Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (4/20) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (4/20) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

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See below for live video and highlights from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2 pm press briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia.

  • The ability to run large #s of tests is key to any plan to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings. At the beginning of the pandemic, testing capabilities extremely limited around the nation; Virginia had to use CDC tests and ship every one of them to Atlanta. We also didn’t have nearly enough of those tests. Then, we began to be able to do testing in-house at state labs, and capability has increased. Hospitals are scaling up capacity. There had been a backlog at private labs; they are being reduced. It’s important to quickly identify positive cases in hospitals b/c doctors and nurses have to use PPE with possible COVID patients, and if a patient tests negative, some of that PPE can be reduced. Between state, private and university labs, we are steadily increasing testing capacity in Virginia. Governors, labs, etc. have been competing for supplies of reagents, etc. because of “limited national guidance.”
  • Have created a testing work group to coordinate these efforts. Dr. Karen Remly and Dr. Lillian Peake will head up this work group. Will focus on expanding test sites and our testing criteria (focus now is on people who are hospitalized, who have been exposed, emergency responders, and long-term care residents); will work to increase testing volume and timeliness to decreases backlogs and keep up with demand; will address the factors that limit our testing (e.g., getting squabs, containers to safely transport viral specimens). Testing isn’t just about the test itself. Doctors also need swabs to do the tests, etc. Encouraging clinicians to get symptomatic patients testing. Previously, had to rely on “clinical diagnosis” without a test. Will give us a more accurate picture of positive tests.
  • From reporter Cam Thompson: “Northam: Earlier I heard from the CDC, which will send teams to states to help with hot spots. Working to give states more flexibility in the components they use.”
  • When can we ease restrictions? CDC guidance says states must have 14 days in which case numbers decline. He wants businesses to be open again and people to get back to work, but we need to do so in a safe manner, and testing is key to that.
  • Dr. Remley: Fully understands the importance of everyone working together, also knows everyone is very eager to reopen the country. As a physician, she knows that depends upon testing and coordination. Moving into new phase. Really focusing on coordinating efforts, open up testing to more communities, more people so we can move our state and country forward.
  • Dr. Northam says all decisions have been based on science and data, and that Department of Health will be expanding the sharing of that data, including locality data, with demographic information, etc. This is a critical part of VDH’s job as the public health department.
  • Dr. Oliver – 8,990 cases (+453 in last 24 hours); 300 deaths (+23 in last 24 hours). Also, 139 outbreaks, including 77 in long-term care facilities. Account for about 10% of the cases statewide and 26% of the deaths. African-American cases about 28% of total, about 34% of deaths for which we have race/ethnicity data. That data’s been improving. Missing only about 3% of racial/ethnic info in the death data. Understand the fear/anxiety around the pandemic, timely data can help with that.
  • Dr. Forlano: Lot of work over the weekend on expanding testing in long-term-care facilities. Working to think through how to best support these facilities in infection control practices. Working with CDC to offer virtual assessments or tele-assessments. Will send state workers to help as well. Should people be brought home from facilities experiencing outbreaks? Dr. Forlano says if and when that’s possible for a family, that’s an option, but not every family is in a position to be able to do that. Will put out guidance about how best to make that decision.
  • With more tests, will it be harder to reach the 14 days metric for declining cases? Gov. Northam says the # of positives will be in relation to # tests, so follow that ratio. Also looking at # of hospitilizations from COVID-19, number in ICUs, number on ventilators. #s have slowed down a bit, but still seeing new cases…”we certainly haven’t reached our peak.” There are different models, but he’s still looking at latter part of this week for the peak. Then, hoping #s will start coming down and we can start getting back to our normal lives. CDC says 14 days of increasing #s before easing restrictions. So…be patient, what we’re doing is working.
  • From reporter Cam Thompson: “Q – First flu report shows flu season coming to an abrupt end. Does that free up resources in hospitals for treating COVID19? Oliver: ~1300 people in the hospitals right now with COVID19. Hospitals say they have upwards of 6000 beds available. Oliver: End of flu season won’t have an dramatic impact.”
  • Question on testing task force, # of tests available or per capita and how that might change. Secretary Carey: Focus has been on the CDC priority #1 – folks in hospital, health care providers with fevers. Priority #2 – those in congregate settings. Around 2,000-3,000 tests per day. Commercial labs have the largest capacity, have lowered their turnaround time. Now giving directions to clinicians to expand into Priority #2 and Priority #3. To get to the 1000s more we need, have to have better coordination. Also, still have PPE shortages. Constraints are being relieved…but still viral transport media shortages, etc. Next need to make sure we’re using full capacity. Haven’t set an exact goal of # of tests per day. Need to make sure we’re using expanded capacity wisely as we work to open up economy in a safe and effective way.
  • Gov. Northam: As we move forward, we need to look at screening, testing, tracking and then isolation as needed. How do we do that tracking? Going to do it through VDH, but will take workforce – volunteers and paid employees – to do that. It’s going to take financial resources. We have resources available through the CARES relief fund.
  • Are there more resources the CDC could be providing to Virginia? Gov. Northam says this is a team effort, the combination of PPE and testing and the supplies…any help we can get from the national level is going to be very helpful as we move forward.
  • From reporter Cam Thompson: “Q – For antibody testing. Where does that stand/Any labs doing that? State lab director: We’ve been awaiting a federal multilevel validation of tests on the market.” Toney: Needs additional validation. Regarding developing those tests for Virginia. Labs and universities are either developing or validating their tests.”
  • Where does antibody testing stand? We have been awaiting a federal multi-laboratory validation of many of the tests that are on the market. There is a need to have additional validation for commercial tests that are available. There are several universities and private labs in the process of developing antibody tests or already in process of verification. “It is coming soon.”
  • Q on non-essential businesses allowed to open on May 8, yet people are supposed to stay at home until June 10. Gov. Northam says we’ll see how this goes on a day-to-day basis and make any needed adjustments.
  • Dr. Northam – we don’t currently have sufficient testing capacity, but are improving that everyday. Limitations with reagents and swabs. That has been the real challenge the past couple weeks – not enough swabs. VP Pence supposedly understands that, working to increase production of swabs and disbursement to states that need them the most.
  • Question on food supply chain, outbreaks at processing plants, how will state protect workers. Dr. Oliver: Outbreaks at a couple facilities here in Virginia. Have worked closely with plant managers, provided PPE, worked on ways to contain any spread of the disease, etc. Will continue to do that. We are staying on top of this. Will make sure that those workers are as safe as possible.
  • Question on VA GOP doubling down on Trump’s “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” comments. Gov. Northam said the message, supposedly coming from Trump, is “one team, one mission.” Northam says we’re getting mixed messages from White House…we have these criteria that we agree with…two days later we hear or see tweets like “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.” This has “entitled folks to have protests” in Virginia and other states. Reminds everyone to remember “one team, one mission.” “I am just as anxious as anybody else out there to ease these restrictions… I really don’t need people protesting to encourage me to open up our economy…I have a front-row seat to some of the protests…I saw groups of children on blankets that were…closer than 6 inches apart…a lot of adults” without masks. We all need to get through this together, put health crisis behind us, get economy back up and running. These people who are out there not following guidelines are putting themselves and all of us at risk. What bothers him most is they’re putting our healthcare providers and their families at risk. This is NOT the time to play politics, but to work together and be part of the solution.
  • “That curve is still going up…starting to flatten a little bit…but hasn’t made that plateau and started to come down…”
  • On reconvene session Wednesday, delegates will meet in open-air test, senators will meet in Science Museum. They will address amendments to budget, etc. Thanks all legislators for coming back to deal with the Commonwealth’s business. Probably will have next press conference on Thursday, as opposed to during reconvene session on Wednesday.