Gov. Northam outlines blueprint to determine when Virginia can reopen
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressed the commonwealth on Friday for his latest briefing on Virginia's response to COVID-19.
, said that he'll be giving an "update on where Virginia stands in our fight" against COVID-19, and said "we'll lay out a blueprint for how we move forward in a safe, responsible way."
In his most recent briefings, Northam has emphasized that Virginia is following guidelines set by the CDC and released by the White House on when to start reopening. According to those guidelines, states should wait to begin a process until they have seen two weeks of declining daily case totals.
On Monday, Virginia had
, but that streak of lower daily totals was broken by
Wednesday's update was another jump of 636 cases. Thursday's update saw an increase of more than 730 cases. Friday saw 596 new cases.
Virginia first crossed 2,000 cases on Friday, April 3; 3,000 cases by Tuesday, April 7; 4,000 cases by Thursday, April 9; 5,000 by Saturday, April 11; 6,000 by Tuesday, April 14; 7,000 by Friday, April 17; 8,000 by Saturday, April 18; 9,000 by Tuesday, April 22; and 10,000 by Wednesday, April 23.
According to UVA data modeling, Virginia should be approaching its peak of COVID-19 cases, which has been projected for late April.
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.
The governor's latest press briefing began with technical issues, as people across Virginia saw the beginning of the briefing without any audio and then saw the feed cut to black as staff reset.
The governor's support staff worked to resolve the issue, with the video and audio resuming and Northam heard telling his sign language interpreter that if everyone knew ASL, there wouldn't be a problem.
Throughout the technical difficulties, people could watch an empty podium and hear chatter among the people present in the briefing room
Various media outlets in the room worked to test their feeds with checks of the microphones to ensure that the feed will work correctly when the briefing does resume.
As of 2:33 p.m, the briefing officially began again.
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 ended Friday's briefing by thanking a wide range of people who have worked throughout the pandemic, including first responders, grocery store workers, health care workers, law enforcement, media, and many more people working day to day for Virginians.
On Thursday, April 23, Gov. Ralph Northam
, bringing the expiration dates of those orders more in line with other statewide orders.
Last Friday, Northam
to allow more medical providers to practice in Virginia during the state of emergency, and talked about the federal guidelines for reopening the state.
Last Wednesday, he
, which closed many non-essential businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. That order is now set to run through at least May 8.
The previous Friday, he
, proposed the release of inmates with less than year left in their sentences, and emphasized a need for volunteers.
On April 8, he
to November by the General Assembly.
On March 30, Gov. Northam
, effectively instructing all Virginians to stay home except for essential needs.
Virginia remains under a state of emergency until June 10, and Northam's order that closed many non-essential businesses,
, remains in place until at least May 9.
That order is enforceable by law, so someone who hosts a gathering of more than 10 people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. You can learn more about what police enforcement of Northam's executive orders looks like
By April 24, the Virginia Department of Health had received reports of 11,169 confirmed and 425 probable cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth.
Since Tuesday's update to the VDH system, the department now clarifies the difference in cases confirmed by lab tests and "probable" cases, which are cases that were diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms and exposure without a test.
Those positive test results are out of 69,015 people that have been tested in Virginia, which comes out nearly 17% of Virginians tested for the coronavirus receiving positive results.
At this point, 1,837 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the disease caused by the virus, and 410 have died of causes related to the disease, which marks an increase of 38 recorded deaths in a day.
, Dr. Norm Oliver, the state health commissioner, said the data on deaths displayed by the VDH is almost always delayed by a day or several from when the deaths actually occurred.
Although the statewide numbers list 9 deaths in Harrisonburg, the
of coronavirus-related causes.
Those numbers should be reflected in the state dashboard in the days to come.
One death has been reported in Augusta County and one death in Rockingham County as well.
Since April 21, the
has been updated to show a lot more detail by locality, including hospitalizations and deaths for each city or county.
The hospitalization numbers are cumulative — they represent the total number of people hospitalized due to the disease throughout the outbreak and not the total number currently in the hospital. For current hospitalization stats,
In our area, as of April 24, there were at least 34 confirmed cases in Augusta County, 355 cases in Harrisonburg, 176 cases in Rockingham County, 30 cases in Page County, 65 cases in Shenandoah County, 10 cases in Staunton, 10 cases in Waynesboro, 1 case in Highland County, 87 cases in Frederick County, 31 cases in Winchester, and 5 cases in Rockbridge County, along with 3 in Lexington.
A significant portion, though not the majority, of the Harrisonburg number, which has the most confirmed cases in our region, comes from
, where the Virginia Department of Health and UVA Health collaborated to test every resident and staff member, finding 81 residents and 12 staff members positive by this past weekend
By Wednesday, April 22, the facility had
due to coronavirus.
It's one of several outbreaks across our area, and the most severe one.
The Central Shenandoah Health District has 9 identified outbreaks and the Lord Fairfax Health District has 10.
Health department officials have not specified the majority of the locations of those outbreaks, given that Virginia state code requires permission to be granted by a facility for their information to be released to the media.
The Lord Fairfax Health District is
, as of Wednesday afternoon, but at this point, only one case has been confirmed there.
Of the state's total hospitalizations, at least 39 have been in the Central Shenandoah Health District. Of those, 2 are in Augusta County, 23 in Harrisonburg, 13 in Rockingham County, and 1 in Waynesboro.
In the Lord Fairfax Health District, there have been at least 31 hospitalizations. Ten of those have been in Shenandoah County and eight in Page County.
Just to the east, there have been at least 72 cases in Albemarle County, 45 in Charlottesville, 10 in Greene County, and 7 in Nelson County. There have been 49 hospitalizations there.
In the part of West Virginia we cover, one case has been confirmed
, three cases
, and one case in Grant County.
The numbers provided here are a blend of the data provided by the Virginia Department of Health and case updates provided directly by our local health districts.
As of April 24, the Thomas Jefferson Health District had reported 2,738 total COVID-19 tests performed. The Lord Fairfax Health District had reported 2,642 tests, and the Central Shenandoah Health District had reported 2,155 tests.
For context, on a state level, of the COVID-19 tests administered, a little more than 15% of people tested have received positive results. Of the tests administered in the Central Shenandoah Health District, more than 27% of people tested have received positive results.
According to Dr. Greene, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, those testing numbers reported by the Virginia Department of Health may not include all the tests that have actually been conducted. He said tests performed by private labs aren't always reported to the state if they came back negative, so advised that those numbers generally don't show the full picture.
Dr. Forlano, the state's deputy health commissioner, said in a Wednesday briefing that the state data is meant to give at look at overall trends more than it's meant to show every single case.
Wondering about the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Virginia? Recovery information is not required to be sent to the Department of Health, so there is no accurate way to track that data for every single confirmed case.
But there is a way to track the number of patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and have since been discharged – effectively tracking how many people have recovered from the most severe cases.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association updates their own dashboard of data each day on hospital-specific statistics, including bed availability, ventilator usage, and more. Their
indicates that, as of April 24, at least 1,672 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 1,399.
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.
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.
Northam said he had been on the White House call with governors earlier on Wednesday.
In that call, the governor said Vice President Mike Pence told governors that states would be getting more flexibility to develop their own testing criteria.
He said one of the main focuses was on the availability or lack thereof of swabs needed for testing across the country.
According to Northam, Vice President Pence said the Defense Production Act would be soon utilized to increase production of swabs to send out across America.
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.
At a briefing earlier this week, Dr. Forlano, Virginia's deputy commissioner of public health, said that Virginia was working on a new criteria for testing across the state.
She said on Friday that the criteria will include a focus on long-term care centers, allowing people about to enter those facilities to be eligible for testing, and will continue to include a focus on health care workers, including symptomatic health care workers and workers at centers facing confirmed COVID-19 treatment.
State administrators said they want to get to a point of significantly higher testing levels per day and are exploring how to do that while facing national shortages of testing equipment and PPE needed to boost that capacity.
Dr. Forlano said the new testing criteria will be released on Friday or Monday for public review.
Gov. Northam said it's up to every state and every governor to establish their own testing guidance and protocols on where to use supplies because no national testing guidance has been established.
When asked about the possibility of testing to see if Virginians have already had the coronavirus, Gov. Northam said while antibody testing is becoming more available each day, it's not yet at a point to be accessible enough to allow Virginia to follow any statewide trends.
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.
Currently, there are two main reasons someone would be tested for the coronavirus: having symptoms or exposure to an infected person. In our area, requirements for testing include both symptoms and either travel to an affected area or exposure to someone with a confirmed case.
The main symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. These look a lot like the flu and the common cold, so it takes a physician to determine if testing for the virus is necessary.
For a patient, the process of being tested for the virus is easy and can potentially be done almost anywhere. It typically involves taking a swab from deep in a patient’s nasal cavity to collect cells from the back of the nose.
The sample is then sent to a lab, where it will be tested to determine if the patient’s cells are infected with the virus. The same process is used to collect a sample from a patient who is tested for flu.
Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid contact with sick people.
• Avoid non-essential travel.
For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you're encouraged to check both the