Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (5/4) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday (5/4) 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.

  • Before talking about path forward, reminds everyone where we’ve been and how “our lives have changed drastically” since this all began when Virginia saw its first COVID positive case on March 7, “just shy of two months ago.” The fear then was that hospitals could be overwhelmed, so Gov. Northam to asked people to stay home, moved restaurants to takeout/home delivery, businesses to telework/online meetings, implemented social distancing. We put those into place, waited to see if we could flatten the curve, worked on COVID-19 response in a variety of ways. Everyone in Virginia made sacrifices and it’s “truly made a difference.” We flattened the curve and our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. But it’s come at a great cost and “this virus is still here…it will not go away until we have a vaccination.” All of our efforts have slowed its spread but not cured the disease. We must figure out a path forward knowing the virus is still with us. We must not relax our vigilance or think that the risk has passed, especially for our most vulnerable populations – elderly and those with underlying conditions.
  • Not entering Phase 1 today or this week, but maybe “as soon as next week.”
  • We anticipate three phases. Will still be safer at home. No social gatherings more than 10 people. Continued social distancing and teleworking. Face coverings recommended in public. Easing limits on business and faith communities. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection. Enhanced workplace safety, including face covering, setting schedules allowing for breaks to wash hands frequently. “Workplace safety is critical.” Will be publishing additional guidelines for specific industries.
  • Phase 1 could last 2-4 weeks or longer. You’ll be able to get your haircut, but you’ll need an appointment and you’ll see additional safety measures in salons. You’ll be able to go out to eat again, but restaurants will spread people out more, employees will wear face coverings and do more cleaning. More retail will be open, but with lower capacity and more requirements for cleaning. We will accommodate the needs of churches and houses of worship, but social distancing still matters.
  • Phases 2 and 3 will each last about 3 weeks, consistent with CDC guidelines, as long as health data continues to support it. Key is continued downward trends in positive tests, hospitalizations, stable supply of PPE, continued robust testing and contact tracing. To move to Phase 3, looking at no evidence of rebound for sustained period of time.
  • Will extend Executive Order 53 through May 14. Will adjust current stay-at-home order, emphasizing “safer-at-home” rather than “stay-at-home.”
  • Decisions will be made based on science and data. Held data briefing earlier today, and “I think you saw how complex it is.” We’re looking at the # of cases…will continue to go up in part b/c we’re doing more testing. Also looking at positive tests relative to # of tests; we want to see a downward trend in that percentage over 14 days. Planning to deploy 1,000 people as contact tracers. We are increasing our testing capacity. Want to see a downward trend in the % of cases hospitalized over 14 days. Also monitoring whether we have enough hospital beds and ICU capacity, particularly since hospitals have resumed elective surgery. Depends on adequate supply of PPE, which we now feel we have. Is virus stabilizing? Do hospitals have capacity to meet the need?
  • Virginia receiving 3 PPE decontamination units from Battelle, first up and running in Blacksburg. Anticipate other two in Newport News and Richmond this week.
  • Thanks Virginia National Guard…helping with testing in congregant settings, such as prisons. No one should be alarmed; they are here to help us.
  • Concerned about inceased # of COVID-19 cases at poultry processing plants in Accomack County, etc. Teams from CDC have come to Virginia to help. Working with poultry companies, CDC, etc. to test plant workers and members of the community. Also still closely tracking cases in Shenandoah Valley, which also has a large # of plants. Focus remains on the shore. Will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure that plants are implementing safety measures, workers can access healthcare.
  • Teachers have stepped up to meet enormous challenges as we’ve moved to virtual education. Parents have undoubtedly gained an increased appreciation for teachers. Good time to think about resilience, as we’re all dealing with stress. Children can learn to deal with adverse situations.
  • Virginia Health Commission Dr. Norm Oliver – Now have 19,492 cases (+821 new cases in last 24 hours); 684 deaths (+24). Total # of tests = 122,788. Outbreaks at 239, majority in long-term-care facilities. % of cases in communities of color continues to be disproportionately high (3,469 out of 13,433 cases are African American, about 26%; about 35% Latinx). Deaths – 27% are African American, 7% Latinx.
  • Question on coordination with Gov. Hogan, Mayor Bowser, NC, etc. Answer – “we have.” Probably won’t do everything on the same day but we’re trying to be as consistent as possible.
  • Question on timeline over next two weeks. Will try to give as much notice as possible, but as we look at the data trends, Northam anticipates moving into phase one on Friday, May 15th.
  • Any one metric being more heavily considered than others? Northam – Every morning when he comes to work he looks at number of new cases and deaths, and that is very powerful. We continue to see an increased number of positive cases and deaths…Number of deaths is the most powerful data for me…that gets his attention every morning. He’s here to keep Virginians safe, both as governor and as a doctor. Have put in an order for more swabs from FEMA, anticipates the # of swabs to go up and the demand goes up. We’re now up to 6k, plus or minus, on tests per day, with a goal of 10k tests per day.
  • Question on possibly opening rural areas earlier. Northam – we’ve had a great group of business leaders, including many from rural areas, and the overwhelming advice has been to do this as a Commonwealth rather than region by region. We don’t want people bringing in COVID-19 from other parts of Virginia and other states. Also don’t want to be “picking winners and losers.” Important to see Virginia as a Commonwealth. We’ve all sacrificed. When we go into Phase 1, he wants to do this as a Commonwealth as well. This has brought Virginians together; worries that if we do one region at a time, it’s potential for more division, and that’s the LAST thing we need. We will go into Phase 1 next Friday, and we’ll do it together.
  • Question on goal of 10k tests per day. Dr. Remley – we’re working very closely with clinical community. Putting out a survey to understand where gaps are. Will have webinar on Friday for physicians.
  • Question on campgrounds…Northam anticipated questions about specific industries, and we will clarify guidelines as we move through this week. Intention is to reopen campgrounds, with spacing guidelines, not staying more than 14 days…
  • “We will reopen Virginia next Friday.” Need consumers to feel safe to come back into places of business. Realizes it’s a week extension, but will give time to provide guidelines to busineses, so we can reopen as smoothly and safely as possible next Friday.
  • Question on whether, as we reopen, workers not ready to go back to work can continue to receive unemployment insurance.  Top priority is workplace safety. Waiting for guidance from the federal government for unemployment insurance eligibility, for instance if someone has an underlying condition.
  • Question on hiring 1,000 contact tracers. Dr. Oliver – reopening means we have to take very serious approach to identifying new cases, isolating people exposed, putting them into quarantine if necessary. Beginning process of hiring contact tracers, confident we can ramp up quickly.
  • Question on farmer’s markets/open-air markets, level of regulation after May 14. Northam – growing up on a farm, nothing more important than being able to get products to consumers. Want to make sure people have access to that as we move into Phase 1. Ag. Sec. Bettina Ring – we realize how critical farmers markets are, looking forward to opening up more…they’ve been fantastic. Now will be able to allow browsing, people wearing masks, excited about the opportunity as we move into spring/summer.
  • Question on allowing people to purchase takeout/delivery mixed drinks. Hasn’t addressed that specifically yet with ABC. As long as restaurants aren’t at full capacity, anticipates that policy staying in effect.
  • Question on lawsuit about churches. Counsel to the Governor Rita Davis – on Friday, Eastern District of VA denied the claims in a 30-page opinion; plaintiffs have appealed, DoJ has entered a statement of interest on behalf of the church…We believe governor’s authority prudent, necessary and contitutional.
  • Northam emphasizes we’ve been fighting a “biological war” for months now, and essentially what we’ve been asked to do as governors is to fight this war without any supplies, like sending Army/Navy with no ammunition. We started from ground zero competing for PPE, swabs to do tests. Finally, FEMA has stepped up, so we’re in a much better place today regarding what’s coming from Washington, but we started two months behind, because we had to do this on our own. All states are dealing with this situation. Commends leadership in Washington over the last couple weeks.
  • Northam emphasizes that everything we do is based on the constitution, decisions are made to protect Virginians. He understands people have made sacrifices, that some people are upset by his decisions, but he’s not standing up here to punish people…
  • In closing, Northam says any time there’s a crisis or a tragedy, we must as a society look at trying to bring some good from it, how we can learn/do better…There are some really hopeful things going on, such as colleges and pharmaceutical companies working as fast as they can to find treatments. For instance, remdesivir is very promising. That’s good news for people who contract COVID-19. Researchers are working around the clock to find a vaccine; that’s the “silver bullet” to put this crisis behind us. That’s encouraging. Thanks everyone who has made sacrifices during this pandemic. This hasn’t been easy on anybody; it’s very stressful. We lost a prominent, excellent emergency physician who worked in NY City…”she paid the ultimate sacrifice”; need support systems for healthcare providers, first responders…they are humans too, and stress can get to them…need support for these individuals, let them know it’s ok if they have a bad day, there’s help for you…Thanks everyone who’s been part of the solution to this, we’ll get through this if we all work together and come out of this even stronger.