RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — As of Tuesday, March 24, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 290 positive or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth. That's up from 254 cases on Monday.
Graphic provided by the Virginia Dept. of Health as of 12 p.m. on March 24, 2020
Latest updates on the statewide situation
Virginia remains under a state of emergency, and on Monday, Governor Ralph Northam signed Executive Order 53, which ordered all public K-12 schools to remain closed through the end of the school year and required many businesses classified as "non-essential" to close.
Gov. Northam has been holding daily briefings to address Virginians on how the state government is responding to COVID-19 and what new measures are being put into place to stop the spread of the virus, which, so far, has resulted in seven deaths and at least 45 hospitalizations across Virginia.
Those briefings have been held at 2 p.m. each day, but are expected to move to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays instead of daily. You can watch them live on WHSV on your TV or through WHSV's livestream at whsv.com/livestream or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps.
In the 2 p.m. briefing on March 24, Gov. Northam reiterated the details of the executive order signed on Monday, speaking about the non-essential businesses that may remain open if they can follow social distancing and stick to limits of 10 or fewer patrons and about arts and recreations businesses that must close as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. You can find the details of which businesses are included under which part of that order here.
Northam spoke to the shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) that medical facilities both in Virginia and nationwide are facing, saying that a first shipment of PPE, like masks, gowns, and gloves, has arrived in the commonwealth and is being distributed to healthcare providers.
The governor said the second distribution will begin next week, but state officials are aware that there will still not be enough and are working to fill those needs as rapidly as possible.
At least one shipment of PPE of about a million surgical masks will be coming in to the state from overseas.
State officials said they are in frequent contact with medical providers and are working to meet their needs.
Gov. Northam also thanked Virginia companies that have donated supplies to hospitals and other medical providers in the recent days and said state officials are reaching out to many industries to see who is willing to help with filling more supply needs.
He said there are promising leads on Virginia-based manufacturers shifting their supply chains to produce PPE gear for their local medical providers.
Ventilators and other medical supplies
In addition, Northam touched on the need for more ventilators in Virginia and across the country, and said that he has been in contact with the governor of Maryland the mayor of Washington, D.C. to work out an arrangement for sharing any excess capacity of ventilators and other medical supplies.
State health officials said equipment can be moved around the state to where it's most needed.
Northam also specifically thanked distilleries, like Silverback Distillery, that have shifted their efforts from liquor to make hand sanitizer.
How long to expect the current restrictions to last
When asked about President Donald Trump's recent statements suggesting that he would like to see the country reopen for business by Easter, Gov. Northam said he is relying on the science and data to do what's in the best interest of Virginians, and they tell us that we'll be dealing with "months, not weeks."
"We all want our lives to return to normal," Northam said. "It would be nice to say that this will be behind us in 2 to 3 weeks, but that's not what the data tells us."
"To have economic recovery, we must get through this health crisis first," Northam continued.
Northam repeatedly reiterated that we are in the middle of a crisis that we haven't seen the worst of yet. Using the CDC's data representation of a curve, indicating growing COVID-19 cases before they decline, Northam said that we're not close to hitting the peak of the curve yet, but he is working to flatten it among Virginians as much as possible through the orders and restrictions that have been put into place.
Northam said the coronavirus has created "a new normal" that Virginians are working to adapt to for the foreseeable future to lessen the virus' impacts.
According to Dr. Laura Kornegay, with the Central Shenandoah Health District, as of 1:30 p.m. on March 24, they have confirmed four positive or presumptive positive cases of the novel coronavirus in the city of Harrisonburg.
At noon on Tuesday, when the Virginia Department of Health updated their state website to show 290 positive or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth, the breakdown listed one of the newest cases in the state's total of 290 in Rockingham County.
However, Dr. Kornegay clarified that the new case was in the city of Harrisonburg and said their district was reaching out to VDH to get the state-level dashboard corrected.
As of that time, two cases had been confirmed in Harrisonburg and two cases had been confirmed in Rockingham County.
But an hour and a half later, Kornegay informed WHSV that they had received new positive test results, bringing the total number of cases in the city of Harrisonburg to four.
The total cases in Rockingham County remain at two.
Dr. Kornegay told WHSV that experts are processing more tests for the Harrisonburg area on Tuesday, so results may continue to come in.
Kornegay said that, moving forward, like other health districts across the state, they will not be releasing as much information for every newly confirmed case, including the newest Harrisonburg case. Those detailed releases are instead reserved largely for the first cases identified in counties and cities.
At this time, there have been no cases confirmed in Augusta County, Page County, Shenandoah County, or, in our West Virginia area, in Pendleton, Hardy, or Grant counties.
Dept. of Health investigators have been looking into the two previously confirmed cases in Rockingham County to determine who the patients may have been in contact with to try and determine where the virus was contracted.
The initial case in Harrisonburg was for a patient in their 60s. One of the Rockingham County cases was for a patient in their 30s or 40s.
The other most recently identified Rockingham County case was a JMU student who traveled to Spain over her spring break before returning home early as travel restrictions went into effect. She shared her experience with the coronavirus with WHSV this past weekend, saying she expects many people may not realize they have been infected, like she initially didn't.
She self-quarantined as soon as she returned to the U.S.
Where are the confirmed cases?
The Virginia Department of Health updates its state website at noon each day with the new total and a breakdown of the cases by locality. Those numbers are based on the cases that had been submitted to the department by 5 p.m. the previous day, so there is always some lag between when local health districts announce positive test results and when the department's numbers reflect those new results.
For instance, the numbers released on March 19 did not include three cases in the Charlottesville area confirmed by the Thomas Jefferson Health District Thursday morning, which included two cases in Charlottesville and one in Albemarle County.
The numbers released on March 20 did not include two new cases in Rockingham County.
But the numbers do get added once they are in the VDH system.
According to the department's March 24 breakdown, 4,470 people in Virginia had been tested for the virus, with 290 positive results. That testing number was an increase of about 800 from the day before.
Their breakdown and location map, available to the public here, briefly had a region-specific breakdown of which cases in an area were travel-related, which came from contact with a known case, and which have unknown sources of transmission — However, those numbers were discontinued by the VDH due to the logistics of keeping them updated with the constantly growing case total.
Here's the full breakdown of cases as of noon on March 24:
• Alexandria City - 8
• Botetourt County - 1
• Arlington County - 36
• Harrisonburg - 2
• Rockbridge County - 1
• Rockingham County - 2
• Amherst County - 1
• Bedford County - 1
• Chesapeake City - 1
• Chesterfield County - 10
• Charles City County - 1
• Goochland County - 3
• Hanover County - 2
• Accomack County - 1
• Fairfax County - 46
• Henrico County - 14
• Lee County - 2
• Loudoun County - 18
• Norfolk - 5
• James City County - 37
• Newport News - 3
• Williamsburg - 5
• York County - 6
• Prince Edward County - 1
• Danville - 1
• Portsmouth - 3
• Prince William County - 23
• Spotsylvania County - 2
• Stafford County - 6
• Culpeper County - 2
• Richmond - 11
• Halifax County - 1
• Mecklenburg County - 2
• Albemarle County - 2
• Charlottesville - 5
• Fluvanna County - 1
• Louisa County - 2
• Gloucester County - 2
• Virginia Beach - 17
• Franklin County - 1
• Isle of Wight County - 2
• Suffolk County - 1
Schools closed for the rest of the academic year
In Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's 2 p.m. press conference on March 23, he announced that all K-12 public schools across the commonwealth would be ordered to remain closed at least through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Previously, Northam had ordered school closures through this coming Friday and said that the commonwealth would reevaluate as that date got closer.
By Monday afternoon, bordering states to Virginia, including North Carolina and West Virginia, had already taken similar measures to close schools.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said Governor Northam.
According to Northam and state officials, the Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance to help individual school districts execute plans to carry on instruction for students while ensuring that everyone is served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs.
Officials say that will include options for instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
Individual school districts will determine next steps as to how to proceed with graduation for seniors.
The state has already applied to the Department of Education to be able to waive end-of-year testing requirements for the year.
School districts across our area have stepped up in recent weeks to continue providing meals to students while they're at home. You can find a list of how local schools are providing meals here.
Northam also announced on Monday that he would be signing Executive Order 53, which would take effect at the end of Tuesday (11:59 p.m. on March 24) ordering some non-essential services, including all recreation and entertainment services, to close.
The order covers three categories of businesses:
1. Recreational and entertainment businesses, like bowling alleys and theaters, which must close their doors by midnight on Tuesday.
2. Non-essential retail stores, which are allowed to remain open so long as they can limit patrons to 10 at most, maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet, and follow CDC guidelines on sanitation.
3. Restaurants and food service establishments, which can remain open for carry-out, curbside pickup, or delivery, but not in-house dining.
Hair salons, barbers, massage therapists and similar non-essential services who can't feasibly carry out social distancing must close.
Dining and on-site alcohol establishments are allowed to keep operating through delivery and takeout services, but must close on-site dining to the public. That includes restaurants, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, distilleries, vineyards, and tasting rooms.
Grocery stores, health services, businesses in supply chains, and other essential businesses will be able to remain open no matter what. Virginia ABC stores are also considered an essential service, Northam clarified in response to a reporter's question.
The construction industry and construction supply stores are also considered essential services.
Here's a comprehensive list of businesses considered essential that may remain open during normal hours:
• Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
• Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
• Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
• Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
• Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
• Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
• Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
• Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
• Retail located within healthcare facilities;
• Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
• Pet stores and feed stores;
• Printing and office supply stores; and
• Laundromats and dry cleaners.
All essential businesses must still adhere to social distancing as much as possible and implement enhanced sanitation practices.
According to a press release issued by Northam's office following the briefing, the following list of businesses must close to the public as off 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday:
• Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
• Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
• Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;
• Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
• Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.
Professional businesses not in any of the above lists must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing and other CDC guidelines.
Businesses violating the governor's order can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"I know the next several weeks will be difficult," Northam said. "These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”
The order will remain in effect for at least 30 days in Virginia.
Response across Virginia
In Northam's weekend press conferences, he reminded restaurants, fitness centers and theaters that if they allow more than 10 customers inside a space, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and lose their operating license on the spot.
While Virginia's testing capacity increased over the past week, on Saturday, Northam said the state will begin giving testing priority to medical professionals who may have come in contact with COVID-19, as well as to people in nursing homes.
Health officials say another hurdle in testing going forward is having enough swabs to take samples - the state is currently in short supply.
Northam says more supplies are coming, but exact details on quantity and timing were unknown Saturday.
The governor signed an executive order to allow hospitals and nursing homes to add more beds. More PPE (protective gear) has been ordered, and the state lab maintains the capability to test over 1,000 patients.
Governor Northam says social distancing remains the key to stopping the spread.
Officials with the state lab said in the Friday press conference that there is no backlog in test processing, but acknowledged that they, like other states, are seeing backups in receiving the reagents needed for tests to be performed.
They said they have "adequate supplies to respond to the testing that they need to," but that the situation is changing on a daily basis.
Dr. Norm Oliver also stated in the Friday briefing that the state would likely be announcing an update to testing criteria for the virus later in the day to make the requirements for testing less restrictive on a statewide level.
But due to testing capacity for 1,000 people still being a limited amount, they will still require screening restrictions to avoid running out of supplies. As of right now, the requirements to receive a test for COVID-19 in facilities across Virginia are that you must show symptoms – including a high fever, cough, and shortness of breath – and have traveled to an affected area or been in contact with a person with a confirmed case.
State leaders said that the Virginia Employment Commission received more than 40,000 applications for unemployment from March 16-23.
They reiterated that the state's 1-week waiting period to receive benefits has been waived, as well as the regular work search requirement while so many employers remain closed due to the coronavirus.
You can find more information on unemployment claims at www.vec.virginia.gov.
A FAQ guide from the Office of the Governor also outlines policies for workers that have been temporarily laid off or discharged during the public health crisis.
Deploying the National Guard?
When asked if deploying the National Guard is in the works in a press conference last week, Gov. Northam said the National Guard has been activated, as that's automatic when declaring a State of Emergency, but they have not been deployed.
Northam said if they are deployed at any point in the days to come, it would be to provide more capacity and staff at hospitals.
Stress and anxiety
Northam also touched on the stress and anxiety that many people are feeling due to the spread of the virus and encouraged people to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK if they are feeling thoughts of suicide. He noted that the Disaster Stress Hotline is also available to provide counseling and support for people during an emergency like this one at 1-800-985-5990.
The ongoing situation across Virginia
At this point, state health officials have confirmed that there is ongoing "community spread" of COVID-19 between Virginians, especially in distinct "clusters" of cases seen in parts of northern and eastern Virginia where the virus has been the most prevalent.
Those clusters have been detected in the northern, central, and Peninsula regions of the state.
Everyone living in those areas is asked to stay home, practice social distancing, and follow all CDC and VDH guidelines for prevention of the virus.
State leaders clarified in their March 19 conference that Medicaid coverage covers testing and treatment for patients with COVID-19.
Gov. Northam directed the Dept. of Social Services to modify Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program, which is currently caring for 25,000 children, to increase support and flexibility for enrolled families and providers. These modifications include:
• Expanding eligibility for school-aged children currently designated for part-day care to full-day care.
• Increasing the number of paid absences from 36 to 76 days for both level 1 and level 2 providers.
• Automatically extending eligibility for families due for eligibility redetermination in the near future by 2 months and temporarily suspending the requirement for face-to-face interviews.
Northam announced on March 19 that Virginia's application to the Small Business Administration for businesses to apply to the SBA for federal disaster loans as a result of COVID-19 has been approved.
The SBA’s Disaster Loan program is designed to help small businesses and nonprofits meet their ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot otherwise be met as a direct result of COVID-19.
To learn more about the program, the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center has a rundown on their website of what to know about the program. You can also find more directly through the SBA at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/EIDLLoans.
State officials said the sales taxes owed by Virginia businesses on Friday, March 20, could be extended to April for some businesses that apply to the state. The process requires applying, however.
Virginia Tax will consider requests from sales tax dealers for an extension of the due date for filing and payment of the February 2020 sales tax return due March 20, 2020. If the request is granted, Virginia Tax will allow filing and payment of such return on April 20, 2020, with a waiver of any penalties that would have applied. However, interest will accrue even if an extension is granted.
Dealers can submit a request for extension by using a secure e-mail system available on the Virginia Tax website.
State leadership is also extending the due date for Virginia individual and corporation tax payments to June 1. Tax returns will still be due on May 1 across Virginia, but the date for Virginians to pay any taxes owed will be extended.
Gov. Northam announced on March 19 that they would be asking Virginia State Police to suspend enforcement of vehicle inspections for the next 60 days.
Northam encouraged everyone in his March 18 address to donate blood for the American Red Cross, which announced yesterday that they're seeing an extreme shortage due to thousands of canceled blood drives.
The governor said he would be donating blood Wednesday afternoon and emphasized that there's no evidence the virus can be transmitted through blood. Officials encouraged people to make an appointment at their local blood centers.
In the March 18 briefing, the governor also said the Virginia Dept. of Elections is encouraging people to vote absentee in any upcoming May elections, but is not planning at this time to postpone any elections.
The governor announced that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would be closing all offices (about 70 across Virginia) to the public from March 18 to April 2, at least.
People who have licenses or registrations expiring by May 15 will be granted 60-day extensions.
Northam also encouraged Virginians to take care of DMV tasks online, at dmvNOW.com, if possible.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued an order directing utilities it regulates, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia, to suspend service disconnections for 60 days to provide immediate relief for any customer, residential and business, who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some, like the SVEC, have also temporarily suspended late or nonpayment fees.
The Supreme Court of Virginia granted a judicial emergency in response to COVID-19. From Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 6, non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings in all district and circuit courts are suspended absent a specific exemption.
This includes a prohibition on new eviction cases for tenants who are unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-19.
All non-exempted court deadlines are tolled and extended for a period of 21 days.
State of Emergency
On March 12, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, with many local officials doing the same in the following days.
What is canceled?
Locally, major events have been postponed or canceled due to the health risks surrounding COVID-19 and the governor's limit on gatherings of 10 or more. Check our community calendar and closings page for the latest cancellations and postponements.
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.