See below for live video and highlights from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2 pm press briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia.
- From reporter Cam Thompson: “Press briefing has been paused. Just been told there is no working audio on the stream…Holding up until the audio issues have been resolved.”
- Prior to the briefing being paused due to a failure of the live stream, Cam Thompson tweeted: “Northam: I want to talk about elections and next steps on easing restrictions…Northam: GA met for reconvene session on Wednesday. Many of their actions were positive. Thanks for giving Virginia more tools to address #COVID19 pandemic….Northam: We’ll establish a COVID-19 relief fund for small businesses, nursing homes/long-term care facilities will get funding, we’ll increase minimum wage…Northam: But they didn’t do everything right. They didn’t move the date of the May 5 local elections. We don’t want a scene like Wisconsin from a few weeks ago…Northam: I had recommended they move the May elections to November. House agreed. I am disappointed the Senate failed to take action…Northam: Today I have signed an executive order to move the local elections back two weeks to May 19…Northam: I strongly encourage people to vote absentee by mail. For those coming out, we’re going to try to make it as safe as possible…Northam: We’ll have Virginia Medical Reserve Corps help out to maintain safety.”
- 2:28 pm update by Cam Thompson: “Several of the local TV stations are trying to jerry rig a solution and send out the news conference with their equipment and feed it out to everyone else.”
- Northam says there will be PPE for poll workers for May elections.
- Job numbers – last week, more than 82k applied for unemployment benefits in Virginia. Almost 0.5 million Virginians unemployed. The good news is Virginia has 10th-lowest claim per labor force in the country. Launched pandemic unemployment assistance program, allows gig workers to get benefits. Virginia has been one of most innovative states to respond to surge in people putting in unemployment claims. Many have already begun receiving their checks. Having 0.5 million people unemployed is *very* unfortunate.
- How are we planning to move Virginia forward? Yesterday, extended ban on elective surgery and closure of DMV offices. We are not there yet, but are moving in that direction to start easing restrictions. What would that look like? Since the beginning of this situation, Virginia has taken aggressive action. This is delivering results. Together, we have slowed the spread of this virus. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed, and case count *may* have peaked today. Need to continue to work at this, continue to watch the data. Growth rate in cases is slowing – takes 9 days to double. Hospitalization rates remain stable. The good news is that 1,600 patients with COVID-19 in Virginia have been treated successfully and discharged, and “our PPE pipeline is flowing.” Have ordered decontamination systems. Need to plan for next phase. Metrics for phase 1 are very clear – % of positive tests, # of hospitalizations track downward over 14 days; enough capacity in hospital beds and ICUs; sustain PPE supply. We will get back to work by greatly increasing our testing and tracking contacts of people who test positive. That is the key to moving forward.
- Dr. Remley – We’ve moved from step 1 into step 2; we’ve done 4,000 tests per day in last two days. Expanding testing to people who are high risk…working with clinical communities…testing across the state. Looking at innovative ways to get testing to different communities. Eventually, want to look at people who are asymptomatic.
- Northam – Moving forward, we will maintain the testing/tracing strategy, ensure that hospitals, etc. have PPE they need to stay safe. Will monitor hospital capacity utilization. When we reach the metrics he mentioned, then we can start to ease restrictions…will still have social distancing, encourage teleworking, still recommend face covering. For business to resume, both customers and employees must feel safe. Have been meeting with stakeholders, local governments and businesses. Have put together a small work group of representatives from businesses large and small in every corner of our state. Talking to manufacturers, restaurants, entertainment venues, faith leaders, barber shops, etc. Want them to tell us what the right way is to ease restrictions, what is practical and what isn’t. Will have overarching rules for business and specific guidances for specific industries. Northam is eager to ease restrictions, but must do so in a safe manner and avoid spike in cases. We will not lift restrictions like you turn on/off a light switch. Will move forward in a way that prioritizes public health and confidence. One step forward and two steps back is no way to move ahead. Will need everyone to continue taking actions to keep themselves and others safe. All of our decisions impact other people.
- Once we put the health crisis behind us, then we can get the economy moving again.
Here are the slides detailing what Northam needs to see before starting phase one and what that would look like. pic.twitter.com/DTEswDjOlX
— Cam Thompson (@CamThompsonCBS6) April 24, 2020
- Dr. Oliver – 11,594 cases (+596 in last 24 hours); 410 deaths (+38). Will start breaking cases down by ethnicity in coming weeks. African-American cases about 28% and deaths about 28%.
- Question about when we might get ot 10,000-tests-per-day benchmark to open the economy? We don’t have an exact date. Doing it as fast as we can. Had our first case 6 weeks ago, had to send tests to Atlanta. Now, state lab, VCU, UVA, private labs, hospitals can all do tests. Have gone from a few tests to 2,000-3,000 per day (today, 4,000 tests). Doesn’t expect it will take another 6 weeks to get to 10,000 tests per day. One of the challenges is supplies, and we’re doing better. The test also was cumbersome (e.g., not having supplies in the office – that’s become a lot easier; results were taking a long time, now it’s gotten much faster and more efficient), so many providers were choosing not to do it. Hoping this will be ramped up in the next couple weeks, will get to 10,000 per day as soon as possible.
- Dr. Toney – Capacity of state lab has been increased, now at 400-500 tests per day. Working in collaboration with hospital laboratories, trying to coordinate efforts to expand testing across the Commonwealth.
- Dr. Remley – Clinical community has done everything they’ve been asked to do, including telemedicine. Making sure clinicians know how to test safely and accurately.
- On potentially easing restrictions in some parts of Virginia earlier than others, Northam says he’s tried to be consistent across Virginia. Plans today are to NOT open one region before another. We are hopeful we’ve hit our peak. Businesses have been asked to close through May 8. Hospitals will be able to do elective surgeries a week from today, which is May 1.
- Question about November elections/deadline for turning in petitions – Secretary of Administration says we don’t have technology to allow for electronic petition signatures. Hopeful that candidates will be able to meet the deadline. Candidates can also seek relief from the courts.
- On the VA House GOP calling for the easing of restrictions on “non-essential businesses,” Northam says the guidelines we’re using come from the CDC, were “announced by our president a week ago yesterday.” While there have been some mixed messages, that is a message governors have tried to abide by. Have tried to make decisions based on data and science. CDC is a good source of guidelines. We’ll continue to follow those.
- On utility cutoffs, Northam says we will do everything to help families, discuss with the utilities regarding people not being able to pay their bills in this difficult time.
- Deputy Sec. Navarro – working with businesses both in the task force and outside the task force. Guidelines focused on ensuring public health as they go into workforce, public-facing businesses. Businesses want clarity, consistency. Have had a very positive response from businesses. Northam says businesses need consumers to be comfortable.
- Question on consistency within the region. Northam says he’s in frequent communication with the Mayor of DC and governor of Maryland. It’s not going to be an exact easing of guidelines, are doing everything we can to work together and be consistent. Every state, every city has a little bit of a different situation, but as best we can we’re going to try to be consistent as we move forward.
- Dr. Oliver – contact tracing very labor intensive, have to track down all the people a COVID-19 patient has come into contact with. As social distancing requirements decrease, will have to increase testing. Utilizing volunteers and furloughed medical workers. Also looking at a number of apps to help in that process. But even with apps, will still need expanded workforce; won’t be able to do it all electronically. Google and Apple working on something that supposedly will be ready sometime in May. Briefing with Apple this afternoon.
- Will deadline for absentee voting be extended? Yes. Last day to request an absentee ballot is May 12, last day to return it is 7 pm on election day, May 19.
- Dr. Forlano – will case counts continue to rise? That is expected as we increase testing capacity. What proportion of tests is positive is another important measure to look at.
- Gov. Northam – Work being done right now to obtain more PPE, to flatten the curve, to increase our ability to do more testing, etc. is really done now in an attempt to open up our economy and get back to where we were prior to this. The recovery is going to be business and consumer-driven. We all remember 9/11; Americans were fearful of getting on an airplane, so modifications were made and people got back to near-normal again. Lots of effort going into how we can make recovery as efficient and effective as we can.
- Gov. Northam thanks journalists for putting out accurate/updated information. Northam also thanks people working in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, first responders, law enforcement agents, etc. to keep Virginians safe – THANK YOU. Very talented people in the administration and behind the scenes – they are working very hard, 7 days a week, a lot of them through the night to make sure Virginia can recover from this. Again, thank you to all of them. They are what make me proud as a Virginian and hopefully you proud too. If you see one of these folks, please tell them thank you.