RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — As of Wednesday, March 25, the Virginia Department of Health had confirmed 391 positive or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 across the commonwealth. That's up from 254 cases on Monday and 290 cases on Tuesday – a jump of more than 100 tests confirmed in a day, now that more hospitals have access to tests.
Virginia Department of Health graphic as of noon on March 25
Latest updates on the situation across Virginia
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.
On Wednesday, Gov. Northam announced that he will be signing a new executive order directing all hospitals across Virginia to postpone elective surgeries in order to preserve critical equipment like ventilators and personal protective gear.
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 twelve and at least 59 hospitalizations across Virginia.
For the foreseeable future, those briefings are being held at 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. 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.
Postponing elective procedures
Gov. Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA directed all Virginia hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries and procedures in order to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment.
The direction came in Order of Public Health Emergency Two.
The order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient and does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs.
“Hospitals and medical facilities in Virginia and around the country are in desperate need of additional masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment,” said Governor Northam. “While we work to increase our supply, it makes sense to decrease the demand on that equipment where we can. Postponing elective surgeries allows us to divert more PPE to the medical staff who are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak so we can better protect the men and men on the front lines of this public health emergency, fighting to keep us all safe.”
Licensed inpatient and outpatient surgical hospitals, free-standing endoscopy centers, physicians’ offices, and dental, orthodontic, and endodontic offices may perform any procedure or surgery that if delayed or canceled would result in the patient’s condition worsening.
Outpatient surgical hospitals are encouraged to work with local inpatient hospitals to assist with surge capacity needs.
The need for more medical equipment
In the 2 p.m. briefing on March 25, Gov. Northam spoke about the need for more equipment for medical centers across Virginia, saying that the state government has put in a second request for PPE (personal protective equipment) from the national stockpile and is working to source more gear from private vendors as well.
Northam also said that cooperation between private vendors has been tremendous across the commonwealth of Virginia, though they have seen prices jumping in some places as states compete for supplies.
Dr. Lillian Peake, the Virginia state epidemiologist, said that the increase of 101 cases in the past day is due to both an increase in the coronavirus spread and an increased capacity for testing across Virginia.
She said that at this point, the Virginia Department of Health is seeing more confirmed tests from private labs than from the state lab.
Gov. Northam praised both UVA Health and VCU Medical for developing their own tests that are being administered at their locations. UVA Health announced earlier on Wednesday that they would be beginning to offer testing to additional hospitals across Virginia as well.
Need for volunteers
Gov. Northam also said that the state is looking for more volunteers to help in response across Virginia during the outbreak.
The governor reiterated his call that COVID-19 will continue to impact the commonwealth for months, not weeks, and said the state is reworking licensing procedures, considering using medical students and the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (which has more than 8,000 deployable volunteers), and that 1,500 people have volunteered in the past month.
People who are able and willing to help can volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps at VAMRC.org.
Northam is asking for volunteers with medical experience, as well as medical students or student nurses.
Gov. Northam said the state administration is working to get more federal dollars for families receiving SNAP benefits.
As of Wednesday night, Northam said families will be able to use more funds in a single trip to get more groceries at a time rather than having to make repeated visits.
Gov. Northam announced that as of this Friday morning, 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.
More hospital capacity to be built?
Northam also said in his Wednesday briefing that he has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to survey potential sites in Virginia where additional hospital capacity could be built.
At this time, they are building no new construction for hospital capacity, but have surveyed sites should the need arise.
Liberty University and on-campus students
On Tuesday, officials with the city of Lynchburg spoke to media outlets about complaints that they have been fielding from community members with students returning to campus after their spring breaks.
Most colleges and universities across Virginia have moved classes online and also asked all students to stay home and away from campus, except for cases of extenuating circumstances.
But Liberty University, while keeping classes online, invited students back to the campus, with Falwell specifically endorsing the move.
Governor Northam took time during his Wednesday briefing to address the situation, saying, "We have heard too many mixed messages . . . and this is yet another example."
Northam urged the university to follow state and federal guidelines and ask students to stay home unless there are exceptional reasons that require them to stay on campus. That would be the best way to uphold rules on social distancing and public gatherings, Northm said.
Citing scripture in regards to the Christian university's decision, Northam said that Liberty has a duty to the city of Lynchburg and its residents and community to do what's in the best interest of public health.
He pointed university leaders to the decisions made by other "flagship universities" across Virginia and said that Liberty should follow their lead when it comes to allowing students back on campus.
Responding to a reporter's question, the governor said he does not have the authority to require the university to change their decision, but he was strongly encouraging them to do so.
In our area, as of 12:30 p.m. on March 25, there were 4 confirmed cases in Harrisonburg, 2 cases in Rockingham County, 3 cases in Shenandoah County, 2 cases in Frederick County, and 1 case in Rockbridge County. Just to the east, there have been at least 4 cases in Albemarle County, 6 in Charlottesville, and 1 in Nelson County.
At this time, no cases have been confirmed in Augusta County, Page County, Staunton, or Waynesboro.
In West Virginia, no cases have been confirmed at this time in Grant, Hardy, or Pendleton counties.
Our Virginia counties are primarily served by the Central Shenandoah Health District, which covers Augusta, Bath, Highland, Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Staunton and Waynesboro; and the Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Shenandoah, Page, Frederick, Warren, and Clarke counties, as well as the city of Winchester.
According to Dr. Laura Kornegay, with the Central Shenandoah Health District, as of Tuesday afternoon, they had confirmed four positive or presumptive positive cases of the novel coronavirus in the city of Harrisonburg.
The latest Virginia Department of Health numbers released on Wednesday still only listed two cases in Harrisonburg, but Dr. Kornegay told WHSV the newest cases had been submitted to the state.
The total cases in Rockingham County remain at two.
Dr. Kornegay told WHSV that experts are processing more tests for the Harrisonburg area, 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 cases. Those detailed releases are instead reserved largely for the first cases identified in counties and cities.
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.
Dr. Colin Greene, the district director for Lord Fairfax Health District, told WHSV on Wednesday that their district has confirmed three cases in Shenandoah County and two cases in Frederick County.
Their first positive case, announced on Sunday, did not appear on the statewide Virginia Department of Health map on either Monday or Tuesday, but their updated cases were added to the state map by Wednesday.
Dr. Greene told WHSV that their office has sent about 20 more tests off to Virginia's state lab for processing, and that the hospital in Winchester has carried out more tests through independent commercial labs. Results on those are pending as well.
Where are all 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.
According to the department's March 25 breakdown, 5,370 people in Virginia had been tested for the virus, with 391 positive results. That testing number was an increase of about 800 from the day before.
There have been a total of 59 hospitalizations and 12 deaths across Virginia due to COVID-19.
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 25, starting with our most local cases and then broken down by health districts across the state:
• Harrisonburg - 4
• Rockbridge County - 1
• Rockingham County - 2
• Frederick County - 2
• Shenandoah County - 3
• Albemarle County - 4
• Charlottesville - 6
• Fluvanna County - 1
• Louisa County - 3
• Nelson County - 1
• Culpeper County - 2
• Madison County - 1
• Orange County - 1
• Alexandria City - 9
• Botetourt County - 1
• Roanoke County - 1
• Arlington County - 46
• Amherst County - 1
• Bedford County - 2
• Chesapeake City - 3
• Chesterfield County - 11
• Charles City County - 1
• Goochland County - 3
• Hanover County - 2
• Accomack County - 1
• Fairfax County - 76
• Fairfax City - 1
• Henrico County - 20
• Lee County - 2
• Loudoun County - 20
• Norfolk - 5
• James City County - 41
• Newport News - 4
• Williamsburg - 5
• York County - 8
• Nottoway - 1
• Prince Edward County - 2
• Danville - 2
• Portsmouth - 3
• Prince William County - 32
• Fredericksburg - 1
• Spotsylvania County - 3
• Stafford County - 6
• Richmond - 13
• Halifax County - 1
• Mecklenburg County - 3
• Gloucester County - 2
• Matthews - 1
• Virginia Beach - 23
• Franklin County - 1
• Isle of Wight County - 2
• Suffolk County - 1
Other updates on the statewide situation
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 in his Tuesday briefing 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.