Home Coronavirus Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Tuesday (5/26) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Live Video, Highlights: Gov. Ralph Northam’s Tuesday (5/26) Virginia COVID-19 Briefing

Northam widely expected to announce face masks order of some sort at 2 pm

7

See below for live video and highlights from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2 pm press briefing on the COVID-19 situation in Virginia. This past Friday, of course, Northam strongly hinted that he’d be making a major announcement on some sort of face mask mandate. Northam added that Virginians’ “homework this weekend is to have a safe and peaceful weekend, make plans for you and your family to have facial protection, whether you purchase it or make it yourself.” Unfortunately, Northam somewhat undercut his own message by failing to wear a mask or practice social distancing; that’s almost certain to be raised by reporters at the 2 pm presser. Stay tuned.  (also note: according to this article, “Portions of 39 states, including New York, Maryland, Hawaii, Connecticut, Michigan and Pennsylvania now have face-covering requirements while in public areas.”)

  • Northam addresses his visit to Virginia Beach on Saturday. Talks about the plan Virginia Beach had to reopen the beach safely. On Saturday, he says he visited with the intent of speaking to the mayor, thanking first responders, seeing how the reopening plan was working. Also planned to take a few questions from the press. On the way, some well-wishers came up to him and asked to take pictures. “I was not prepared, because my mask was in the car; I take full responsibility for that. People held me accountable, and I appreciate that. In the future, when I’m out in the public, I *will* be better prepared. We’re all forming new habits and routines and we’re all adjusting to this new normal.”
  • Pleased to report that VA Beach performed well this weekend, did not see large crowds. People were social distancing and following the rules. VA Beach can be a model for the rest of the country. Working with other beach cities to reopen beaches this weekend.
  • Numbers over the weekend show % positivity trending downards, testing increases, hospital capacity looking good, etc. The virus clearly is still here, but overall these numbers are trending in the right direction. This is the assessment of our state team and of the health district directors across NoVA. On Sunday, they sent a letter to Commissioner Oliver, writing that NoVA has met 4 of 6 metrics to move into Phase 1.
  • Northam also in communication with Accomack County officials; they are ready to move into Phase 1.
  • Also in conversation with the mayor of Richmond on joining the rest of Virginia in Phase 1.
  • Phase 1 loosens some restrictions, but “just because you can open doesn’t mean that you have to open.” “Phase 1 looks the same for everyone.”
  • Everyone will need to wear a face covering, starting this Friday, when inside at a public place. That’s at a store, barber shop, restaurant, public transportation, government building, etc. Science clearly shows that the virus spreads less easily when everyone’s wearing face coverings. Exceptions: while eating or drinking; while exercising; if you have trouble breathing; if your health conditions prohibit wearing a mask.
  • This is about protecting those around us, especially our workers. That means face coverings. They don’t need to be medical grade; you can make your own. All you need is a piece of cloth and some rubber bands. You can even grab a bandana.
  • This is not a criminal manner. Law enforcement will not have a role. Not looking for people to get in trouble for not wearing a mask, but to do the right thing. Science shows that masks can help stop the spread of the virus.
  • Protecting workers is critical as we move forward. Commissioner of Virginia Dept. of Labor and Industry will draft new workplace safety standards (PPE, sanitation, hazard pay, etc.) around COVID-19.
  • Remember that your actions have consequences. Remember the golden rule. Optimistic because he’s seen Virginians do the right thing time and again over many weeks. This is bringing out the best in most people.
  • Dr. Norm Oliver – 1,615 new cases. Testing has increased over past couple weeks.
  • Question about Gov. Northam having the moral authority to order people to wear masks after he didn’t wear one at Virginia Beach on Saturday. Basically reiterates his previous answer (see above). Emphasizes that it was in “open air” with “social distancing” (NOTE: although if you look at the pictures, he definitely wasn’t 6 feet apart). “This is not just about me, it’s about all Virginians.”
  • Question on greenlighting Phase 1 for Northern Virginia. Northam – Yes, the plan is to greenlight Northern Virginia to enter Phase 1 on Friday.  As for the rest of Virginia moving into Phase 2, right now we don’t have the data or the trends yet to make us comfortable to say right now. We’ll be in Phase 1 through Friday; we’ll look at the evidence as we move closer and decide if we can enter Phase 2.
  • Question on enforcement of masks guidelines. Northam reiterates that this is not about law enforcement, it’s about public health. General Assembly will come back in July or August, could look at potential civil fines. For now, will be enforced through VA. Dept. of Health. Not clear how that would happen exactly.
  • Question on tools for enforcing facial covering requirement. Chief of Staff Clark Mercer – there are both practical and equity issues for any criminal enforcement, so that’s off the table. Possibly the civil code will be a tool in the toolbox. VDH will have the ability to revoke licenses, etc. for “grossly negligent” businesses.
  • Question about timeline: Northam emphasizes that this is a *novel* virus; until it’s safe, especially for workers…no given timeline.
  • Question about face protection for students, teachers, staff, etc. in schools. There’s a task group, this issue is being addressed. Would like to have students back this fall.
  • Question about metrics for NoVA entering Phase 1. Ramping up PPE. Same for contact tracing…looking at resume, hiring over 1,200 individuals, that process is moving forward nicely. We are encouraged by the numbers that we see. Will keep Virginians safe.
  • Question on Richmond. Received a letter from Mayor Stoney this morning, hope to make an announcement as soon as we can. We’re in discussions right now.
  • Question on VDH data discrepancy over the weekend due to maintenance, whether Sunday’s numbers were accurate. Dr. Oliver – servers underwent maintenance, while down weren’t processing, so when they came back up, there were two days worth of data.
  • Question whether Northam’s being tested regularly for COVID-19. “To date I haven’t been.” There are a lot of great community testing sites, and he looks forward to going to one of those in the near future to get tested, show how easy it is, and encourage Virginians to get tested.
  • Question on tracking recovery of COVID-19 patients and putting that information on the VDH website. Dr. Carey – that information is readily accessible on the VHHA website. Vast majority don’t get admitted to the hospital and recover. Have not thought it needed to put the numbers on the website, but it’s readily available in the public domain on the VHHA website…
  • Question on data breakouts for people of color. Dr. Oliver – there’s some missing data, might not be able to be “magically dealt with by an order,” it has to do with what the people ordering the tests places on the order. If the information is on there, VDH gets it from the labs. Have worked on educating clinicians to encourage them to include race/ethnicity data and have seen really great improvement (used to be missing half, now only missing 20% or lower). We’re committed to protecting those who are most vulnerable.
  • Question on people who have to go to work. If someone feels unsafe, they should work with their employer, but if that doesn’t work, they can file a complaint with OSHA.gov. Northam has requested new, emergency standards from DOLI…the Board of Standards should be meeting soon.
  • Question on localities seeing high per capita death rate.   Dr. Oliver – health equity work group looks at communities that are particularly at high risk, looking at chronic conditions, poverty, employment rates, etc. Have used that to target communities that would benefit from extra attention and more intervention to protect them from COVID-19.
  • Question on # of deaths with underlying health conditions. Depends on whether that data is available to us, whether that information is reported, how the health care provider reports the death to VDH.
  • Question on coordination with MD, DC. Still having almost daily communications. Each area has its own challenges, but as best we can, we want to be consistent in DC metro area…
  • Northam – This is about the health and well being of Virginians, of workers. Homework – please arrange to have a facial covering; this requirement will go into effect on Friday. This is NOT about punishing people, NOT about putting people in jail. We are trying to promote safety. We are all in this together. Encourages everyone to cooperate, be part of the solution.