See below for live video and highlights from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2 pm press briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia.
- Testing, entering Phase 1 and state revenues.
- How is Virginia counting its tests? From beginning, VDH has included *all* tests in its tally, including serological and PCR test. They are designed to answer two different questions – used to have COVID19 or currently has it. At start, very few of the tests were serological, most were PCR (nasal swab) tests. Now, more antibody tests. When he learned about this recently, directed VDH to separate the tests out – “disaggregated the two groups.” They’ve done that, and we can see that antibody tests made up 15k out of 184k total tests – about 9%. When we take out the antibody tests, “our trends remain the same.”
Northam showing the difference of these two slides related to that. pic.twitter.com/HhUZ979Cnc
— Cam Thompson (@CamThompsonCBS6) May 15, 2020
- Testing numbers still going up. Expansion of sites. Hospital systems like GMU are conducting testing at their clinics. State lab is helping to support testing with collection kits, has sent 1,000s of kits to support point prevalance testing.
- Phase 1 begins today. That means a slight easing of restrictions. NoVA has been delayed b/c their #s are higher than in other areas of the state. Also granted requests from Richmond and Accomack County. Primary concern is public health.
- Also recognize this has major implications on those not working and on state budget. For April, Va. revenue collections down 26% ($700m less than normal). Will see a $1 billion loss by end of June.
- Sec. Finance Layne – economic activity held up well in April; 60% of revenues come from payroll witholding, and that was up 4% for the month, meaning there were quite a few businesses still operating. That has to do with the strength of the economy – defense spending, federal government, etc. While we have been impacted, have not seen a total shutdown of economic activities. 20% of revenues come from sales taxes, and they were even for the month. Decision to delay tax filing payment from May 1 to June 1 led to a big revenue hit. 260k paid this year compared to 500k last year. Should pick up in May and June, then we’ll see where we stand. Now we’ll see how the economy responds as we reopen. By the time we need to reforecast revenues, we’ll have some data points to give us a realistic view of things going forward. We’ve received over $6 billion in stimulus funds in 61 or so different revenue streams, including $3.1 billion from CARES Act. Distributing about $650m to localities for direct costs related to the virus, will be out by June 1. Also obligated $121 million for purchase of PPE, including $43 million for testing. Altogether, $878 million obligated so far out of $3.1 billion.
- Northam – We continue to work on other areas of response to the pandemic, such as employees concerned with how their workplaces are following guidelines. State agencies have the authority to investigate complaints and shut down a business that isn’t complying. Workers can report complaint to Dept. of Labor and Industry, and they will investigate/enforce worker protection rules. There are workers afraid to go back to work due to medical issues. Every state is dealing with this. Asked Congressional delegation to provide Virginia the flexibility we need.
- Northam – Reminder that many localities have elections on May 19. He’s strongly encouraged people to vote absentee.
- Northam – easing restrictions does NOT mean we can behave as we used to. Still need to abide by social distancing guidelines, hand washing, face masks, etc. This virus is STILL very much with us and nobody should let their guard down.
- Dr. Norm Oliver – VDH’s mission is to protect the health and wellbeing of all Virginians. Given health inequities, aiming to eliminate health inequities. As we move into Phase 1, this will be very much the lens through which we do this work. Now have 4,000 applications for contact tracers. Finalizing plans to hire 1,000 or so contact tracers. Total cases = 28,672 (+859 in past 24 hours) Total deaths = 977 (+22). African Americans account for 23% of cases; Latinx account for 44% of cases.
- Question on “co-reporting” test results, other flawed data reporting. Gov. Northam – Became aware on Monday that the two tests were aggregated. They’re both tests we use. Took issue with the way it was being reported, went to VDH and told them to disaggregate the data. “I take ownership of that, and that’s what leaders do.” “We are making improvements every day…I’m proud of my team…we’re working around the clock.”
- Question about infections at Dillwyn Correctional, what went wrong? Sec. Brian Moran – The reason we know there are so many positive cases at Dillwyn is b/c we’ve conducted point prevalance testing. Lawsuit filed against Dept. of Corrections for cruel and unusual punishment has been dismissed…memorializes much of what DoC is doing regarding the care of inmates. “They’ve gone to extraordinary steps following CDC guidelines, and the court agreed.” “Nothing went wrong at Dillwyn; DoC is following CDC guidelines…they’ll continue to follow those guidelines…lockdown just means you keep units separated…and diminish the opportunity to spread the virus.”
- Question on how effective it is to have different counties operating under different rules, whether a regional approach is the right way to go. Gov. Northam – Says let’s step back a bit, this is a fluid situation, things change, we have to change, reassess our diagnosis and our plans. As we’ve looked at the data, there are several regions (e.g., Northern Virginia, Richmond, Accomack) where #s are not as promising as other parts of the state. “I listened…and I granted their request.”
- Question on supervisors in western Loudoun asking to be treated differently than eastern Loudoun. Gov. Northam – If you think through this, we want to be as consistent as we can. If you carve up counties, pick certain towns, it “would just get totally out of hand.” Decisions he makes “are difficult for some individuals to understand, we have tried to be consistent…fair…concentrated on public safety.” “We want Virginians to be safe…we anticipate our #s will continue to improve…so that at the appropriate time Northern Virginia, County of Accomack, City of Richmond can enter Phase 1.”
- Question about the regional approach and VDH data. Northam – We’ve been as transparent as we can with the data. We’ve been in almost constant communication with leaders across Virginia. Made decision on Richmond by talking to epidemiologists, VDH, Mayor Levar Stoney.
- Questions on Petersburg water issue. Gov. Northam – One of the delegates who represents that area notified him that there were individuals without running water; his “kneejerk response” was that people need running water during this pandemic.
- Question on Culpeper County Sheriff saying he won’t enforce Phase 1 rules. Gov. Northam: “I don’t think that’s a good idea and we’ll deal with that.”
- Question on guidance for local registrars for Tuesday elections. Gov. Northam – Encourages Virginians to vote absentee. Have used volunteer medical corps and National Guard to staff polling places, providing PPE, taking all measures we can…social distancing, cleaning the machines, done everything we can to make voting as safe as it can be. Shouldn’t have to choose between voting and one’s health. Wanted to move the election to November, but the Senate didn’t agree, so he postponed it two weeks…that’s the most he can do.
- Question on people coming and going from Richmond. Nothing from Phase 0 has changed in Richmond. Stay at home, unless it’s an essential purpose.
- Question on testing at federal immigration facilities. Sec. Moran – they are not controlled by the state, they are operated by the federal government (ICE), so we do not have the authority to do what the governor has asked the Congressional delegation to address.
- Gov. Northam – hasn’t had any localities talking about wanting to go back to Phase 0, but will discuss it if it comes up.
- Question about beaches. Gov. Northam – actively having discussions with localities; just talked to VA Beach, have also talked to leaders in Norfolk, Hampton, Eastern Shore, etc. Working on a very comprehensive plan. Will probably make an announcement on Monday about our beaches, in anticipation of Memorial Day weekend. He’s proud of VA Beach. We understand it’s Memorial Day weekend, we understand the economy; the key is to do it safely.
- Question on a county desiring to go into Phase 2 earlier than others. Says he’s open to that discussion but hasn’t made any decisions in that regard.
- Question about VA Legislative Black Caucus opposed to moving into Phase 1 at this point. “I have a great relationship with the Black Caucus…they raised a # of concerns.” On PPE in communities of color – we have a health equity taskforce, we’ve been out in the community with a lot of volunteers handing out PPE, that’s improving on a daily basis. On testing, we have ramped up abilities to test, have gone out into communities, will expand it, improving on a daily basis. Child care also important; we’re putting $68 million toward child care. So, yes, “I take their input and their concerns very seriously…I follow the data….will continue to work with the Black Caucus…” What about workers on the front lines? That’s an important issue; we’re working on that. Health Equity Taskforce doing wonderful work.
- Northam – Today is a big step for us, moving into Phase 1. In order to continue into Phase 1, then Phase 2, Phase 3…we’re all in this together…need to continue to do the things we’ve done all along. “If we all work together, we can head in a great direction.” Says # of cases headed down (that’s not accurate based on VDH data), PPE and testing headed in a good direction…