Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday (5/8) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday (5/8) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Gov. Northam presentes "the detailed framework for Phase One of our #ForwardVirginia plan"

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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.

  • Going to outline Phase 1 of easing restrictions will look like. Advance notice – lots of charts and graphs today…will be available on VDH website, charts on Virginia.gov website.
  • Where have we been? Two months ago, we were figuring out how to rearrange our lives due to the pandemic. Closed schools, went to teleworking, banned elective surgeries, restricted nonessential retail, etc. Back then, we had “one blunt tool – shutting everything down.” “It is working; our health data shows us that, our hospitals have not been overwhelmed.”
  • Now, we have “a steady supply of PPE” and believe it’s sustainable. We’re ramping up testing, Preparing to hire roughly 1,000 contact tracers. We have 325 contact tracers right now. This is all informing decisions about when to ease restrictions.
  • Hopeful Phase 1 will begin next Friday. Tools to fight this virus have changed, but our commitment to fight it has not. We are not flipping a light switch, we are turning up a dimmer switch just a notch – the virus is still in our communities and we need to continue our vigilance.
  • Forward Virginia plan has three phases; will give more detail on Phase 1 to slowly and deliberately ease SOME restrictions but not all. Will move forward with science, dat and safety.
  • Confirmed postiive cases – still going up, which is what we expect, in part b/c we are testing more people. Also, this virus is still out there.
  • People tested per day – trending upward overall, will continue to do more testing in the future.
  • % positive tests – goal is 14 day downard trend, and that is what we’re seeing.
  • Hospitals reporting shortages of PPE – trending downward, been several days at zero. Yesterday, we had a large shipment of PPE arrive from overseas via 747 transport plan that landed at O’Hare airport, trucks currently loading it and bringing it to Virginia.
  • Hospital capacity utilization – our hospitals currently have excess capacity
  • People hospitalized – essentially flat, which is “a good sign.”
  • Rate at which cases are doubling has slowed to 16 days.
  • Phase 1: In many ways, will look like what we’ve been doing. Will still encourage telework, 10-person limit on gatherings, encourage everyone to wear face coverings. The stay-at-home order will become a safer-at-home order. Everyone should only go out as needed, stay home as much as possible. People who are more at risk should also stay at home as much as possible. Everyone should keep up social distancing.
  • Non-essential retail will increase to 50% of capacity. Restaurants, breweries, beverage services can do 50% capacity outdoor service.
  • Entertainment and amusement facilities will remain closed.
  • Fitness and exercise – limited to outdoor.
  • Beaches – exercise and fishing only.
  • Places of worship – going up to 50% capacity.
  • Personal grooming services – may open if they can adhere to strict social distancing, with appointments and face coverings.
  • Private campgrounds – they can open, with restrictions on distance between campsites.
  • State parks – day use, overnight in phases.
  • Child care – open for working families.
  • Phase 1 will last two weeks or longer, depending on what the data shows. Decision to move into Phase 2 will depend on health metrics.
  • Some communities, particularly in Northern Virginia, might move more slowly – Phase 1 restrictions will be “a floor, not a ceiling.”
  • Businesses can reopen if they meet criteria for their industry. Reminds businesses that any reopening and recovery will be consumer driven  – encourages businesses to make customers feel comfortable/safe.
  • Workers are eager to get back to work, but there are workers afraid to go back right now. We’re going to do everything possible to protect you. Federal government should allow states more flexibility with unemployment benefits. If you don’t think your workplace is being safe, please report to Department of Labor and Industry.
  • Reiterates that next steps are informed by health data. This virus is still with us. It has no cure and no vaccination to date, and we could be living with it for months or years. Don’t let your guard down when we move into Phase 1 – it will be even MORE important for people to behave cautiously. Wash your hands, cover your face if you sneeze or cough, stay six feet away from people.
  • But…there are things we cannot put off, such as medical care. Encourages Virginians to take care of their health. Don’t let injuries or illness go untreated. If you’re ill or have COVID symptoms, your doctor can determine if you need to be tested.
  • Dr. Clifford Deal – Medical Society of Virginia  working to ensure that doctors can access testing for their patients. Virginia’s physicians will not let you down.
  • Gov. Northam – We are watching the numbers very, very closely; also, following CDC guidelines. Everyone has a role to play when we take a step forward. We are all in this together. What we do affects our neighbors, our community.
  • Dr. Norm Oliver – Cases = 22,342 (+772 over past 24 hours). Deaths = 812 (+43). Tests = 143,220 (+6,662). African American cases = 3,831 (24% of total cases). African American deaths = 182 (26% of deaths). Latinx = 5,857 (40% of total cases)…not sure why that number is so high, possibly related to outbreaks in meat-processing plants; deaths = 52 (8% of total deaths). Outbreaks = 260, more than half in nursing homes. Planning full-court press trying to get on top of nursing home outbreaks.
  • If there’s a surge going forward, we could bring back restrictions. This is a dynamic, fluid process…changes by the hour, day.  There’s no specific number, will look at all the data.
  • Dr. Remley – Hopefully by the end of next week, we’ll get to 10,000 tests per day.
  • New unemployment numbers show 14.7% in U.S. What’s your reaction to that and are Virginians getting the unemployment benefits and help they need? Dr. Healy – 1/2 a million Virginians have filed for unemployment. Virginia has expanded criteria, expanded benefits, including to “gig workers” (over 70,000 applied).
  • Question on reopening beaches – We are dealing with a “new normal,” risk of spread when a lot of people get together. VA Beach has put out a very comprehensive plan, dealing with distancing, cleansing, etc. Bottom line – consumers need to feel comfortable when they return to the beach that they’ll be safe and not contract the virus. We don’t have a date in place yet.
  • Why do gyms and restaurants have the restrictions they have, while retail and churches can go to 50% capacity? Northam – we’ve had tremendous amount of discussion with restaurant owners, collectively have made that decision, no point to “relitigate that here.” If we can continue to see data trending in a positive direction, hopefully in two weeks, we can go into Phase 2, where people can eat in restaurants at 50% capacity.
  • Why relying on % positivity rate as opposed to 14-day decline in total cases and deaths? Northam – we’re relying on the CDC guidelines, not just looking at one metric, and it’s explicit that we’re looking at 14-day trend of positive cases moving down. Also looking at PPE and testing.
  • Dr. Forlano – would have to look into how many COVID deaths had underlying health conditions. Northam – those with underlying conditions have poorer outcomes. People with traumatic brain injuries, mental illness, might be better off in a nursing home because they require the 24-hour care that just can’t be given at home.
  • Should code be changed to allow for nursing homes, long-term-care facilities to release more information. Northam – it’s not always as straightforward as you might imagine. What starts as one piece of legislation can look totally different by the end of the process. Says he supports transparency…how can we let the public, loved ones know what’s going on in long-term-care facilities, nursing homes. He’s open to legislation, but these things are in the code for a reason, in this case probably privacy reasons.
  • Question on # of hospitalizations going down for 14 days, yet that’s not happening so far. Northam – looking at trends, mostly the number of people on ventilators, ICU beds, in the hospital has been fairly flat.
  • Question on people, once they get back to “normal,” not being willing to go back to more restrictions again. Northam repeats his mantra – we are following trends, and trends our heading in a good direction. Also, not like we’re flipping a switch…this is more like a dimmer, turning up intensity as we can and as numbers allow. Will be very difficult to go back and forth, risks going out of business and never recovering. It’s about people’s health and wellbeing. As soon as we can do that, we want businesses to reopen.
  • Question on Rep. McEachin’s bill on the issue of utility services being cut off for delinquent customers. Northam – it shouldn’t happen, that’s the bottom line, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re asking people to wash their hands frequently, how can you do that if you don’t have running water in your house. Cutoffs are unacceptable and we have intervened on behalf of these individuals. That should never happen to Virginians or Americans – it’s totally unacceptable.
  • Question on more stringent restrictions by localities. Northam – we’ve had daily, sometimes more than that, communication with localities. Asks Clark Mercer to update on that. Mercer – have heard from Northern Virginia Regional Commission, on the phone earlier with the three largest counties, the region isn’t looking as good as the rest of Virginia and we acknowledge that. We ask them to review what Phase 1 is and what it is not – it is a very measured approach. We want there to be a Phase 2 and 3, which will require progress in Phase 1. If Northern Virginia as a region wants to go slower, delay by two weeks, Gov. Northam would be open to that. Have been in touch with neighboring states, DC. But doesn’t want one county to play by one set of rules, another to play by another set of rules. We hear from every region and every jurisdiction, hundreds of calls and emails. As a region, Northern Virginia has coalesced in moving together as region – it’s important that they act as a region.
  • Northam thanks everyone for following guidelines, helping to bend the curve…I know this has been difficult, a lot of you have made tremendous sacrifices. We’ll get through this together. Thanks staff – they have put tremendous work into this. We hear from a lot of different people on a daily basis. Appreciates businesses for their understanding. Input has been tremendous – thank you. To Virginians who want to go back to businesses, start thinking about what’s it going to take to be comfortable to do that; “that’s what we need to hear.”