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Gov. Northam to Hold Press Conference at 2 pm; What Are the Chances Virginia Goes Back to “Phase 2?” Should It?

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At Gov. Northam’s 2 pm press conference this afternoon, what do you think the chances are that he’ll announce Virginia – or at least parts of Virginia (such as Hampton Roads) where coronavirus cases are surging – rolls back to Phase 2?  Do you think Virginia should have entered Phase 3 in the first place? Should we go back to Phase 2 now? I’d argue “no” to the first question, “yes” to the second question.

  • Northam says we are still in the middle of a pandemic. “It’s been a hard summer and a difficult year.” About 87k cases in Virginia and more than 2,000 people have lost their lives. These numbers represent real people and real lives. Hopeful news – Virginia has so far avoided the dramatic increases other parts of the country are seeing. Cases largely stable in 4/5 of the state’s health district. Cases have dropped by 2/3 since peak in late May in Northern Virginia, because “people are doing the right thing and following the guidelines.” But concerning rise in cases in Hampton Roads. We are putting a lot of attention on Hampton Roads.
  • These are tough times. Children are confused, frustrated and scared…and even more so their parents. People desperately want to visit loved ones in nursing homes. Numerous stories of Virginians out of work having trouble putting food on table, keeping a roof over their heads. Difficulties with people going to work when they can’t socially distance.
  • Everyone is questioning what tomorrow will bring. Worried that people are starting to lose hope. There is a path out of this…”I see hopeful signs ahead.” Country’s best scientists making progress on a vaccine. Nursing homes situation has turned around…just about 1% of individuals tested are positive there, almost 3k people in nursing homes have recovered from COVID.
  • Just announced Rebuild Virginia to help small Virginia. Working on mitigation and recovery. “Be not afraid…we’re going to get through this together.”  People can feel helpless, but we do have the power to turn this around. We all know what to do – wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, avoid crowds, check in on each other…help your friends, neighbors, etc. We all need to hear uplifting stories, about people taking care of each other.
  • Met with Dr. Birx this morning. She was complimentary of our work. “We see her and… Dr. Fauci as our country’s medical leaders.” Convened a group of two dozen stakeholders from across Virginia, explained what they are seeing, concerns, testing turnaround times that are too long, need for national strategy, etc. “It was a very positive meeting.” Birx said pandemic today much different than it was a few months ago, so the way we address it has to be different too.
  • Now testing 17k-20k people per day in Virginia. % positive curve looks a lot better, at 7.3% statewide, down from 7.7% last week; dramatic decrease in NoVA to 5.7%. Numbers relatively stable in Southwest Virginia. Concerned about Hampton Roads the Peninsula, where overall rate is 10.8% positive (ranging from 9.9%-18.6%). Outside of Hampton Roads and the Peninsula, positivity rate for Virginia is just 6%. Case #s, hospitalizations rising in Hampton Roads/Peninsula. Shift towards younger patients. We need to act to turn this around.
  • Putting a lot of attention on Hampton Roads. Stepped up enforcement. Need to take additional steps to avoid congregating. Midnight Thursday night, executive order takes effect for Hampton Roads – no alcohol after 10 pm, effectively closing all bars; indoor dining limited to 50% capacity, along with food courts, distilleries, wineries, etc.; public/private social gatherings of more than 50 people prohibited. Too many people gathering together and being selfish is the problem. Alcohol is part of this problem.
  • Ways we are helping local government. Beginning to distribute almost $645 million in CARES Act money to localities this week.  This is good news. Virginia distributed money much quicker than other states, and also a higher percentage (almost half of Virginia’s entire allocation). This money will help localities provide rent assistance, eviction protection, food security, PPE, tools to help educate children, etc. Accountability measures being put in place to make sure this money is spent properly.
  • We have a path forward, we can put this healthcare pandemic behind us, need to take the politics out of it, take some air out of “a very tense balloon” and get this behind us.
  • Question on regional approach. Northam says all options are on the table, he’s been using a set of metrics, he watches them every day, had that discussion with Dr. Birx. Best policy is to stay ahead of the curve. Decision today is to really address what’s going on in Hampton Roads. If he sees numbers trending up in other regions, he’ll take action accordingly.
  • Trying to work through testing turnaround issues.
  • Question on making testing and contact tracing more effective. It’s unacceptable for it to take 10-14 days. It makes it so much more difficult to trace when you don’t have immediate results. There has been increased demand for testing around the country. A lot of things are contributing to this challenge. Scientists are working on a quick-turnaround antigent test that’s on the spot, 15-20 minutes results. That will really help us to control the virus, do the tracing, let people know when they need to quarantine.
  • Dr. Birx “validated a lot of the great work we’re doing in Virginia.” There’s a disconnect between what the health experts are saying we need to do and what President Trump is telling us, “and that’s unfortunate.” We’re in the middle of a “biological war,” so we need to be working together and not receiving mixed messages.
  • Question on quarantining travelers from high-risk states. Gov. Northam says “we are certainly considering that,” but in the meantime encouraging people to self-quarantine when they come back from high-risk states. Northam says he’s watching closely what’s going on in other states, “all options are on the table.”
  • Question on whether Northam conveyed his concerns about Trump to Birx. Northam says he didn’t talk about that. Dr. Birx advocated for wearing masks, social distancing, staying at home, while the message from Trump is to “liberate Virginia,” open. “There’s a disconnect” and that’s “unfortunate.”
  • Northam says the inequity in testing is very concerning. Doing everything he can to make sure all Virginians have access to testing with reasonable turnaround times. There’s been no direction, no program nationally, leaving governors on their own…could have been avoided with better leadership at the national level.
  • Northam says the increase in COVID numbers “significantly” impacts the chances of children going back to school.  Children can be asymptomatic, take the virus home to families – “It’s a recipe for disaster if the numbers in a community are high and we’re sending our children into schools…a good example is [the Florida Marlins]…It can get out of hand very quickly.”
  • On protesting, Northam says he condones PEACEFUL protesting, encourages them to wear facial protection and to socially distance. Says he does NOT condone people who come to Richmond with the intent of being destructive.
  • Northam says his response to anyone who says this isn’t real, a big deal, etc. would be that we’ve lost 2,000+ Virginians, take some time and talk to the families of those who’ve lost their lives. Talk to healthcare workers who are covered in PPP all day. Listen to their stories if you don’t believe this is a real problem. Listen to people who have been on a ventilator and have recovered.