See below for video and highlights from Gov. Northam’s Thursday 2 pm press briefing.
- Northam reminds Virginians of “how far we have come” re: COVID-19. Reviews the situation at the start of the pandemic, actions taken since then, etc. Says our efforts to slow the spread have continued to work, while other states see surges. In Virginia, “our numbers are very good” – lowest positivity % in weeks. We all need to keep handwashing, social distancing, etc. so we don’t see #s go up like in other states. This virus has not changed, has not gone anywhere…we can see that in other states. We need to protect ourselves and behave responsibly.
- Northam – We’re not even close to surge capacity at hospitals right now. We’ve ramped up our testing over the past few weeks. Thanks Dr. Karen Remley, who has taken a job with the CDC. Remley reminds people to wash hands, wear masks, etc. The rate of infection has come down below 1.0 (0.727 right now). We’re working aggressively at identifying cases early and contact tracing. Testing averaging around 10k per day, which was Gov. Northam’s goal. We’ve had 53k antibody tests so far, only 6.4% were positive for the antibody.
- Remley – Broad testing goals – anyone symptomatic and close contacts. Test 2%-4% of population per district per month (6k-13k per day). Over-test high-risk populations. 10% positivity for each region. Outbreak testing and containment. etc. Sentinel surveillance, mirrored after influenza model. Contact tracing and clinical care network for uninsured and underinsured. Remley says it’s been an honor to do this job, says Virginia is the best place to have partnerships…”it’s a success story for now” but “nobody let your guard down” because it’s going to be a “long summer and a long fall for COVID.”
- Gov. Northam thanks Dr. Remley again, says they are “dear friends,” go back a long ways.
- Gov. Northam talks about helping people who are having difficulty paying bills despite doing all the right things. Housing stability is a nationwide challenge, and Virginia has worked to end homelessness and investing in affordable housing. We have an eviction crisis in Virginia. Have worked to reduce rate of evictions, but the pandemic shows that many families are one financial challenge away from eviction. Moratorium on evictions goes through June 28; then, thousands of Virginians could face evictions, and that’s not acceptable. Calls on chief circuit court judges to further extend the moratorium as appropriate in their localities. Also taking action at the state level using $50 million in federal CARES Act funds. Pandemic having a disproportionate impact on people of color, so this program will have an equity lens. Priority is to prevent evictions and get Virginians back on track with mortgage, rental payments. Also working to help people having trouble paying their energy bills.
- July 1 marks the day that Virginia moves into Phase 3. Also the day that legislation takes effect. Highlights a few bills: decriminalize marijuana, raise felony threshold, end practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failing to pay court fees, body cams use by police departments. Also laws making it easier to vote. Looking to special session later this summer, focused on state budget but clearly a need to address police reform and issues of racial injustice. Says he’s committed to continuing this work and making meaningful changes. These are serious issues and will require thoughtful, serious process to create real reform that works for our communities.
- DMV offices now require appointments. Previously gave 90-day extension to renew licenses. Today, giving another 90-day extension.
- Back-to-school on everyone’s minds. Chief of Staff Clark Mercer says he’s gotten a lot of questions about kids going back to school this fall. As someone with young children, he understands the “juggling act” parents have been doing. “Guidance is not law”; it’s up to local school boards to decide how they’re going to reopen responsibly. Virginia is a diverse state. Most school boards are elected. Get to know your school board members and discuss reopening decisions with them. Local leaders are best positioned to do this thoughtfully. There is a state guidance document on school reopening. We don’t want to see Virginia in the position of several other states, with sharp increases in COVID-19. We’re definitely seeing an increase in cases among young people in other states. Also have adults/older people working in schools, who are very susceptible to COVID-19…plus, they can spread to other family members. Phase 3 will be several weeks long as health data is evaluated. Discussions on guidance for beyond Phase 3 are underway. This is all predicated on being smart about our own choices to curb the spread of this disease; that’s how we can open schools responsibly and get students back in the classroom.
- Question on science. Northam reminds people that we have scientists who focus on this, there are obviously people who don’t trust the science, but “we are data driven”; encourages people to “trust us as best you can.” The guidelines that have been recommended are “all very much science-based.”
- Question on lawsuit re: background checks. Northam says all the gun safety bills have been thoroughly vetted with the Attorney General and “are constitutional.” He’s confident they will stand, “we are on very solid legal grounds…don’t expect them to change.”
- Question on concerns over moving to Phase 3 and possibly reconsidering large (250) group sizes. Northam – we continue to encourage social distancing and facial coverings. Is he worried? “I worry every day…watch the data every day…will continue to do that…if we see the numbers trending in unfavorable directions,” will have to make difficult decisions. Also watching trends in other states.
- Dr. Dan Carey – Increasing # of contact tracing, right now about 1,050 contact tracers. Goal is 1,200 contact tracers…15 per 100k. Excited about contact tracing app. App should be ready by mid-July.
- Question on auto racing and Phase 3. Northam – question is also pertinent for other sports. Angela Navarro – can have some spectators, up to 1,000 individuals in Phase 3, with face coverings/social distancing/etc.
- Question on amusement parks. Northam says he wants them to open safely and responsibly as soon as possible. Also have to be cognizant that there are so many contacts at amusement parks. Will move forward safely as soon as possible. Realizes these decisions are tough, people have had to make a lot of sacrifices.
- Question on differences in data on nursing homes. Main difference is definitions between federal and state, so likely those #s won’t match. Also different time frames.
- Northam – we need comprehensive policing reform. We have a “fairly ambitious agenda.”
- Northam thanks everyone involved in the press briefings, says a free press is essential to a functioning democracy. Going forward, regular twice-weekly briefings will end. Will hold briefings as needed, continue to answer questions. Northam concludes final press conference by asking the media some questions.