Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (4/27) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (4/27) 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.

  • Update on meat processing plants in Virginia, vaccinations, behavioral health. Update on PPE: today we are receiving 800k gloves and 300k surgical masks…expecting 14k test swabs at state lab from FEMA…Today, Dept. of Corrections people have made 470k masks being distributed for use by people incarcerated, staff, law enforcement, other state employees. Testing: 41% increase over past week. Last Monday, were at around 2k per day;  last few days around 4k. Priority testing: public housing, prisons, long-term-care facilities.
  • Virginia has 10 poultry processing facilities, mostly in Shenandoah Valley and on Eastern Shore. Rising # of COVID cases among workers at poultry processing facilities in Accomack County…across Delmarva Peninsula…these poultry plants a vital part of our food supply chain, but the health of the people who work in these plants is also critically important. Companies taking additional safety measures, but…very concerned about the continued rise in cases. Northam says he grew up on Eastern Shore and knows it very well. Medical resources there could be overwhelmed by surge in cases. About 3,000 people work in two plants on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Many do not speak English, and live in close quarters, making social distancing difficult. Asking federal government for assistance and fully coordinated approach to deal with this rapidly developing situation. A coordinated approach is critical. Team worked over the weekend with CDC and partners in other states. CDC has committed to deploying teams on the ground in all three states. Expect team in Virginia today. Except CDC team to do overall assessment of situation, help with wider-scale testing, allowing appropriate mitigation steps to contain the outbreak. CDC has released new guidelines for meat processing facilities. Spoke with corporate leadership with poultry companies with operations on the Eastern Shore, thanks them for cooperation. Also following developments at smaller poultry facilities in Shenandoah Valley as well. Over 120 federally inspected meat processing facilities in Virginia.
  • Vaccinations: a vaccine would mean we could resume our lives, our economy and society. Important to remember how many epidemics we have avoided thanks to vaccines. Today is the start of National Infant Vaccination Week. Says it’s *essential* to vaccinate young children on time to provide immunity against life-threatening diseases. Due to COVID-19, starting to see a decline in immunizations. As a pediatrician, this is very concerning. We don’t want to see an outbreak of a preventable disease, such as measles, on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. So please parents, call your pediatrician and make sure your child is getting his/her vaccinations on schedule.
  • Also important to focus on mental health. Some Virginians are feeling isolation or even depression, using alcohol as a crutch. People who may be most stressed include children, teens, health workers, those with mental health problems or substance abuse. Expect demand for behavioral health services to increase. Can be offered through virtual means, but not everyone has access to that. Just got $2 million grant to address behavioral health and substance abuse problems. Also, medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
  • Continue to work to support businesses and infrastructure impacted by closures. $14.6 million for new economic resiliency program going to localities, help with revenue losses by local governments, transit agencies.
  • May 5 local elections moved to May 19. Encourages everyone to vote absentee by mail if possible. Last day to request mail-in absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 12. Must be returned no later than May 19, the day of the election. Will do everything possible to protect the health of poll workers and voters. Additional safety measures will be in place, including PPE.
  • Dr. Norm Oliver – U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpasses those who died in the Vietnam War. We are in a real war here. Total cases in Virginia = 13,535. Total deaths=458. Lots of granularity in data on the website. Disproportionate # of cases among African-Americans and Latinos, about 1/3 of the cases and 1/3 of the deaths. 199 outbreaks, 113 of which are in nursing homes. Working diligently with long-term care facility taskforce.
  • Question on ruling in indoor gun range case. Gov. Northam says we’ll look at our options moving forward. Decisions we are making are to promote health and safety for Virginians. No particular business has been singled out. Businesses where patrons might be at risk are the issue…goal is to put this health crisis behind us.
  • Why is testing in Virginia still lagging behind other states? Northam says “our first case was on March 7,” at that time the tests we were doing were sent to the CDC in Atlanta. Since then we’ve “evolved,” state lab can now do 400 tests per day, colleges have come online. We also have private labs – LabCorps and Quest. Turnaround times reduced to a day or two. “We’ve come a long way in just over 6 weeks, and I’m proud of our team.” Lack of supplies has been an issue…it’s not just in Virginia, but across the country, with states competing for supplies. Every day things will be improving. Really need that testing in order to reopen the economy. Next couple weeks, goal is to get to 10k tests per day – and maybe above. States have been doing this on our own.
  • Question on Senate Republicans’ letter today. Northam says we continue to communicate with neighboring states…either the governors or staff members. To say we haven’t been communicating would be inaccurate. Appreciate all input…will continue to use data, science, input from around Virginia to make decisions in the best interest of Virginia. Also “invaluable” input from businesses about opening up in a responsible manner.
  • Question about science being “all over the map.” Models also saying different things. Is he just “picking and choosing the science?” Northam – agrees it’s not a perfect science. Reminds Virginians that March 7 was first case, this is a NOVEL virus, which means it’s new…lots we don’t know about the virus. Science evolves. We don’t even know if this is a seasonal virus. There is no [anti-viral] treatment or vaccination so far. Doing the best we can with a great team to make science-based decisions to keep Virginians as safe as we can, get health crisis behind us and economy up and running again.
  • Question about reopening different parts of Virginia on a regional basis. Testing improving every day, getting there…and that will inform reopening. Bristol is an example – one side is TN, the other VA…should VA part stay closed if TN reopens? Need to consider that. We’re still not in Phase 1 yet. Enough testing hasn’t been done yet anywhere.
  • Question on state providing zip code-level information.  Looking at different apps, other technology…data is very important. Dr. Oliver says we have the data down to very granular level – the individual. VDH reports the data at health district level with demographic information at that district level. At locality level, provide same info without the demographics. Exploring using things like “heat maps.” Issue with zip codes is that they can overlap jurisdictions, might not be a good data point to understand distribution of cases…district level is better to use.
  • From reporter Cam Thompson: “Q: Does the 14k shipment of swabs even make a dent in what we need? Northam: Every bit helps. The more we can get the better. Same we PPE. We’ll continue to improve every day. Carey: We have an additional 200k swabs on order from FEMA. We’re aggressively pursuing supplies.” Seeing steady progress. Turnaround time lower, supplies getting increasingly better. We haven’t bought fraudulent swabs, have been careful to get quality products to make sure testing is adequate and scale up effectively.
  • Question about COVID-19 in rural areas appearing later than in urban areas, and peak in rural being later than in urban areas? On Eastern Shore, some hotsposts lagging behind more densely populated areas…This virus is highly contagious, regardless of the area of Virginia…it “spreads like wildfire.” Need to continue doing the things we’ve talked about every day – social distancing, hand washing, PPE. This virus is still out there – look at the numbers, we have to be vigilant. Dr. Oliver adds that there will be variation across the Commonwealth, so in reopening, will have to calibrate containment efforts differently in different areas.
  • Who’s getting COVID-19? We’ve been at this since March 7.  Encourages all Virginians to take this seriously. The guidelines we’ve been using are working, the curve is flattening. Hoping to open hospitals again this Friday to elective procedures b/c they haven’t been overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
  • Update on pilot program for testing in the African-American community? Dr. Oliver talks about pilot study in housing development in Richmond. Point was to test how well we could work together – it was very successful, want to scale it up. Communities of color across the state are being hit very hard by COVID-19, want to scale up ability to test in those communities. Will be part of the overall Forward Virginia plan.
  • On helping veterans, Gov. Northam says we pride ourselves on being most veteran-friendly state in country. Veterans Secretary Carlos Hopkins says we operate two long-term care veterans homes, they follow CDC guidelines and we take added precautions.  Activities for residents while maintaining social distance. Screening people coming into the facilities to prevent virus from getting in. Coordinating with the three federal V.A. hospitals in Virginia…
  • Question on detailed Phase One plan for easing restrictions. In process of establishing that plan, why we created business task group…another meeting this afternoon to really determine when to go into Phase 1. Will be in Phase 1 as long as indicated by CDC guidelines.
  • Closes by thanking everyone for following the guideliness. Says we’ll get through this together. It’s very important that all of us take care of our healthcare needs and those of our family. This is going to be a consumer- and business-driven recovery, so people need to feel safe…no group working harder than hospitals and healthcare providers. Doctors’ offices ARE safe, it’s ok for everyone who needs healthcare to get back into that system.