Sporting a kelly green facemask around his neck at today’s press conference, Governor Ralph Northam walked back his earlier statement that the Commonwealth would need to move forward together as we come out of the COVID-19 shutdown. He announced that, as he begins to ease up on restrictions, some localities may be permitted to keep stricter conditions in place for a period of time.
When asked by a reporter who will have the final say on local restrictions, the Governor replied, “I will have the final say.” Tomorrow, he will have a teleconference with the “leaders of northern Virginia.”
It’s important to note that the Governor singled out northern Virginia (specifically Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax) as having higher COVID-19 case numbers, as does the Eastern Shore where poultry plant outbreaks have occurred. If those regions need “another week or two, we’ll work with them on that.” [Readers may want to contact their local officials ahead of tomorrow’s call.]
Governor Northam continues to be pleased with the trends as we approach entering Phase 1 on May 15. The percentage of tests coming back positive is trending downward; hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are stable, testing and contact tracing are increasing.
The Eastern Shore region continues to be of particular concern because of outbreaks in poultry plants (employing 3,000 people), a nursing home and a convenience store. It sounds like the plants have not been shutdown, but that testing has increased as have precautionary measures inside the plants. The National Guard is helping test the surrounding communities. Some local hotels are housing quarantined workers. [Wouldn’t you like to know which hotels?]
Title 32 of the US Code allows the federal government to financially assist States with the cost of deploying the National Guard. President Trump has allowed for such assistance through May. Governor Northam is asking him to extend that authorization, although he did not say for how long.
Major General Timothy Williams, the National Guard Adjutant General for Virginia, gave a detailed presentation about the mission of the Guard in the Commonwealth, which dates its founding back to the Jamestown Settlement in 1607. The Guard is providing additional capacity and capability wherever needed, especially to long-term care and correctional facilities where testing has been vital. They also are supporting food banks and distribution of supply packages to ensure a coordinated State response. Maj. Gen. Williams noted that this Friday is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.
Gov. Northam then returned to the podium to announce that today is Nurses Appreciation Day and reminisced about his mother’s service as a nurse.
Health Commissioner Oliver did not give any COVID-19 updates because the computer system is down due to a technical problem. It should be up by the end of today.
In answer to a question, Brian Moran (Secretary of Public Safety) pronounced that, just because the school at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center has been closed, it does not mean that child support is suspended.
Another reporter claimed that there is bi-partisan support for changing VA Code to allow the identification of nursing homes when there is a health crisis at the facility; currently, the homes are classified as “persons” whose identity cannot be made public. Gov. Northam deferred to Dr. Carey (Secretary of Health and Human Resources) to answer, who more or less re-stated the issue and then deferred back to the Governor, who then asked for the next question.
Health Commissioner Oliver reiterated that his Department will be hiring an additional 1,000 contact tracers. He didn’t know how many tracers he already had, but said it was somewhere around 200-300 people. Going forward, he assured that, “We’ll know how many we hire as we ramp up.” Gov. Northam added, “We must have the ability to trace in order to move into Phase 1.” [Is the goal post moving again?]
An obviously sympathetic reporter asked the Governor, “How are you holding up?” He replied simply, “How am I doing? I am doing fine.” Then he meandered a bit through his history as a doctor serving during the Iran-Iraq war, treating the wounded, and losing track of the days. The Governor praised his staff which is working 7 days a week around the clock “in the best interest of the health and well-being of Virginians.” [He didn’t talk about the personal devastation and mental health challenges that can come with job losses. And yet again, no reporter asked how many State government employees have lost their jobs during this time of crisis.]
In closing, Gov. Northam promised more detail about how we enter Phase 1 at his Friday press conference. His main goal is “to make sure consumers are comfortable.”