RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — The Supreme Court of Virginia declared a judicial emergency on Monday, resulting in a host of changes to Virginia's court system.
Primarily, it suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings from Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 6.
Among those non-essential proceedings are all new eviction cases in the commonwealth of Virginia for tenants unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.
“It would be an absolute outrage for Virginians to be evicted from their homes during this emergency, especially as we are asking them to practice social distancing and stay home to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “This temporary eviction suspension is particularly important for hourly wage earners who are more likely to lose income and not be able to pay their rent because of business closures. I want to thank the Supreme Court of Virginia for making this important decision to protect Virginians during these unprecedented times.”
All non-exempted court deadlines are tolled and extended for a period of 21 days, according to the judicial order.
In Virginia, the State Corporation Commission has also ordered a halt on disconnections by all regulated utilities for 60 days during the commonwealth's state of emergency.
Some, like the SVEC, have also temporarily suspended late or nonpayment fees.
Those are just some of several changes underway in Virginia during response to the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, 67 patients had tested "presumptive positive" or positive for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Health, there are also 48 pending cases and they are now seeing cases with a likelihood of "community spread" in parts of Virginia.
Health officials also announced that they've seen the first Virginia case inside a senior citizen health facility, which is one of their biggest concerns due to the risk for senior citizens. Officials continue to investigate that case.
Two patients have died of coronavirus-related causes in Virginia, each in the Peninsula District in the eastern part of the state.
Changes for businesses
In his address on Tuesday, Gov. Northam said the state would be following the CDC's recommendation against gatherings of 10 people or more. As of right now, the commonwealth does not plan to enforce any bans on restaurant operations, but are asking them to abide by the "rule of 10" and are encouraging them to focus on delivery and takeout options, instead of in-house dining to abide by that CDC recommendation.
According to a press release from the governor's office, the guidance to avoid gatherings of more than 10 is for non-essential gatherings and does not include normal operations at essential services such as manufacturers, distribution centers, airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, grocery stores, or pharmacies.
When asked, Gov. Northam said he is not issuing a mandate for restaurants and bars to close at this point, unlike governors in some states, like New York, but is asking them to enforce the guidelines through whatever means works best for them, like focusing on delivery and takeout options.
All restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters are mandated to significantly reduce their capacity to 10 patrons, or close, the governor's office said in a statement following the press conference.
“Everyone must play a role to help flatten the curve and mitigate the spread of this virus, and that starts with social distancing,” said Governor Northam. “We know this will be a hardship for many businesses, and we are assisting workers affected by closures. Public health relies on every individual using common sense and making responsible decisions. We can and will get through this difficult time. But we must work together to do so.”
Support for workers
For employees in businesses across the state forced to close by the virus, Northam said all employees affected by COVID-19 can seek unemployment funds that have been freed up by state and federal states of emergency.
Northam is also waiving the one-week waiting period on unemployment benefits for people to be able to access the funds as soon as possible.
For individuals receiving unemployment insurance, Governor Northam is directing the Virginia Employment Commission to give affected workers special consideration on deadlines, mandatory re-employment appointments, and work search requirements.
A FAQ guide from the Office of the Governor outlines policies for workers that have been temporarily laid off or discharged during the public health crisis.
Support for employers
Regional workforce teams will be activated to support employers that slow or cease operations. Employers who do slow or cease operations will not be financially penalized for an increase in workers requesting unemployment benefits.
The Governor is authorizing rapid response funding, through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, for employers eligible to remain open during this emergency. Funds may be used to clean facilities and support emergency needs.
The effect on seniors
Health department officials said they are thoroughly investigating the one case in the state that's been confirmed in a senior living facility, where spread of the virus is the biggest concern.
Northam also asked all Virginia residents over the age of 65 to self-quarantine.
Public health experts advise that individuals with underlying medical conditions and those aged 65 or older are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Northam encouraged neighbors and friends to stay in touch and regularly check in with high-risk individuals.
The governor announced that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will be closing all offices (about 70 across Virginia) to the public from March 18 to April 2, at least.
People who have licenses or registrations expiring by May 15 will be granted 60-day extensions.
Northam also encouraged Virginians to take care of DMV tasks online, at dmvNOW.com, if possible.
What's the situation in Virginia?
Last Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, with many local officials doing the same in the following days.
Over the weekend, the governor also banned gatherings of 100 people or more statewide, which resulted in many business and church closures, among other changes.
Officials expect the cases to continue to rise sharply, but Northam said the pandemic will not cripple the commonwealth.
Where are all the cases?
As of Tuesday around midday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 67 cases throughout the state. According to the VDH, 1,028 patients have been tested for the virus, with the vast majority of tests coming back negative.
The breakdown of where they are is this: 12 in Fairfax County, 12 in James City County, 1 in York County, 1 in Williamsburg, 13 in Arlington County, 5 in Loudoun County, 4 in Virginia Beach, 4 in Prince William County, 4 in Chesterfield County, 1 in Spotsylvania County, 1 in Stafford County, 2 in Henrico County, 2 in Alexandria, 1 in Prince Edward County (identified in Farmville where a Longwood student tested positive), 1 in Hanover County, 1 in Goochland County, 1 in Charlottesville, and 1 in Harrisonburg.
You can find the breakdown and map on the VDH coronavirus website here.
Have there been any deaths?
On Saturday, the Virginia Department of Health and the Peninsula Health District reported the death of a hospitalized patient who previously tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first death in the Commonwealth of Virginia due to coronavirus. On Monday, another death was reported in the same area, raising Virginia's total to 2 deaths.
As of Tuesday, the Peninsula Health District has 12 cases in the James City City area, 1 in York County, and 1 in Williamsburg. Officials are tracing their steps and have identified hundreds of people who came in contact with patients, reaching out to all of them.
What’s happening nationally?
President Donald Trump has declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency in order to free up more money and resources. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with the Trump administration for an aid package from Congress that would provide free tests, sick pay for workers and bolster food programs.
The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 10 people or more in the United States be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. That recommendation has led to significantly more business closures across the country.
Two emergency room doctors in the United States are in ‘critical condition’ with coronavirus. The ACEP said that a doctor in his 40s in the state of Washington and another doctor in his 70s in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus.
All schools closed
Schools across the state have been canceled for at least two weeks.
All K-12 schools will be closed from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27, at a minimum. Localities will still decide specific staffing decisions to ensure students maintain continuity of services or learning.
If parents need help with lunches during this time, almost all local school districts are developing ways to get meals to students during the closure. WHSV has compiled a list for all of our local school districts that you can find here.
What is canceled?
Governor Northam banned all gatherings of 100 people or more throughout the state. Within the peninsula district, events with 50 people or more have been banned.
Many businesses and offices are also closing. Make sure you call ahead before you go places throughout the weekend!
Flattening the Curve
All of the cancellations - including major sporting events around the country - are happening in hopes of “flattening the curve” of the virus.
While letting the virus spread rapidly could shorten the duration of the pandemic, it could be a lot of strain on hospitals, putting them overcapacity. The goal is to keep the apex curve below hospital capacity.
How can we prevent the spread?
People are rushing to stores to buy cleaning supplies or other items in the event of a quarantine.
To help your shopping, the Environmental Protection Agency has expanded its list of disinfectants that have qualified for use against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. The list contains nearly 200 additional products, including 40 new products that went through the agency’s expedited review process.
But in the end, hand washing and social distancing is your best bet!
Who gets tested for the virus?
Currently, there are two main reasons someone would be tested for the coronavirus: having symptoms or exposure to an infected person.
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.
How does the coronavirus test work?
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.
What to know about preventing the virus
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.