We watch so you don’t have to
At his news conference today, Governor Northam said he’ll be providing guidelines for re-opening the Commonwealth during Monday’s 2PM press briefing.
When asked if he would let Executive Order 53 expire on May 8, the Governor said he would have more to say about that on Monday. He acknowledged that “there has been a tremendous amount of input from the business community.” He and his team are working on a blueprint for re-opening that will help consumers feel comfortable returning to business establishments.
Gov. Northam sounded confident that Virginia is making good progress combatting COVID-19. Hospitalization rates are steady and fairly flat. Dr. Karen Remley (who heads the testing work group) assured us that the Commonwealth now has a stable supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing supplies. Decontamination equipment is coming online to allow sanitizing PPE up to 20 times without degrading. Testing rates are ramping up; 5,800 tests were performed yesterday. Clinicians and health departments are being trained to facilitate the testing process.
As more tests are taken, more positive cases of the virus will be identified. But the Governor noted that the rate of positive results is slowing. Positive cases were doubling every 2-3 days; that rate has slowed to every 9-12 days now.
Particular attention is being given to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. (There was no mention of, nor questions about, the recent COVID outbreaks at poultry processing plants in VA.) With Dr. Remley’s leadership, it seems that testing efforts finally are being well coordinated.
A reporter asked about a reported jump in nursing home deaths from 118 yesterday to 311 today. Northam looked puzzled and asked, “You mean nationwide or here in Virginia?” He then called Dr. Laurie Furlano (head of the nursing home/long-term care facility task force) to the podium to answer the question. She couldn’t answer except to say there’s sometimes a lag in reporting.
Contact tracing will ramp up. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said the State has people numbering in the 100’s who are contact tracers and they are planning to grow that to 1,500. (Just the other day, I heard DC Mayor Bowser advertising a new job opportunity: contact tracer. I wonder if the CARES Act is funding this?)
Another reporter asked when the public will be notified about COVID outbreaks in nursing homes. Repeating what he has said before, Dr. Oliver said VA Code does not allow for the naming of specific facilities to be identified; for reporting purposes, they are categorized as “persons,” and so they cannot be named to protect anonymity. (Sounds like a law that needs changing.)
Governor Northam regrets that some people are still waiting for their unemployment checks. The State is working on updating its systems to handle the number of applications. According to the Governor, 500,000 Virginians have applied for unemployment. Last week, there were more applications than the previous three years combined. (It is striking to me that no reporter has asked the Governor how many State government employees have been furloughed or laid off since the shutdown began! I learned this week that the answer is ZERO, except for hourly workers who can file for unemployment.)
Answering another question, the Secretary of Commerce & Trade assured a reporter that federal and state resources are being used to promote “equity” in the fight against COVID-19. He noted that Northfield is a minority-owned company, which is doing a “marvelous job” distributing PPE supplies.
The Governor closed with a “homework assignment” for everyone. “Continue doing what you’re doing,” such as staying 6 feet apart, being in groups of fewer than 10 people, using facial protection if you need to cough or sneeze, wash your hands and use hand sanitizers, travel only if it is essential, and take care of friends and family. His homework over the weekend is going to be continuing to reach out to businesses and other groups he’s been consulting with, including faith leaders. (Who will earn a Gold Star?)
The Governor will have more to say on Monday. You can watch his press conferences live at 2 PM on various online sites, including wsls.com.