Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday (5/1) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday (5/1) 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.

  • Northam reminds everyone “of how far we have come” since March 7, “less than 8 weeks ago.” At that time, feared a surge, struggled to get enough PPE, supplies for testing, etc. Also directed Virginians to stay home, socially distance, etc., and it worked – flattened the curve, hospitals have NOT been overwhelmed. Case counts continue to climb, but so does testing. We must continue to move forward carefully, and testing is key to that.
  • Total cases are rising, “but not drastically, and that is good news.”  Boosting PPE by sanitizing what we have, and we’ve made great progress with innovative new PPE cleaning systems. Can be decontaminated and used 20 times without degrading performance with Battel decontamination unit.  Three PPE cleaning units coming from the federal government, should be operational in the next week, will be able to clean up to 240k masks per day when operation. Moving forward aggressively on testing, setting new records on number of tests per day.
  • Dr. Remley – there are five steps that come into play in testing…sick patient, clinician, specimen collection, lab test, test result. Need to make sure clinicians know how to test. Self-administered testing will allow for use of less PPE and increased testing. Nasal swabs easier to come by. Lab tests – contract with two Virginia lab and NC lab to increase another 3,000 tests per day. Timeline – very quickly moving to point where we’ll be in other phases of testing timele. We are already at phase 2 (out of 5 phases) in many ways. We’ve focused on the high priorities, now moving into all priorities.
  • Northam – we’re looking at a # of data points and they’re not always consistent, particularly on a day-to-day basis, but we ARE making progress.  Everyone wants to know what comes next. We’ll talk more about that on Monday, but…when other states talk about moving to Phase 1, it looks a lot like where Virginia is right now. We’ve had beaches open for exercise since the start. We are allowing elective surgeries starting today. Now that we can do more broad-based testing, we are changing guidance – urges doctors to test patients who meet the criteria. Working to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting they trust. Developing guidance on how to treat COVID-19 patients in an outpatient setting. Long-term-care facilities can request testing through their local health departments. Appreciates National Guard helping with logistics and supplies – they are here to assist us, they are our friends, no cause for alarm if you see them.
  • This weekend is Census Bureau’s digital action weekend – strongly urges Virginians to fill out forms either by mail or online. May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Month. Since COVID-19 pandemic, people of Asian decent have faced increased bigotry/harassment. That’s unacceptable. May is also National Foster Care Month- thanks to families who have accepted children into their homes. Thanks social workers.
  • Dr. Oliver – Now have 16,901 cases (+1,055 new over last 24 hours). Deaths = 581 (+29). Total tests = 105,648 (big increase, but note that they changed methodology, now counting tests as opposed to people).
  • Question on potential Phase 1 reopening on May 8 and on year-round school. Northam: “We have had a tremendous amount of input from our business community….small…medium…large…every area of Virginia.” “We are still working on that blueprint…looking at the criteria.” “I will give further guidelines on Monday regarding that plan.” “I realize, as a small business owner, that planning is very important.” “I appreciate people’s patience.” Going to do this responsibly and to keep Virginians safe. Consumers need to be comfortable, assured that it’s safe when they reenter a business. On year-round school, Northam says no decision yet.
  • Question on big increase in nursing home outbreaks in one day. Answer: sometimes there’s a lag in capturing and entering data.
  • Question on NPR story on contact tracing. Northam – we are ramping up our workforce so we can adequately do that. Dr. Oliver – we don’t have a central roster of all our contact traces, our local health departments do that work…working on plans to increase contact tracing staffing by  ~1,500 people.
  • From reporter Cam Thompson: “Q: NC is now telling people where long-term facility outbreaks are occurring. Will Virginia change its policy and name them? Oliver: This was not a decision made by the health department. It’s in the Virginia code which IDs facilities as persons, so we can’t reveal them. Q: Virginia is one of a few states seeing cases double in two weeks or less. Can you attribute that to ramping up of testing and how do you square that with opening up? And can nursing homes request testing? Northam: Yes to nursing homes. Northam, on testing Q: The doubling metric has continued to widen.” Taking longer for the # of cases to double, which is a good thing.
  • Is increased # of cases attributed to increased testing? Most likely it’s a combination…some proportion is because of the testing increase.
  • Q on reopening state by region. Northam – we’ve gotten a lot of really good input from businesses across Virginia, also legislators and Congressmen. There are pros and cons to all of the options, nothing is exactly straightforward. For instance, SWVA business is concerned that if they open their place of business, and another in a more densely populated area of Virginia doesn’t, it’s not that difficult to move around Virginia on the interstates – what if people from “hot spots” come to our business and then we have to shut down again, we might never recover from that. We’re continuing to work through that plan, Northam will be working on it through the weekend, will provide more guidance on Monday.
  • Q about receiving unemployment compensation. Northam regrets that some people are still waiting for checks. Around 550,000 individuals have applied for unemployment, VEC has been working around the clock…things have improved, but they’ve been inundated. In one week’s time, had more applications for unemployment than in previous three years. Increased # of people working there, upgraded computer system.
  • Q on small businesses that might not be able to reopen and how state might assist them? Chief of Staff Clark Mercer says Virginia did not try to articulate every business under the sun and classify as essential/nonessential. We did not close other retail that’s nonessential – toy stores, clothing stores, etc. – as long as they can abide by social distancing, 10 or fewer people in store. That would have been the government deliberately picking which business, selling the same product, could open or not. That would drive the small mom-and-pop stores out of business and drive their customers to big-box retailers. Gov. proposed “games of skill” be allowed to stay in business another year and taxed at high level, money to COVID small business relief. Tepid response from consumers in places like Georgia, because consumers need to have confidence, regulations need to be responsible and well thought-out.
  • Question on changing methodology in VDH statistics. Dr. Oliver – previously (summary by reporter Cam Thompson), “one person would equal one test throughout the life of the infection no matter how many times they were tested. Now, every time a person is tested, each test will be counted…Carey: We intend to see what other states are doing. What we were doing made sense.” “We are very forward-facing.”
  • Question on health equity, specific route to addressing minority businesses. There is a health equity work group…that team is working to ensure that equity stays at the forefront of all of our efforts. More info on that workgroup is on the VDH website. The are federal monies and general fund that can be used for health equity purposes, etc. Revenues of course are in short supply right now, but that is a priority.
  • Gov. Northam – Urges everyone to keep doing what we’ve been doing, because it’s working. Keep social distancing, wear facial protection, wash your hands, no gatherings >10 people.