See below for video and highlights from today’s 2pm press briefing by Gov. Ralph Northam, covering COVID-19 and also the Parole Board controversy, among other things…
- Gov. Northam notes that it’s been a year ago this week, had our first know case of COVID and first death. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but we are hopefully in the final phase of this pandemic and the future really does look hopeful. Cases going down, vaccinations going up. We have achieved the goal of 50,000 shots/day. We’re 11th in the country in doses given, 6th in % of doses used. 18% (about 1 1/2 million) of Virginians have had at least one dose.
- Next week will start phasing in a handful of community vaccine clinics that we’re setting up with assistance from FEMA. Can vaccinate several hundred to several thousand people per day. Starting with sites in Petersburg, Portsmouth and Danville. Working to do this equitably. Make sure you pre-register and also answer your phone…
- This week the CDC said that people who are fully vaccinated can safely spend time inside with others who are fully vaccinated. That’s why we all need to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
- Getting kids back to school is crucial. 2/3 of school staff have received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 40% fully vaccinated. Virginia is prioritizing vaccinating teachers and school staff. There are ways for schools to hold in-person classes safely. Today, all of our school divisions have submitted plans for in-person learning options, and most have started. This is important for children’s education and well being. Children need to be in the classroom. When he goes into the classrooms, he can see the excitement from teachers and students. Classrooms are one of the safest places for children to be.
- We have lost 9,000 Virginians to COVID-19 in the past year. Many other Virginians have suffered other losses – jobs, income, security, etc. But we have seen such generosity the past year, people stepping up. Thank you to front-line health workers, first responders, law enforcement, etc. Keep doing the things we know work – social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, etc.
- On the Parole Board controversy, Gov. Northam says he supports parole/second chances. He also says the last thing he’s going to let happen is for this to become politicized; that is in nobody’s best interest. Third, supports an independent investigation…discussing this with AG and legislators…to get to the bottom of all this. The Inspector General’s office responds to Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer.
- Clark Mercer – “This is an incredibly important issue, frankly with a lot of unsubstantiated accusations being bandied about and a lot of politics being played.” Emphasizes importance of IGs, says he has a career track record with them. Most reports from IG don’t rise to level of discussing at a press conference. Agency heads routinely accept findings/recommendations of IG and implement them.
- On the Parole Board decision re: Vincent Martin, it is one of the most high-profile parole decisions in Virginia history. Mercer says it was a “brave and bold decision both by the Parole Board and the governor, and one that we stand by strongly.” “There have been individuals that have been very loud and very critical of parole in general – they don’t support parole…and in this particular case, they have been VERY loud in their opposition to the parole decision of Mr. Martin.”
- So, last summer, when a 6-page report was delivered to Mercer’s office about the PROCESS to parole Mr. Martin, not the policy decision to parole Mr. Martin. Several of the Republican legislators who have weighed in critically oppose the parole decision. There is confusion in the public, the legislature, and at OSIG’s office about how the parole process works. There is legislation sitting before the governor now to clarify the parole process.
- On the OSIG report on the parole process for Mr. Martin, Secretary Moran said he found it highly biased, omits sections of code that are relevant, points to some sections of code that are incorrect, and there’s substantial commentary on the type of individual Martin is that had nothing to do with the parole process that they were supposed to look at. Substantial writeups on Martin’s conduct while incarcerated were omitted.
- Mercer called the IG and asked them to discuss the report. Mercer et al left the meeting knowing there’s bias and lack of objectivity in that report. The Parole Board point-by-point rebutted the OSIG report (there has been minimal reporting on this).
- Mercer: Fast forward to yesterday, there’s a lawsuit that has been filed by an individual who is a primary author of the report into leaks of draft reports. Those draft reports contain unsubstantiated claims that are being bandied about as fact by political opponents – that is “incredibly irresponsible.” The IG is required by law if he comes across any credible example of criminal activity to pass that on to law enforcement… the IG “has done no such thing.” Gov. Northam has called for an independent investigation. There were leaks starting last summer, “including by members of the General Assembly.” “We want the investigation to run the gamut.” May include outside counsel.
- Mercer: “I was disappointed…that the counsel that has been retained in this lawsuit is on the ballot himself in November; he has sued the governor several times this year alone over elections and over COVID. He has sued Sen. Louise Lucas…Sen. Mamie Locke…Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn… both clerks…of the Senate and the House. Also is in a lawsuit with Sen. Amanda Chase. “Of all the thousands and thousands of lawyers one might retain on this very, very serious issue, to retain an overtly political stakeholder is disappointing. We need serious people to look into this.”
- On the VMI report that came out yesterday, Gov. Northam says many of the facts are “very disturbing.” Investigation needs to continue unencumbered…urges folks at VMI to cooperate. Want VMI to be open and welcoming. Final report probably in June/July timeframe.
- Northam – there are ongoing trials looking at safety and efficacy of vaccinations in children. Those trials won’t be completed until the fall/winter. So that’s going to take a while.