a one-day rise out of an overall 14-day decline wouldn't skew results and prevent reopening.
However, he said the most recent numbers don't yet show a flattening, so his earlier hopeful projection that maybe Phase 1 could start on May 8 seems highly unlikely.
He also acknowledged that as more tests are processed through Virginia's blueprint, numbers will go up even more, and as turnaround times for improve, the same will happen.
But Northam said the health department is looking into ways to take those number adjustments into account while focusing on the overall trend rather than just the raw increase in number.
He also said currently, the state's positive rate appears much higher than some other states because tests were focused so long on high risk areas like nursing homes. But as more people can be tested, that rate should go down.
Governor Northam announced that the Virginia state government received a delivery of 800,000 gloves and 300,000 surgical masks on Monday from Northfield Medical Manufacturing, which is a Virginia company the state government negotiated a contract with earlier in the crisis.
The governor said 14,000 test swabs for COVID-19 testing were also provided on Monday from FEMA.
Additionally, he highlighted the Virginia Department of Corrections, which has manufactured 470,000 masks throughout the crisis to distribute across the state.
The governor said there's been a 41% increase in testing statewide over the last week, with the commonwealth reaching about 4,000 tests administered a day over the last two days, which meets a key criteria of the governor's blueprint announced on Friday.
He said the Department of Health is prioritizing testing in public housing, prisons, and long-term care facilities to try and focus on people in some of the most vulnerable populations.
Gov. Northam took a significant part of Monday's briefing to address rising concern about the spread of COVID-19 in meat processing plants across Virginia.
Similar facilities nationwide have seen outbreaks,
Early this month, workers at Pilgrim's Pride in Timberville
, and protests on behalf of poultry workers were continuing on April 27 too.
The governor acknowledged Virginia's many poultry processing plants, which are primarily focused in the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Shore.
He said facilities along the Eastern Shore have recorded a rising number of coronavirus cases in recent days, as have facilities in Delaware and Maryland.
The governor acknowledged that many meat processing facilities are in rural areas that may have excellent access to health care, but said one of the main concerns is how quickly health care facilities in their areas may be overwhelmed by outbreaks.
With the close quarters of the work in such facilities making social distancing and isolation extremely difficult, Northam said he and the governors of Maryland and Delaware wrote a joint letter to the White House with their concerns about poultry workers.
In response, the governor said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is deploying teams to each state to work with local health departments to assess the overall situation at poultry and other meat processing facilities.
The CDC also released
on Sunday, establishing ways for the businesses to follow necessary steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam said he and is staff spoke with corporate leadership of meat processing facilities across Virginia this past weekend to ensure they take need steps to fight the spread.
With more than 120 federally inspected meat processing facilities across the commonwealth, including many in the Shenandoah Valley, Northam said that his administration is working on ways to ensure that all workers can be screened, provided care if sick, and protected if other workers are showing symptoms.
The governor said as the pandemic continues, it's important to remember who many epidemics in the U.S. and worldwide have been avoided because of vaccines that have been developed for other diseases that have killed millions in history.
With Monday marking the start of National Infant Vaccination Week, Northam encouraged all parents to keep up with their children's vaccination schedules and not avoid going to the doctor because of COVID-19.
He said it's essential to keep up vaccinations on their needed schedules to prevent dangerous diseases for children, saying that the last thing Virginia wants to see is an outbreak of a communicable disease, like measles, on top of COVID-19.
Studies have shown a decline in immunizations throughout the coronavirus pandemics, as many parents have avoided seeing their pediatrician.
But Northam said that vaccinations are critical and called on all parents to call their pediatricians and discuss their options.
Gov. Northam said it's key to remember that in addition to the physical effects of the coronavirus, the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health for many people as well, including substance abuse, depression, and more.
He said research has shown that some of the people at risk of feeling the most stress in a crisis include children, teens, health care workers, and those with existing substance abuse disorders.
Northam said those people need more help now more than ever, as well as people on the front lines of the crisis, dealing trauma on a daily basis.
Saying that treatment needs to continue for those who need it, Northam announced that the state received a $2 million federal grant, from which funds will be distributed to the community service boards across Virginia to help providers continue providing telehealth for behavioral health needs.
Virginia received $14.6 million for a new program to support business needs, with a focus on resilience and recovery. Those funds will be for local businesses across the state.
He also announced that the Commonwealth Transportation Board is allocating more than $100 million received from the CARES Act to offset revenue losses for transportation projects at local levels.
According to the CTB, those stimulus funds "enable local governments, small urban, and rural transit agencies throughout the Commonwealth to offset the substantial revenue losses, as well as sustain essential mobility functions related to the prevention, preparation, and response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
From the CARES Act, Virginia got a total of $456 million for transit assistance, including $47.2 million for discretionary allocation to small urban transit agencies and $52.5 million for for discretionary allocation to rural transit agencies, the Virginia Breeze intercity bus service, and the Appalachian Development Public Transportation Program.
The federal CARES Act funding does not require a state or local match, and is nearly three times the amount of federal transit funding appropriated to Virginia transit agencies in FY 2020.
, Northam encouraged all registered voters in Virginia to vote absentee by mail.
He outlined Virginia's deadlines, reminding voters that the last day to request a mail-in absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 12. You just need to contact your local registrar's office.
That absentee ballot then needs to be returned by Election Day on May 19.
On Monday morning, a judge in Lynchburg
, despite the inclusion of gun ranges in Gov. Northam's executive order that closed non-essential businesses in Virginia.
Asked about that ruling, Northam said that his administration's decisions on business closures have been "to promote and provide health" by limiting the spread in businesses where people would be in relatively close quarters.
He said they singled out no particular businesses. The governor emphasized that his goal is to get the health crisis behind the state so that Virginia can move on to addressing the economic crisis and getting businesses of all types back open.
Asked about his statement that he bases his decisions on the science regarding COVID-19, when so much data on the virus differs right now, Gov. Northam reiterated that COVID-19 is a "novel coronavirus."
It's new, and research on it is still constantly developing, so there are a lot of unknowns about it, he said.
He went back to Virginia's timeline, pointing out that Virginia's first confirmed case was on March 7 and how much has developed since then.
Specifically noting that we don't know yet if COVID-19 may be a seasonal virus, that there is no treatment, and there is no vaccine, he said those are critical reasons to follow the science as it evolves and research continues.
Last Friday, Gov. Northam outlined a blueprint for Virginia to be able to get to Phase 1 of reopening the state. On Monday, he was asked if there's a specific plan for Phase 1 yet.
The governor said it's being developed "as we speak" and that his Monday afternoon meeting with the COVID-19 Business Task Force would be a critical part of that, discussing plans with business leaders from different industries around the state.
He said his team is looking at data every day on the amount of PPE available, testing increases, and bed capacity to be able to get Virginia into Phase 1.
Northam ended Monday's briefing with a plea for Virginians to contact their health care providers.
He said it's "very, very important that we all take care of our health care needs and those of our family."
As businesses work to develop plans on how to reopen safely, he told Virginians that no group is working harder right now than health care providers and hospitals, saying doctor's offices and hospitals are safe and that "it's okay" for anyone in need of healthcare to go to those locations.
, he encouraged everyone to get in touch with their providers to discuss their health and any needed visits.
The governor praised state lawmakers for a variety of actions they took in
, including their
due to the pandemic and
But the governor acknowledged that they
While the governor alone cannot move local May elections to November, he said he would invoke the Virginia governor's statutory authority to postpone the May local elections by two weeks, from May 5 to May 19 to provide additional time for restrictions to begin to ease amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was done through
“Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health,” said Governor Northam. “I am grateful to the House of Delegates for taking action to move our upcoming elections, but unfortunately the Senate failed to make the same commonsense decision. While we strongly encourage every Virginian who can vote by mail to do so, we will also take every necessary step to conduct these elections in a way that ensures in-person voting is done safely and responsibly.”
Since local elections will go on in May, though a little later, the governor strongly encouraged absentee voting and said that elections officials will work to establish strong guidelines on health and safety at poling places.
The General Assembly's recently passed
hasn't yet taken effect — so the Department of Elections advises people requesting an absentee ballot to choose the reason of having a disability or an illness.
Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them at
or by downloading and printing a request form at
and then returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax, or scanned attachment to an email. Contact information for General Registrar offices is on the form. Forms are also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.
Voters completing a paper application may use reason 2A, “my disability or illness” to complete their form. Voters completing an online application to request an absentee ballot will need to follow the prompts and select “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day.” You will then have the option to choose “my disability or illness” as the reason for your request.
“Elections are a critical function of our government,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “We will do everything in our power to maintain the integrity of our democratic process while ensuring the safety of all Virginians.”
The June primary elections remain postponed to June 23 rather than June 9.
since March 15, the governor highlighted that the state launched its pandemic unemployment assistance program this past weekend to allow self-employed and gig workers, as well as other workers who were previously not eligible for unemployment assistance, to apply for unemployment assistance.
The governor thanked the Virginia Employment Commission for their work, though he said he is aware that many people have been frustrated by website problems and wait times.
He said the VEC has worked with Microsoft and Virginia Interactive to update their sites and launch an online portal for people to better access the system.
Northam said Virginia has the 10th lowest claims per participant in the labor force in the country.
Gov. Northam reiterated the announcements he made on Thursday,
Elective surgeries will be able to resume on May 1 and DMV offices will be able to reopen on May 11, per the new guidelines.
While Gov. Northam said the commonwealth is working to find a way to ease restrictions, he said we're not there yet. But the governor and his administration have developed an outline to determine when the state can ease restrictions.
It's being called the "Forward Virginia Blueprint," and was displayed through a slideshow at Friday's press conference.
The governor said Virginia is taking aggressive action and is hard at work delivering results on the pandemic.
“We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and builds public confidence,” said Governor Northam. “Businesses know that customers will return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. Our blueprint for the path forward is data-driven and provides clear guidance, so Virginians will know what to expect and understand how we will decide to when to lift certain public health restrictions.”
"We are all in this together," Northam emphasized, as he has before.
According to at least one model, the governor said it's possible that Virginia may have
But he and his staff said that everyone must continue to work to keep the case count low.
Daily cases in Virginia are still rising, but the growth rate is slowing. Hospitalization rates have also remained flat for several days, with plenty of hospital beds available and medical facilities in Virginia not expected to surpass capacity.
Northam said the good news is that
He also said the state's pipeline of PPE supplies is flowing and that the state has ordered three decontamination systems to clean as much equipment as possible.
But Northam said the key is that we "need to keep doing what we're doing" for now.
According to the governor's plan, which is based on the guidelines established by the CDC and announced by the White House, Virginia needs to see a decline in daily cases for 14 days and also see adequate testing available statewide before the commonwealth can move into Phase 1 of reopening.
He said the major thing needed is to vastly increase testing, and that will be the key to moving forward.
Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner, who's been leading Virginia's testing task force, spoke on a plan for "Testing Virginia.
According to Dr. Remley, Virginia has seen about 4,000 new COVID-19 tests reported a day in the past two days, which is a significant step up from an average of about 2,600 tests a day before that.
Dr. Remley said the increase is because the state has expanded testing criteria to include not just priority one people – medical workers and patients showing symptoms and with exposure – but also high-risk people.
That's Step 2 of testing.
Next is Step 3, which calls for about 7,500 tests a day to get a better sense of how many cases Virginia really has. Getting to Step 3 requires more comprehensive testing from the state lab, private labs, and hospitals across Virginia with their own testing systems, like UVA, Virginia Tech, and VCU.
Then comes Step 4, which calls for around 10,000 tests a day, including tests for asymptomatic people to get a real sense of how many people have been infected in Virginia. That testing step could potentially include recently developed antibody tests.
Finally comes Step 5, which would bring another reduced testing amount, with around 2,600 tests a day again, at which point most cases have ideally already been identified.
According to Gov. Northam, the key to moving into Phase 1 of reopening Virginia, based on the results of the increased testing per Dr. Remley's testing plan, requires a downward trend of positive tests over 14 days, a downward trend of hospitalizations over 14 days, increased testing and tracing, and enough hospital capacity for all needs in Virginia.
In Northam's blueprint, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) is listed as one of the critical steps to be able to ramp up testing, expand the medical workforce, and ensure the safety of healthcare staff.
Northam said the state's PPE pipeline is improving and hospitals are managing their supplies, but cautioned that easing restrictions safely would require an ongoing stable supply chain across all health care sectors that can be replenished.
The governor said Virginia has ordered 17.4 million N95 masks, 8.3 million surgical masks, 17.1 million gloves, 1.7 million gowns, and 1 million face shields, in part through a contract signed jointly with Maryland and the District of Columbia for 5 million N95 masks.
Governor Northam announced that a second shipment from Northfield Medical Manufacturing was scheduled to arrive on Friday with 3 million nitrile exam gloves, 100,000 N95 masks, 500,000 3-ply procedure masks, and 40,000 isolation gowns.
Northam said hospitalizations and ICU admissions are stable for the most part in Virginia, even as case counts rise, but said he extended the ban on elective surgeries to help make sure that remains the case.
Stable and open hospital capacity is another key guideline for Virginia to be able to start easing restrictions.
The governor said the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps bolstering local health departments and health care facilities will help meet that goal as well.
Once all those criteria are met, Phase 1 can begin, with some businesses reopening.
Phase 1 will still include social distancing measures, teleworking, recommended face coverings, and safety restrictions for the businesses that have opened back up, as well as limits on travel and public gatherings.
The governor said he is meeting with a new business task force, including owners of barber shops, campgrounds, manufacturers, entertainment venues, vineyards, and more, to discuss the "right way to ease restrictions" and consider methods that would actually be practical for workers.
Northam said he'll use their input, combined with feedback from government officials, to develop comprehensive guidance for businesses.
Once Phase 1 arrives, he says the state will have established rules for businesses to have everyone on the same page of when it's safe to operate.
The Commonwealth is developing two sets of guidance: one with broad based recommendations for all businesses, and another with industry specific recommendations for public-facing businesses like restaurants and non-essential retail. The guidance will be provided to businesses in early May.
As Phase 1 begins, officials will develop plans for Phases 2 and 3.
Gov. Northam emphasized once again that any restrictions must be eased in a safe manner, grounded in data, and that it can't be done "like flipping on a light switch."
Northam said the most important part of efforts moving forward is people looking out for the health of others and not just themselves — Wearing face masks and social distancing help protect others even if you don't know that you may have the virus.
His overall stance is that Virginia needs to get the health crisis behind us before reopening the economy.
State health officials said Virginia will be able to get to the called-for 10,000 tests a day for reopening the state by working with hospitals like UVA, VCU, and Virginia Tech, as well as with private labs to increase testing capacity across the state.
Health leaders said the clinical community has done what they've been asked to do, increasing telehealth measures and collaborating with each other to get every medical professional trained on testing procedures.
Gov. Northam was asked if parts of Virginia that have fewer cases than others – like Highland County vs. Fairfax County, for instance – could open sooner.
Northam said that he is trying to be as consistent as possible in the name of Virginia as a commonwealth, since the virus "knows no borders."
While the actual dates of Virginia's road to recovery depend on the testing data day by day, Gov. Northam said he hopes that we can move into Phase 1 as soon as May 8, when Executive Order 53 is set to end and lift restrictions on non-essential businesses.
But he said the data shows it's not happening any sooner than that.
When asked about a letter from the Virginia GOP calling on him to end Executive Order 53 and lift business restrictions earlier, Gov. Northam said that his plan is in accordance with CDC guidelines passed down to states by President Trump, and that he will continue to focus on trusting and following the CDC's recommendations.
The governor started Monday's briefing by emphasizing that the ability to run a large number of tests is key to any plan to ease restrictions on businesses or gatherings.
He ran through a timeline of how testing has gone throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the beginning, in which Virginia, like all states had to rely on CDC tests and ship them to Atlanta to receive any confirmation of results. Following that, the state lab developed the ability to perform in-house testing, and after that, as capacity increased on the state lab level, hospitals, private labs, and universities developed their own tests and well and steadily scaled up capacity.
That included tests developed by UVA and VCU.
Governor Northam said that, thanks to the efforts of all those facilities developing in-house testing, initial backlogs of tests have largely been reduced.
The governor said the state lab can now perform 300 tests a day, and, with equipment sent from Altria this week, will be able to run 400 tests a day by next week.
That only represents part of the tests being run each day across the commonwealth, though, with so many tests performed at health care systems and private labs that have been boosting their own testing capacity.
But, with Virginia, like all states, competing for testing supplies from federal stockpiles and corporations, the governor said the process has faced delays.
Until shortages of key supplies needed for testing, like the swabs used for tests and container to safely store tests, are addressed, the governor said capacity will face problems.
To help the state face the problems affecting testing, Gov. Northam said he had established a new testing work group, headed by Dr. Lillian Peake, the state epidemiologist, and Dr. Karen Remley, the former Virginia Department of Health commissioner.
Northam said the testing work group would focus on expanding test sites and testing criteria to get more tests utilized across the state.
According to Dr. Remley, their group will try to move Virginia's testing plan into a new phase, coordinating with doctors, private labs, and others to make sure everyone is aware of their role in a statewide plan for testing.
Dr. Remley said coordinating those efforts will help open up more testing for more people and help better manage supplies on a statewide level.
As of Monday, testing criteria in Virginia focused on patients hospitalized with symptoms, emergency responders, people exposed to known cases, and also people who are being admitted to long-term care centers.
State health officials said in Monday's briefing that the key strategy is not just on increasing the number of tests a day, but focusing increased testing capacity in a helpful way to address patients in the most need of them.
Governor Northam said the initial lack of testing supplies, especially near the beginning of outbreaks in Virginia, resulted in a lot of clinical diagnoses – doctors determining that a patient had COVID-19 based on symptoms without performing a test.
The governor said a large part of that was because of the original testing plan, which could take a week to 9 days for test returns to come back, so doctors would make quicker decisions for their patients.
Now, according to Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, the Virginia Department of Health will be sending a clinician's letter encouraging every doctor who made a clinical COVID-19 diagnosis to test those patients to receive verifiable results.
Governor Northam said he knows the biggest question on many people's minds is when we'll be able to open businesses back up and ease restrictions on gatherings.
But he said the commonwealth has been following CDC guidance that was put out through the White House's 3-phase guidelines for reopening America.
Those guidelines state that states need to have 14 days of declining new case totals before phase 1 can be implemented, and Virginia is not at that point yet.
Dr. Remley, helping lead the new state testing group, said getting to the point where we can have accurate numbers to reflect that decline will depend on testing and coordination, as their group works to make sure everyone knows how they fit into the statewide plan for testing.
Although Virginia has seen lower totals in new cases reported over the past three days, the commonwealth has still seen increases of about 500 cases a day. Northam said the 3-day statistic could be misleading, and that he and state health officials are waiting to see the peak in the curve for Virginia cases, which is projected for late this week, according to UVA modeling.
When asked about the discrepancy between Executive Order 53 running until May 8, appearing to mean that non-essential businesses can reopen then, but the Stay-at-Home order requiring people to only leave home for essential reasons running until June 10, the governor said his administration is working to develop plans to make guidance on reopening non-essential busineses clearer.
He said when they have that, they will make it as clear as concise as possible.
The governor said he and his team have made every decision so far in this pandemic based on science and data.
To reflect that and let people see more of the data that they see every day, he said the Virginia Department of Health, starting today, will start sharing more in-depth data on their
Statistics breaking down cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities will be provided by each locality and each health district, along with demographic information by district.
Until today, hospitalization and fatality numbers have not been available by locality.
New tests have been under development across the nation and the world to test people for antibodies to determine if they contracted COVID-19. The tests, in theory, should provide much quicker results than current testing and should be able to determine if someone has had the virus in the past.
However, according to Dr. Remley, Virginia is awaiting federal validation, which has not yet been provided for any of the commercially available antibody testings, before using any on a widespread scale.
Several universities and private labs, like Granger Diagnostics, have been working on developing their own tests in Virginia, but none have yet been approved and made widely available.
In response to a question about workers concerned about their safety at food processing plants, Dr. Norm Oliver said that many similar facilities across the country have been sites of outbreaks and confirmed that several in Virginia have been as well.
However, as previously noted by Dr. Oliver, information on which facilities in Virginia have had outbreaks can only be provided if the facilities agree to the sharing of their information.
In our area, even with multiple confirmed outbreaks, most affected facilities have not identified themselves or agreed to the health department identifying them.
According to Dr. Oliver, local health departments have been working with plant managers at affected food processing facilities to provide personal protective equipment, provide testing, and trace the contacts of anyone with confirmed cases.
He said they're also providing suggestions and finding ways to contain the spread at those facilities, hoping to make sure workers are as safe as possible.
As the Republican Party of Virginia doubled down in an official statement on Monday backing President Trump's tweet to "liberate Virginia," the governor said he wants to remind Virginians of a message Vice President Mike Pence told governors in their Monday call: "one team, one mission."
The governor said that his administration has been following the White House guidelines on waiting for a 14-day downward trend in cases, so then seeing tweets from the president calling to "liberate" the state sends mixed messages.
Northam said he is just as anxious as anybody else to see restrictions eased and that he "doesn't really need protesters to remind" him that the economy needs business to open back up.
He described looking out the windows of the governor's mansion during a protest last week and seeing groups of children inches apart on blankets and about 50 adults gathering without wearing masks.
"We're all trying to get through this together," Northam said, adding that, based on his experience as a doctor, he finds the most frustrating thing to be that protesters are putting themselves at risk, all of us at risk, and putting health care providers and their families at risk.
"This is not the time to play politics," Northam said, saying it's instead a time to work together to get through the situation.
Gov. Northam started out Friday's press briefing by addressing the
for governors to gradually reopen businesses in their states.
The governor said Virginia's approach has been consistent with those guidelines, which call for a phased approach to reopening based on science and data.
According to Northam, the first phase of the CDC guidelines requires 14 days of declining cases. However, in Virginia, new cases are continuing to increase. Our projected peak of cases, according to UVA modeling, will not be until late April or early May.
That means that Virginia cannot yet enter Phase 1 of the new guidelines.
But Northam said that his administration is planning for when the day comes of a downward trend in the commonwealth by establishing new guidelines and finding new ways to focus efforts on screening, testing, and tracking for the virus.
The governor emphasized that more resources are needed for that. He said Virginia has received $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds to be used for statewide response and to aid local governments.
He also said the state is getting money from FEMA to assist first responders to help Virginia get to that downward trend.
For those who say that cases are continuing to go up and social distancing may not be needed, the governor pointed out that social distancing is meant to slow the spread, not eliminate it entirely, and that it is working to do that.
Northam said that actions by Virginians to follow social distancing guidelines and the Stay at Home order are keeping cases at a level that is manageable by hospitals, which models show would see surges beyond their capacity if people did not follow the guidelines.
But for hospitals to be able to continue meeting their manageable caseloads, the governor said workers at those locations need more personal protective equipment to keep up their response.
Gov. Northam said Virginia has received its first shipment of PPE through a contract with Northfield, providing thousands of new supplies that he said are being distributed to medical centers around the commonwealth.
Northam said more shipments are expected in coming weeks.
He said supply chains on a national level remain an issue, but that Virginia is diversifying its sources on national and international levels to get more supplies for Virginians.
The governor praised medical facilities for finding new ways to reuse equipment, like
The governor announced that he had signed
on Friday as a way to help hospitals and long-term care facilities respond to the ongoing pandemic.
The order eases licensing restrictions on nurse practitioners and doctors licensed in states other than Virginia to allow them to respond in Virginia.
“While we are seeing promising signs in our ongoing fight against COVID-19, we must continue to prepare for all scenarios, and that includes making sure we have to the necessary staff to confront a potential medical surge,” said Governor Northam. “This pandemic is placing extraordinary demands on our doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners, and these policies will enable us to expand our health care workforce so more trained medical professionals can step in and help.”
The order adds physician offices and other health care facilities to the section in Executive Order Fifty-Two allowing hospitals, nursing facilities, and dialysis facilities to have out-of-state licensees provide in-state care.
It allows Virginia-licensed nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement. It provides additional flexibility to hospitals in the supervision of interns, residents, and fellows, and allows hospitals to use fourth year medical students in the provision of care.
Executive Order 57 also allows for expanded use of telehealth. Physicians with licenses from another state who have current Virginia patients may continue to treat their patients via telehealth, which will help ensure Virginians who live in border communities to not have to travel out-of-state for care.
Gov. Northam said that his administration has waived a number of regulatory rules around staffing so that long-term care centers across Virginia can recruit staff and volunteers quickly.
The governor said Virginia's Medical Reserve Corps is being mobilized to long-term care centers to help respond to outbreaks, like
, which Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's health commissioner, specifically mentioned in his part of Northam's Friday briefing on the rise of cases in the past day.
State health administrators said the National Guard is also being utilized to help train staff at long-term care centers on proper practices for using personal protective equipment.
They also announced that Virginia's expanded testing criteria, which should be announced publicly on Friday or Monday, will include people about to be admitted to congregate settings, like long-term care centers, and not just people who are already rsidents there.
Northam said any facility with an outbreak should be able to test every resident and employee, with help from several of the state's medical systems, including UVA, VCU, and the state lab.
The governor also discussed moves his administration has made to lower the population at jails across Virginia. You can learn more about those reductions
Northam acknowledged the recent statewide numbers of 410,000 total claims for unemployment in Virginia over the past month, and said those numbers don't even include the number of newly eligible workers under the CARES Act, including self-employed and gig workers.
He said the Virginia Employment Commission has received payroll records for about 80% of all people who have applied for unemployment benefits, and that an online portal will go live Friday night for people to submit that documentation if theirs has not yet been received.
The governor also said the VEC will be able to provide backpay for anyone who's faced delays receiving unemployment insurance benefits due to issues with the system and massive response overwhelming it.
Fifty new employees have been hired at the VEC headquarters, and they've set up at least two more call centers across the state to handle the large volume of calls.
A private call center is also being established to start running next week.
A reporter asked the governor about his response to
to "LIBERATE" several states from COVID-19 restrictions, including Virginia.
Northam said he and his team are busy fighting a biological war and that he doesn't have time to involve himself in a Twitter war.
The governor said earlier in the press conference that he wants to get back to a place where all Virginia businesses can be open again, but that we have to get there using science and data available. Otherwise, he said, the sacrifices being made by health care professionals and first responders would be for nothing if we ignored the data, reopened too early, and caused another surge of cases.
That projection, based on UVA's modeling that the governor's team uses for Virginia planning, has been mentioned in each of the governor's briefings this week. Essentially, the model shows that Virginia hits a peak of coronavirus cases in late April or early May, but also shows if restrictions on social distancing and gatherings were to be lifted suddenly and early, Virginia would see a second surge of cases that would not peak until August. You can learn more about the Virginia modeling
A reporter asked the governor to explain why, as with Accordius Health in our area and other facilities with outbreaks in other areas, the Virginia Department of Health continues to treat facilities like people and will not release any detailed information, like the number of confirmed cases at facilities.
Dr. Oliver said it's a statuary requirement of Virginia code the department cannot release information on a facility without the facility's permission.
When asked if he could override that part of the Virginia code, Gov. Northam said that is something that legislators would have to do.
The state of Maryland has established an online registry where people can report if they have recovered from COVID-19 while self-quarantining with a confirmed case or with symptoms and a clinical diagnosis without a positive test result.
Dr. Oliver said academic institutions in Virginia, including UVA, Virginia Tech, and more are establishing their own version of a registry like that to help Virginia's numbers.
Asked for a response to the
on Thursday, the governor said they were putting themselves at risk, but more importantly, "putting all of us at risk."
The governor called for all Virginians to unite to "be a part of the solution." While acknowledging that everyone has the right to protest, he said joining together as a team could help Virginia face the crisis together.
Northam said that he and his staff have been watching national models throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to make key decisions like closing schools for the rest of the school year, issuing a Stay at Home order, and closing non-essential businesses.
Those models included the University of Washington and CHIME models, which have been heavily relied upon.
The governor noted how those models change on a daily basis and said that Virginia leadership wanted to take into account Virginia-specific data, including data on how Virginians have responded to the coronavirus.
In response, researchers with the University of Virginia have developed a specific model for the commonwealth.
It will change each day based on behavior in Virginia, but the modeling has been designed as of April 13 and was demonstrated to many reporters just before the governor's 2 p.m. briefing.
The new UVA model shows that social distancing measures are working to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Northam said, and also show that Virginia hospitals have sufficient capacity to handle the expected surge in patients.
However, the model also shows that if the Stay at Home order and other restrictions are lifted too soon, cases across Virginia would surge and threaten the available capacity at medical facilities.
Specifically, the models suggest another wave of illness in mid-July or August if we don’t slowly ease back into normal life.
"And we can't afford that," Northam said.
He reiterated that modeling data shows that the key is for "us to keep doing what we're doing" and stopping any time soon would put Virginians in danger.
As K-12 schools remain closed throughout Virginia until the end of the school year, teachers and school division leaders have been working hard to adapt to the situation to keep providing educational opportunities for their students.
Gov. Northam said they're all doing their best to address inequities in education to ensure all students are able to keep learning, but to help them, the state is making additional education resources available.
That includes expanding "Virtual Virginia," which is a statewide online learning system, to allow every public school teacher in Virginia to host line classes through June 30.
For students who don't have internet access, Virtual Virginia content can be loaded onto devices and used offline as well.
In addition, Northam highlighted the new
program, through which four public media TV stations have partnered with the Virginia Dept. of Education to provide education over the air.
The department also convened a task force on continuity of education to develop guidance on how to ensure that there are no gaps between who gets an education as the pandemic wears on.
The governor said, along with budget amendments he approved by the state constitutional deadline over the weekend, was an amendment to increase rates given to long-term care facilities by $20 per Medicaid recipient per day to assist the facilities' responses to COVID-19.
The governor also said that they are looking into using Virginia's reserve corps of volunteers to help provide more staffing at nursing homes and long-term care centers facing staffing shortages, as many across the country have in the face of coronavirus.
According to the task force established last Friday on long-term care facilities across Virginia, there have been at least 554 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths identified across the state.
Data on the number of identified outbreaks, including if they were in these especially vulnerable facilities, is now available on the
Dr. Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner for public health at the Virginia Department of Health who's been heading the task force, said that, over the weekend, when a new outbreak was identified at one long-term care center, which she did not identify, the health district reported it immediately and worked hand-in-hand with the task force to respond to the situation. She said UVA offered testing kits and increased testing capacity to test residents at the center.
She said they will continue to work with their local partners across the state to sustain that kind of response in the future.
While Dr. Forlano did not identify the specific facility or health district, the Central Shenandoah Health District reported a new outbreak in a long-term care facility this past weekend. They have declined to identify the facility to WHSV or other media outlets.
When asked about a statement by President Donald Trump on hospitals doing well amid the crisis, Gov. Northam said we're nowhere near where we want to be in supplies. While Virginia hospitals remain prepared in terms of bed capacity, when looking at modeling on surge data, he said they're facing challenges on staffing, PPE, and ventilator supplies, like many hospitals across the country, and that those challenges need to be addressed in terms of reality.
The governor announced in his briefing that he has appointed Dr. Laurie Forlano, currently the deputy commissioner for public health at the Virginia Department of Health, to head up a task force on responding to outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care centers across Virginia.
The move was especially prompted by the
, where dozens of people have died in recent weeks.
Northam said Dr. Forlano will head up a coalition of public health officials that will work to make sure all facilities have access to testing, PPE, and the cleaning supplies they need to respond to the pandemic.
Dr. Forlano said as staff at all these facilities are dedicated to protecting the people that live there, she and the task force will ensure long-term care facilities are prioritized and get the funding they need, as well as needed information.
The task force will also track data specific to long-term care facilities in Virginia.
For instance, on Friday, Dr. Forlano said the state has identified 45 outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the state, which makes up about 55% of all outbreaks identified in the state.
They've also identified 525 cases among those facilities.
The governor also announced on Friday that he is proposing a state budget amendment to give the Virginia Department of Corrections the authority to release inmates who have one year or less remaining in their sentences.
That's because most correctional facilities across Virginia face serious overcrowding
The authority granted to the department would allow them to release inmates who don't pose a threat to the safety of themselves or anyone else and also meet good behavior standards.
Under the amendment, the Dept. of Corrections would handle re-entry planning for about 2,000 inmates who meet the standard of having a year or less in their sentence.
The department, which has never before had the authority to release inmates, would need to plan for inmates to have somewhere to go upon their release and have necessary medications for at least three months.
The authority would last for the duration of Gov. Northam's executive orders, which are currently set until June 10.
However, for it to happen, the General Assembly will need to approve the amendment at their special session on April 22.
According to Governor Northam, more than 191,000 payments went out through the Virginia Employment Commission over the past week.
Next week, through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Virginia's unemployment insurance will offer payments boosted by about $600 a week to everyone who qualifies.
Through the CARES Act, people who previously did not qualify, like gig workers, can also now apply through the VEC and get benefits.
You can learn more about the coming unemployment insurance changes
Governor Northam was asked why, while President Donald Trump says "he's a glass half full kind of guy" and hopes to reopen the country soon, he instead provides somber updates.
Northam said while he wants everyone to get life back to normal as soon as possible, "we have to face reality."
The governor, who was a doctor before taking office, said his leadership style comes from his time in the medical field, so he's "a big believer in telling people the truth."
He said he looks at the data every day, looks at admissions to Virginia hospitals, looks at the number of patients now on ventilators, and bases public health decisions on the data and the recommendations of his staff.
"My job as your governor is to keep Virginians safe," Northam said.
He used an analogy of doctors making a treatment plan with a cancer patient, letting them know guidelines to follow and medicines to take. In a situation like that, we know that stopping the plan early just because it seems to be working is not the right course of action, because the cancer returns.
The governor said ending the Stay at Home order or social distancing guidelines because models appear to project peaks earlier would be largely the same, and people need to keep staying home and staying safe to get through this.
"This is a biologic war that we're fighting," the governor said, and Virginians all need to follow the guidelines set based on data.
The governor said we have to get through the health crisis before he sees a path to fully address the economic crisis.
Gov. Northam announced in his Wednesday briefing that, due to the effects of COVID-19 and potential impacts to voters and election workers, he is using his authority as governor to postpone the June 9 primary elections to June 23.
The authority granted to the Virginia governor gives them the ability to postpone primary elections by up to two weeks, so Northam is using the extent of that power.
As of right now, Virginia's state of emergency and 'Stay at Home' order each last through June 10, one day after the previously set date for the primary elections, which include a Republican primary for U.S. Senate and several primaries for regional House of Representatives races,
“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Making these decisions now will help election officials prepare and implement the necessary changes. This is about protecting the health and safety of Virginians during this pandemic and ensuring our citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair, and uniform manner. I urge the General Assembly to do their part and take action to move our upcoming elections.”
The Virginia GOP and local-level Republican parties had
while implying in some statements that the June 9 date for Gov. Northam's executive order had been purposefully tied to the primary date, though the day also has elections for House of Representatives primaries.
The primary elections, in our area, will determine Virginia's Republican nominee to run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Mark Warner. Virginia's presidential primary, which only included Democratic candidates because the state Republican Party chose to choose a presidential nominee at convention instead, happened on Super Tuesday at the beginning of March. Other areas of Virginia will have primaries for House of Representatives races, including Democrat and Republican nominees.
Northam is also recommending that Virginia's local elections in May be delayed to November, when they would be held along with national elections on Nov. 3. However, that change can only be made by the General Assembly, so the governor said legislators will need to consider the recommendation when they re-convene for a special session on April 22.
The governor's full recommendation proposes a plan for one ballot in November that includes both national elections and the local elections that would have been held in May. All voters qualified for November voting would be able to vote, including voters who weren't registered in time for May elections, giving people more time to register if they couldn't due to COVID-19.
Local officials whose terms are currently set to end on June 30 will continue in their roles if that plan is approved until their successors are elected on Nov. 3 and qualified to serve.
Northam said his recommendations and his order on the primary were made after discussing the changes with Virginia's congressional delegation, as well as leaders in the state House and Senate.
Northam said in Wednesday's briefing that he has directed the Virginia ABC to defer all fees for licenses and permits that are up for renewal through June as a way to assist restaurants and Virginia businesses.
Many restaurants that have been forced to close due to COVID-19 still have active Virginia ABC licenses for serving alcohol, and Northam said the change would help more than 6,000 businesses that would otherwise have to pay fees for licenses they can't use right now.
But for those restaurants still open and offering takeout, Northam announced other ABC change as well.
Restaurants and facilities with mixed beverage licenses through the state board will be allowed to serve mixed beverages for takeout as of midnight Thursday morning, effectively allowing locations that serve takeout to include mixed drinks with someone's takeout order.
When asked about the status of a model Gov. Northam mentioned on Monday that UVA Health researchers are working on to develop projections with Virginia-specific data for a peak in cases, the governor said researchers are continuing to collect data to put that model together as quickly as possible, but it is still in progress.
Northam discussed the latest CDC guidance on face covering recommendations, reminding Virginians that they are an effective way to reduce spread of the virus from people who may have the disease without showing symptoms and knowing. Masks make it less likely that droplets from a sneeze or talking will get out to potentially infect others.
The governor encouraged people to go online and find instructions for how to make masks, adding that there are guidelines online even for people who can't sew, mentioning that securing a bandanna with a rubber band is an easy option.
He also added, though, that people should not assume that wearing a face covering means that they can do anything, and they should remember that social distancing remains critical.
Northam demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask, covering both your mouth and nose, using his own mask, which was one of the series of masks produced by the Virginia Department of Corrections.
When asked why he and none of the state cabinet officials present at the briefing were wearing face masks, Northam said they are following guidance not wearing masks inside the building, but are wearing them when outside in the public, as encouraged for everyone.
Gov. Northam emphasized that police will not be enforcing Virginia's
throughout the pandemic.
State health officials said the Virginia state lab — the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) — is working with the CDC, private labs, and Virginia health systems to analyze genetic data on COVID-19 cases.
The lab is using next-generation sequencing to genetically decode some Virginia samples that contain the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, according to a press release issued after the briefing.
Looking at that genetic fingerprint can help public health officials track how the virus is changing and how it spreads.
“Advances in genetic sequencing allow us to track and analyze COVID-19 better than previous outbreaks,” said Governor Northam. “This innovative technology, combined with the work of our public health laboratory and epidemiologists around the Commonwealth, will help us understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change. And that will give us more tools to fight it.”
Gov. Northam responded to a question about recent models, including one from the University of Washington that projected an earlier peak in cases at April 20, by saying that models from different sources change day by day, so they're considering data from a range of sources for their guidance.
The governor again mentioned that they are working with partners at UVA to develop a Virginia-specific modeling system for state-level projections.
He also said he had just had an hour-and-a-half meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and governors from across the country before the press briefing, where they discussed the latest projections and guidelines.
Northam said the message from the Vice President was for governors to continue what they're doing, encouraging social distancing, hand washing, and staying at home to defeat the pandemic together as a nation.
Gov. Northam said some of the latest data from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association shows that the coronavirus was introduced in Virginia in multiple communities around the same time, rather than beginning from a single source in the state.
He said the kind of data being collected and analyzed by the Virginia Department of Health will help people understand how the virus has been spreading and determine the best tools to fight that spread.
Public health officials for the state reiterated a point made in past briefings – that they, like officials in all states, have not been able to get the volume of materials needed to provide for widespread testing.
However, Northam said Sentara announced on Monday that there are beginning to roll out in-house testing to make process quicker, rather than sending tests off to the state lab or to commercial labs elsewhere.
When asked about why the
shows such a large number of test results still pending for hospitalized patients, state officials said it's a result of the lack of widespread rapid turnaround testing.
In-house testing, like what is being offered at UVA Health, VCU, and increasingly at Sentara, can help address all the patients sick at hospitals who don't yet know if they have COVID-19.
It means finding out results quicker, which means less PPE required for medical workers and, generally, more resources freed up for patients who do have the virus.
The Virginia Department of Health says the state lab is working through the backlog of tests there and that more private, commercial labs in Virginia are now offering testing, which can be used to divert some of the testing load from the state.
When asked about the introduction of new tests with turnaround times of 15 to 30 minutes, officials said the problem hospitals still face is the shortage of the reagents needed to run those tests — so that remains a critical barrier to quick testing on a widespread level.
Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia's state health commissioner, was asked about why the Virginia Department of Health does not include recovery numbers on their
, which tracks positive cases, total tests, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Dr. Oliver said that the data on recoveries is not reported to the state health department, so it's not data they have available to provide.
Only test results, hospitalizations, and fatalities are reported.
In addition, Dr. Oliver said the hospitalization numbers are based on discharge info reported by hospital claims, which results in the number being a cumulative number from throughout the crisis — not the number of people hospitalized at any given moment.
On the other hand, the
are based on a current census from hospitals, which provides a separate data set from the VDH information.
Gov. Northam, when asked if we will be sending supplies, like ventilators, to New York or other hot spots, as some states have done, said Virginia is working with other state governors and federal leadership to track inventory needed.
However, he said that Virginia has a responsibility to prepare for a surge in patients in our hospitals.
Asked about why construction and road work continues throughout much of Virginia, Northam said construction companies have all been advised by state officials to adhere to social distancing and Executive Order 53, which ban gatherings of more than 10 and requires sanitation procedures to be in place for any non-essential business to continue operating.
Essentially, construction companies and firms are supposed to limit large gatherings and provide for proper social distancing of at least six feet between workers, if possible, while providing appropriate sanitation and cleaning.
The governor said he hasn't heard any complaints about firms not following those guidelines. However, WHSV has heard complaints from many people about construction firms throughout the area not following those guidelines.
As with any business not following Executive Orders 53 or 55, people can report non-compliant businesses and firms to their local law enforcement agency's non-emergency number and/or the Office of the Attorney General.
Gov. Northam was asked if he will consider issuing an executive order to change the state protocols and allow more people to be paroled or released, or if he would issue pardons to help limit exposure in correctional facilities.
At this point, 19 inmates and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in Virginia correctional facilities.
Northam said state facilities must continue to follow their established protocol and release people according to guidelines, as many prisons and jails already have, including Middle River Regional Jail.
The decisions on releases aren't made by the facilities under those guidelines, but by local commonwealth's attorneys, in partnership with others.
Northam said he does not plan to release an executive order on the subject, and Secretary Brian Moran mentioned the Supreme Court's past ruling against former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, which established that governors cannot issue blanket orders granting clemency to a large number of people but have to consider cases on an individual basis.
In Northam's Monday briefing, he announced that he was immediately implementing a 'Stay at Home' order for Virginia, taking effect from March 30 until June 10, unless it's later amended or rescinded.
The move came after Maryland's governor announced a similar order in the morning. West Virginia and North Carolina each already had similar orders in place before Monday.
The order Northam announced in his press conference is
It, essentially, means that Virginians can only leave home for food, supplies, work, medical care, or exercise/fresh air purposes.
Only leave home if you have an essential reason to do so — Going to visit a friend for a poker game would not be essential. Going to visit a friend to help care for them because they have a broken leg would be essential. Exercise common sense about what is or isn't essential, and if it isn't, then don't go out.
You're still free to leave the house to get groceries or go to the pharmacy. You're also still free to go on a run or go for a hike, so long as you're following social distancing. But if you're not doing something essential and if you're not following social distancing orders, then just don't do it.
“Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing," Northam said.
It doesn't mean you have to be barred inside your home and cannot leave at all; but it does mean you should limit leaving homes as much as possible.
Anyone holding a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor while the order is in place. That's through the previous Executive Order 53, which closed many non-essential business across Virginia.
Any violations of the parts of the order requiring the cancellation of in-person college classes, the closure of public beaches, and the closure of short-term stays at overnight campgrounds can also be charged as Class 1 misdemeanors.
The language from Gov. Northam's previous executive order, Executive Order 53, remains in place, which allows restaurants and "non-essential" brick-and-mortar retail stores to continue operating, so long as they limit people in any space to 10 and stick to delivery, takeout, and pickup services at restaurants.
Any business that cannot follow the social distancing order of 10 patrons or fewer is required to close, according to Northam.
Gov. Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA directed all Virginia hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries and procedures in order to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment.
The direction came in
The order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient and does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs.
“Hospitals and medical facilities in Virginia and around the country are in desperate need of additional masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment,” said Governor Northam. “While we work to increase our supply, it makes sense to decrease the demand on that equipment where we can. Postponing elective surgeries allows us to divert more PPE to the medical staff who are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak so we can better protect the men and men on the front lines of this public health emergency, fighting to keep us all safe.”
Licensed inpatient and outpatient surgical hospitals, free-standing endoscopy centers, physicians’ offices, and dental, orthodontic, and endodontic offices may perform any procedure or surgery that if delayed or canceled would result in the patient’s condition worsening.
Outpatient surgical hospitals are encouraged to work with local inpatient hospitals to assist with surge capacity needs.
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.
In Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 2 p.m. press conference on March 23, he announced that all K-12 public schools across the commonwealth would be ordered to remain closed at least through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Previously, Northam had
and said that the commonwealth would reevaluate as that date got closer.
By Monday afternoon, bordering states to Virginia, including North Carolina and West Virginia, had already taken similar measures to close schools.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said Governor Northam.
According to Northam and state officials, the Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance to help individual school districts execute plans to carry on instruction for students while ensuring that everyone is served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs.
Officials say that will include options for instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
Individual school districts will determine next steps as to how to proceed with graduation for seniors.
The state has already applied to the Department of Education
School districts across our area have stepped up in recent weeks to continue providing meals to students while they're at home. You can find
Northam also announced on Monday that he would be signing
, which would take effect at the end of Tuesday (11:59 p.m. on March 24) ordering some non-essential services, including all recreation and entertainment services, to close.
The order covers three categories of businesses:
1. Recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys and theaters, which must close their doors by midnight on Tuesday.
2. Non-essential retail stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they can limit patrons to 10 at most, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, and follow CDC guidelines on sanitation.
3. Restaurants and food service establishments, which can remain open for carry-out, curbside pickup, or delivery, but not in-house dining.
Hair salons, barbers, massage therapists and similar non-essential services who can't feasibly carry out social distancing must close.
Dining and on-site alcohol establishments are allowed to keep operating through delivery and takeout services, but must close on-site dining to the public. That includes restaurants, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and tasting rooms.
Grocery stores, health services, businesses in supply chains, and other essential businesses will be able to remain open no matter what. Virginia ABC stores are also considered an essential service, Northam clarified in response to a reporter's question.
The construction industry and construction supply stores are also considered essential services.
Here's a comprehensive list of businesses considered essential that may remain open during normal hours:
• Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
• Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
• Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
• Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
• Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
• Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
• Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
• Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
• Retail located within healthcare facilities;
• Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
• Pet stores and feed stores;
• Printing and office supply stores; and
• Laundromats and dry cleaners.
All essential businesses must still adhere to social distancing as much as possible and implement enhanced sanitation practices.
According to a press release issued by Northam's office following the briefing, the following list of businesses must close to the public as off 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday:
• Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
• Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
• Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;
• Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
• Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.
Professional businesses not in any of the above lists must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines.
Businesses violating the governor's order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"I know the next several weeks will be difficult," Northam said. "These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”
The order will remain in effect for at least 30 days in Virginia.
State leaders said that the Virginia Employment Commission received more than 40,000 applications for unemployment from March 16-23.
They reiterated that the state's 1-week waiting period to receive benefits has been waived, as well as the regular work search requirement while so many employers remain closed due to the coronavirus.
You can find more information on unemployment claims at
also outlines policies for workers that have been temporarily laid off or discharged during the public health crisis.
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.
Gov. Northam directed the Dept. of Social Services to modify Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program, which is currently caring for 25,000 children, to increase support and flexibility for enrolled families and providers. These modifications include:
• Expanding eligibility for school-aged children currently designated for part-day care to full-day care.
• Increasing the number of paid absences from 36 to 76 days for both level 1 and level 2 providers.
• Automatically extending eligibility for families due for eligibility redetermination in the near future by 2 months and temporarily suspending the requirement for face-to-face interviews.
Northam announced on March 19 that Virginia's application to the Small Business Administration for businesses to apply to the SBA for federal disaster loans as a result of COVID-19 has been approved.
The SBA’s Disaster Loan program is designed to help small businesses and nonprofits meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot otherwise be met as a direct result of COVID-19.
To learn more about the program, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center has
of what to know about the program. You can also find more directly through the SBA at
State officials said the sales taxes owed by Virginia businesses on Friday, March 20, could be extended to April for some businesses that apply to the state. The process requires applying, however.
Virginia Tax will consider requests from sales tax dealers for an extension of the due date for filing and payment of the February 2020 sales tax return due March 20, 2020. If the request is granted, Virginia Tax will allow filing and payment of such return on April 20, 2020, with a waiver of any penalties that would have applied. However, interest will accrue even if an extension is granted.
Dealers can submit a request for extension by using
State leadership is also extending the due date for Virginia individual and corporation tax payments to June 1. Tax returns will still be due on May 1 across Virginia, but the date for Virginians to pay any taxes owed will be extended.
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.
The governor announced that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would be closing all offices (about 70 across Virginia) to the public from March 18 to April 2, at least. That closure was
People who have licenses or registrations expiring by May 15 will be granted 60-day extensions.
Northam also encouraged Virginians to take care of DMV tasks online, at
, if possible.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued
directing utilities it regulates, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia, to suspend service disconnections for 60 days to provide immediate relief for any customer, residential and business, who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some, like the SVEC, have also
The Supreme Court of Virginia
. From Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 6, non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings in all district and circuit courts are suspended absent a specific exemption.
This includes a prohibition on new eviction cases for tenants who are unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.
All non-exempted court deadlines are tolled and extended for a period of 21 days.
On March 12, Governor Ralph Northam
in response to COVID-19, with many local officials doing the same in the following days.
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