Feb 24, 2021

Gov. Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 24

Gov. Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 24
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsGov. Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 24

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a press conference on February 24, 2021. He announced relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. Read the full news briefing speech transcript here.

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Governor Ralph Northam: (02:15)
Good morning and thanks to all of you for joining us. I know this is a little bit earlier than you’re used to tuning in, but this afternoon at our normal time for these events, we are welcoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Richmond. She’s visiting the Massey Cancer Center at VCU, and we’re honored to welcome her on her first trip outside of Washington as our First Lady. Today, I want to talk about vaccinations, the Federal Pharmacy Partnership, and the next steps for slowly easing a few of the current medication measures, which we are able to do because cases are falling and vaccinations are rising. Let’s talk about three different numbers. First, the number of cases. Today, our daily new case average is 1,708, the lowest it’s been since before Thanksgiving. Second, let’s look at the number of vaccines. We’ve administered almost 1.7 million doses overall. More than 1.1 million Virginians have received the first dose. That’s about 13.5% of the population. Our daily vaccine numbers are down temporarily because of delays from winter storms. But before that happened last week, we were averaging about 36,000 shots into arms a day. This is a big week this week for getting shots in arms.

Governor Ralph Northam: (03:55)
Last week, President Biden’s administration announced a bump in vaccine allocations from states; and winter weather in Virginia and beyond last week meant that vaccine shipments were delayed and a number of vaccination clinics were postponed. Now, those shipments are coming in and our health districts are working to get them in arms just as fast as possible. Bottom line, our health districts are out there getting vaccine into arms, like I said, as fast as we can. Virginia has been a leader among states in getting people vaccinated and we will keep that trend up. This week, there are about 220 vaccination events around the state.

Governor Ralph Northam: (04:47)
Third, let’s look at the numbers at our new call center. Last week we launched a new statewide pre-registration system so that any Virginian can sign up online at vaccinate.virginia.gov, or by calling 877-VAXINVA. Since that launched, almost a half a million Virginians have pre-registered. This is great news. The system is working and it is meeting a much needed effort. That is on top of 1.2 million Virginians who had previously signed up with their local health department. So we have 1.7 million Virginians now pre-registered, and the call center has received more than 100,000 calls so far. And as I said last week, the call center is in English and Spanish, and we have a call back program that covers about 100 different languages. If you’re one of those folks who pre-registered through your local health department, you don’t need to sign up again. You can check your status at vaccinate.virginia.gov. And if you have questions, again, you can call 877-VAXINVA or (877) 829-4682.

Governor Ralph Northam: (06:23)
Now, let’s talk a little bit about where these shots are available. I mentioned that the Biden administration boosted vaccine allocations last week. They also increased the number of vaccine doses going to pharmacies in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership. That means more pharmacies are coming online this week to start giving shots through that federal partnership. CVS started vaccinating Virginians at certain locations a couple of weeks ago, and Walgreens will start later this week. In addition, Walmart, Albertsons, which owns Safeway, K-VA-T, which owns Food City, RBS which owns Giant, and a network of independent community pharmacies are all coming on board to start vaccinating eligible Virginians. They all share a federal allotment of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Governor Ralph Northam: (07:28)
Now, not all of the locations for each of these companies will be receiving vaccines. Locations are decided by the companies in consultation with our Virginia Department of Health to focus these efforts on high risk and vulnerable communities, and Walmart plans to hold vaccination clinics at off-site locations that our health department and department of emergency management help to choose. So Walmart won’t be vaccinating in its stores at all. So please don’t go there looking for a shot. They’ll be out at community sites. The great thing about this is offsite mass clinics will allow Walmart to vaccinate a few hundred people a day, and it will allow them to choose different locations each week based on need. All of these pharmacies will prioritize those 65 and over, and all vaccinations are by appointment only. So again, please don’t just show up, but go onto our website or make the phone calls and make sure everybody can get registered.

Governor Ralph Northam: (08:42)
A couple of weeks ago, CVS became the first pharmacy in the federal partnership to start vaccinating in Virginia. We’ve had conversations with these additional pharmacies about working with our pre-registration system, and they’re all willing and interested in working together, but there are still some technology barriers. Some pharmacies are able to work with our pre-registration system online, but others are not. So we’re putting creative solutions in place. This week, the call center is making outbound calls to schedule appointments for Walmart and Giant. Call center workers are calling people in Virginia’s pre-registration database. So when your phone rings, you need to please answer it.

Governor Ralph Northam: (09:32)
We expect to expand this effort next week and beyond with the call center setting up appointments for other pharmacies using the VDH pre-registration database. We’re also working to connect these pharmacies with the state’s list. We’re encouraging health districts to share their wait list database with the pharmacies. These partnerships are expanding very quickly and the majority of pharmacies in this federal partnership will work with our system, and that’s a good thing. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that Virginians who signed up with the VDH list are in line for pharmacy appointments.

Governor Ralph Northam: (10:14)
I’m glad that these pharmacy chains are willing to work with us and I’m grateful that this federal partnership puts an additional 52,000 vaccine doses per week into Virginians’ arms. We’re also grateful this week to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which is allocating $179 million to Virginia to help cover costs to identify and set up future mass vaccination sites. We’re not currently hosting those sites, but we don’t want to wait until we have enough vaccine supply to do so to start the planning. We will be ready as supply expands. But we do expect to see vaccine supply increase soon, in part because as you all probably heard on the news, Johnson & Johnson vaccine is likely to get approval from the FDA.

Governor Ralph Northam: (11:11)
Just this morning, FDA staff confirmed that the vaccine is safe and we could see doses coming to states as soon as next week. That is great news because that will allow us to vaccinate more people and get closer to, as you all have heard us talk about before, herd immunity. So starting next week, just to summarize, we’ll have three vaccines in Virginia that are safe and effective: Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer. All of these vaccines are shown to reduce serious illness and death from the virus. People ask me which is the best one to get. Well, I would sum that up by saying the best vaccine is the one you get. Now, I’d like to talk about trends that are making it possible to ease some of the mitigation measures that are now in place. Last year, to slow the spread of the virus, we put limits on how many people could be together at various events or in certain places of business, and it worked. As our COVID cases and hospitalizations went down, we slowly raised those limits through phased reopenings. But as the cold weather and holidays approached, cases started getting higher than ever before. So we took the sensible step and reintroduced some of those mitigation measures. Limits on social gatherings and a curfew, for example.

Governor Ralph Northam: (12:46)
Now almost two months past Christmas, and with thousands of Virginians vaccinated, we’re finally seeing COVID numbers fall and vaccination numbers rise. That means we can start to consider how to slowly, safely ease some of the measures we put in place before the holidays. So here’s what that will look like starting this Monday on March the 1st. We’re going to expand alcohol sales to midnight. As you know, previously, they were to close at 10:00, so that will go to midnight. And the modified stay at home order will be lifted. So no more curfew from 12:00 to 5:00, but I still would encourage folks after midnight to please be at home. We’re able to ease restrictions on outdoor gatherings. Outdoor social gatherings can have up to 25 people up from the current 10. At outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues, the limit will move from 250 people to 30%, with a cap of 1,000 people.

Governor Ralph Northam: (13:57)
Now, if the trends continue as they are, cases down and vaccinations up, I would expect that by April we could be able to continue the 30% measure, but remove the 1,000 person cap for outdoor venues. We will be working with venues to strengthen their ability to implement safety measures. And we hope that with trends continuing as they are, that we can look at further steps in the coming months. But it’s critical that we do this slowly and thoughtfully. Monday, as you all know, is March the 1st. It will be just six days shy of a year since the first positive COVID case was identified in Virginia. We have come a long way since then through a very, very tough time, and we do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly. Not now when more and more Virginians are getting the protection of vaccines and not when variants that can infect more people more quickly are spreading. We are at a dangerous but very hopeful moment, hoping that we can spread vaccinations faster than the variants, and I believe that we can. For now, everyone needs to continue doing the things that we know work: social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands. Finally, while we have focused on COVID and vaccines, the general assembly is wrapping up its final week of session. Together, we have made important progress on major, major issues: ending the death penalty, getting children back into the classrooms, expanding voting access, legalizing marijuana, and much, much more. I appreciate the work that the legislators have done and I look forward to reviewing the legislation that they have…

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:03)
… legislators have done, and I look forward to reviewing the legislation that they approve when it gets to my desk. Thank you, and I’ll be glad to take your questions. Henry?

Henry: (16:10)
Oo, caught me off guard.

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:16)
That’s all right. Take your time.

Henry: (16:16)
On the federal partnership with pharmacies, is the complicating factor there that you are dealing with a commercial partner and you can’t really dictate to them? Because there just seems to be so much confusion right now. I mean, I know you said Walgreen’s is supposed to be rolling out later this week, but I think some actually opened today.

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:30)
Yes.

Henry: (16:31)
What do you say to Virginians who are just confused right now?

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:33)
Yeah, that’s a great question. We have been working diligently to get it as smooth as we can and least confusing we can. Dr. Avula, if you just want to address it. He’s been working with the different pharmacies. To your point, there are now eight different pharmacies.

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:52)
Anyway, before Danny gets here. I just want to commend him and his team. They have really been doing everything that they can to make this as straightforward as we can. Danny, thank you.

Dr. Danny Avula: (17:03)
The question is with the new part two of the retail pharmacy, how is it working and how are we just trying to streamline people’s access to those pharmacies?

Dr. Danny Avula: (17:12)
I’ll first say that I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Stephanie Wheawill, our state pharmacist, and the work that she’s done to work out all of these different arrangements with a lot of different pharmacy partners. Our goal and our intent, absolutely, is to continue to prioritize the 65- and-up population across all pharmacies. We know that is our highest-risk population in 1B and want to get as much access to vaccine as we can. Then also to honor the pre-registration process, right? The list that people have signed up for and been placed on.

Dr. Danny Avula: (17:46)
All of this has moved incredibly fast. We find out last week from the White House that this is opening up. We have 24 hours to determine who those pharmacy partners are. We executed those arrangements and have been over the last few days ironing out the logistics of how you actually get from a pre-registration list to an appointment with a pharmacy.

Dr. Danny Avula: (18:05)
The good news is that all of those new pharmacies have said we are absolutely willing to work, not all, but most of those pharmacies are willing to work off of those lists. That’s happening through a few different ways. Dr. Wheawill really just to not slow vaccination at all said, “Go ahead and use your appointments, focus on the 65-and-up, but just do that for the first few days.” As we have the local health departments curate their pre-registry lists, and then either the call center, as you heard earlier, is doing some outbound calling to fill some of those appointments, local health departments themselves are staffing up to fill some of those appointments, and then in some cases, the pharmacies themselves are calling off of that list to fill some of those appointments. I think a few days from now, we’re really going to be able to make sure that those pre-registration lists are honored and that’s filtering into pharmacy appointments across the state.

Speaker 1: (18:55)
On the phone, Jimmy LaRoue, Suffolk News-Herald.

Jimmy LaRoue: (19:00)
Hi, Governor. Thank you for taking our questions.

Jimmy LaRoue: (19:02)
It seems that the pandemic and the vaccine rollout in part seems like it’s stretched local health departments in particular in Western Tidewater and the Crater Health District, several health departments, local health departments have either been closed long-term or have been limited in services and that that had incited so many issues as part of that. What is being done to make sure that the local health departments have the needed resources as these vaccines continue to roll out so that they can stay open?

Jimmy LaRoue: (19:31)
Then second, even with the improvement in cases of hospitalization that you’ve outlined, several hospitals in Southeast Virginia have been at or near their ICU capacities for several weeks, and that’s with expanded capacity with that. What’s your level of concern with this, especially with the virus’ variants making inroads, and then also in announcing the relaxed restrictions?

Governor Ralph Northam: (19:55)
Yeah. Great. Two different questions. I think, one, Dr. Oliver can address our health departments. Then as far as our ICUs, I’ll let Dr. Carey address that.

Governor Ralph Northam: (20:06)
Dr. Oliver, thanks.

Dr. Norman Oliver: (20:10)
The question was about certain districts in the south side of Virginia, Crater Health District, Western Tidewater and others who may have some challenges as the reporter mentioned in meeting their vaccination goals.

Dr. Norman Oliver: (20:28)
The Virginia emergency support team, the whole of government approach that we have to conducting this campaign, is very much aware of trying to provide resources in terms of personnel and logistics, project management and other things to these districts. I actually think Dr. Avula could speak more specifically to some of the plans that are coming up this coming week, for example, with increasing the number of vaccination sites in the Crater Health District. We have plans of foot to provide even more support in the coming weeks.

Governor Ralph Northam: (21:06)
Thank you.

Dr. Danny Avula: (21:06)
Yeah, of course.

Dr. Danny Avula: (21:12)
I first want to say that some of these local health districts have just been doing amazing work for a year, right? I mean, when we think about the building up the infrastructure for contact tracing and case investigation, for testing, for providing support for their local governments, there’s never been a time in history where local public health has been demanded so much of. Those districts really have done incredible work for this last year.

Dr. Danny Avula: (21:37)
Now where we’re at a stage where we’re having to scale up for mass vaccination, we do recognize we need to bring along additional resources. We’ve done that through the vest, through the state supports, the VDEM and others. We are augmenting the vaccination capacity. For example, this coming week in Petersburg, there’ll be a 2000 person vaccination event to come alongside the many pods per week that the Crater Health District is already doing.

Dr. Danny Avula: (22:01)
We are monitoring that data week in, week out. We’re identifying the districts that need that additional support. Then we are channeling resources, whether they are outside contracted support or finding other partners, pharmacies and other providers, and we’re making sure that vaccine gets to those communities where we’ve seen lower vaccination rates.

Dr. Danny Avula: (22:19)
What we’ll have to monitor moving forward is: Is it simply an issue of supply, not enough vaccine getting out there and capacity, or are there some districts where we’re just going to see lower uptake rates because of lower demand? We’ll start to monitor district by district what those uptake rates look like and what the distribution, the demographics of vaccination in those communities will look like as well.

Governor Ralph Northam: (22:43)
Great. Thanks, Dan.

Dan: (22:47)
Good morning. Good morning, Governor.

Dan: (22:49)
The question really is around the ICU capacity, especially in Tidewater, south side of Tidewater. You are correct that Tidewater is where the highest region in terms of the new infections per day. Today, they’re right around 29 new infections per day per a 100 thousand, whereas the average for Virginia is right at 23. Some areas like far Southwest Virginia are down almost to 10, at 11.8. That’s good news.

Dan: (23:19)
Each region is falling and we look every day on a regional basis: What are those ICU admissions and capacity per each district? It is falling in every region of Virginia, which is very good news. But in some regions in this case, Tidewater, they’re still being stressed. There’s no doubt about that. But if you look at the total across Virginia, there’s been a 48% reduction in the seven day moving average of hospitalization since the peak of the 17th or 18th of January. That is very, very good news, but it’s not even, and we know that a lot of our health systems and our nurses and our doctors and all of the teams that are working are still stressed.

Dan: (24:03)
Also, frankly, there, there has been some deferred other illnesses that folks have not sought out. The good news is that increasingly they’re seeking out care for other conditions. Sometimes that does require ICU use. The ICU utilization is still up for cardiac surgery, for neurosurgery, for complex abdominal surgery and other conditions. We know that our healthcare system is still being stressed and also that workforce has been stressed for a year, just like our local health departments that Dr. Avula mentioned. But we can say the same about our teachers and our childcare workers.

Dan: (24:41)
We all want to get this behind us. The way to get there is exactly what the governor said: Physical distancing, wearing face masks, hand hygiene, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn and we will get this behind us.

Governor Ralph Northam: (24:57)
Thank you, [inaudible 00:24:57]. Kate?

Kate: (25:00)
Yeah, thank you. I was wondering, first, if the state has any concrete data on this point on how many people are not returning for second doses of vaccine and whether that has impacted goals toward herd immunity?

Kate: (25:14)
Then as to the federal pharmacy partnership, I’m wondering if the state has been able to choose low patients for any of those in-boarding pharmacies and whether there’s been a priority on communities of color low-income communities?

Governor Ralph Northam: (25:28)
Dan, you want to address it?

Dr. Danny Avula: (25:31)
The first question, Kate, is do we have data on second dose follow-up?

Dr. Danny Avula: (25:36)
We can start to pull that from VIS. I have not looked at it yet. I’ve heard from a lot of our local health districts that they’re seeing close to 100% follow-up for those second doses, but I’m sure that’s not true across all systems. I’ve heard, as I’ve talked to my counterparts in other States, that sometimes that’s more like 80 to 85%. We just have not pulled the data yet here. It’s a helpful thing to think about, especially as we plan for second-dose clinics moving forward. More to come on that.

Dr. Danny Avula: (26:05)
The second question is locations of these pharmacies. As we onboard new pharmacies, are we thinking about equitable access across different demographics?

Dr. Danny Avula: (26:14)
The answer is, absolutely, yes. We are both having our local health districts look at that and make sure that the locations that these retail partners are choosing fit the right parts of their community. We also, particularly with CVS, had the health equity work group will look through those locations, it will, and match them up with previous work that had been done to ensure equitable access.

Dr. Danny Avula: (26:37)
There will be some ongoing movement, right? The locations that were chosen on this rapid timeframe may not be the ones that, for example, Walmart, they’re going to move because they’re not using fixed-site stores. They’re going to move from community to community each week, depending on where the needs are, where we’re seeing lower vaccination rates. But absolutely we are prioritizing specific locations and really getting at different demographics in the locations of our pharmacies.

Governor Ralph Northam: (27:02)
Just a little bit of follow-up, Kate. There are pros and cons to everything, but certainly one of the pros to the J&J is it is one shot. But to those that have received the Moderna and Pfizer, or will receive it in the future, we really encourage them to get the second dose because that’s the way they get the complete immunity. The message really to all of you watching today: If you have or will receive Moderna our Pfizer, make sure you follow up and get that second appointment because it’s very important. The Johnson & Johnson dose will just be one shot.

Speaker 1: (27:40)
On the phone, David McGee with the Bristol Herald Courier.

David McGee: (27:41)
Thank you. Good morning, Governor.

David McGee: (27:45)
I spoke with the lawmakers from Southwest Virginia this morning who are concerned that this region has the infrastructure and the capability to deliver a lot more vaccines than they’re getting and the supply is just not coming this way. Given our aging population down here, is there anything that you can do to address their concerns?

Governor Ralph Northam: (28:03)
Do you all have the numbers? Either of you have the numbers as far as, because I know we’ve done real well in the Southwest with how many individuals are getting vaccinated. It will continue to be population based, but we’ll monitor that. But, again, the last time I looked at the numbers, which was not in the too recent past, the Southwest was actually doing very well in how many per population were getting immunized. We will continue to send shipments again throughout Virginia population based.

Speaker 1: (28:35)
Jackie?

Jackie: (28:36)
Yeah, two things. In regards to the money that you guys are getting from FEMA to help facilitate these mass vaccination sites, I know you’re not releasing the exact sites themselves, but can you speak a little bit more about when they might come online? How many of them there’ll be and what impact that will have?

Jackie: (28:51)
I have a second question.

Governor Ralph Northam: (28:57)
It’s a great question. I’m going to let Dr. Oliver fill in the gaps, but we have planned and we have the sites set up. As I mentioned in my comments, what we don’t want to happen is for the doses to get here and we don’t have the sites ready to go. We are being as nimble as we can in setting up sites throughout Virginia so that when the doses get here, that literally the next day or two, we’ll be ready to put those doses in arms.

Governor Ralph Northam: (29:26)
Thank you, Dr. Oliver.

Dr. Norman Oliver: (29:26)
Thank you. Thank you, Governor.

Dr. Norman Oliver: (29:29)
We’re taking a two-pronged sort of approach to this, Jackie. We have a lot of doses of the vaccine right now, this week. We expect more doses, as Dr. Avula mentioned, coming next week. The first thing that we’re doing is increasing the capacity of our existing sites. We have many sites such as the Raceway here in Richmond, which can, with more doses, can do a lot more people and we are going to increase their capacity to do so. We have somewhere in the order of 12 or so other sites that we can do mass vaccination at and expect to have those staffed with contractors and others by mid-March and that will greatly increase our capacity. As the governor said, we’re doing that in anticipation of increased vaccine coming to the Commonwealth. We’d much rather be in the situation of having those sites up and ready and waiting for vaccine than having the vaccine get here and then starting in on this. It’ll be in about mid-March that those will be up.

Jackie: (30:45)
Okay. Then just on the Johnson & Johnson situation, I know that it might be too soon to tell, but do you have any sense about if they are, they do get the EUA, what that will do to our weekly numbers? What our initial shipment might look like as early as next week?

Governor Ralph Northam: (31:02)
Yeah. Ballpark about 50,000 doses per week when Johnson & Johnson is approved.

Speaker 1: (31:12)
On the phone, [Carrie 00:31:13] Pugh with [inaudible 00:31:13].

Carrie Pugh: (31:15)
Hi, Governor. Last week on social media, you touted a political story showing Virginia’s death rate during the January surge of cases was much less than many other states; but since Saturday, Virginia he has reported over 700 new COVID deaths due to what appears to be a backlog in unprocessed death certificates. When did you become aware that the department had a backlog? What can be done to expedite this reporting so Virginians receive more timely and accurate information about the impact of the virus?

Dr. Norman Oliver: (31:47)
The question is about the increased numbers of deaths that were recorded on our website from COVID-19 and some of that is owing to a backlog. What are we doing to rectify that?

Dr. Norman Oliver: (32:01)
The backlog of case deaths-

Dr. Norman Oliver: (32:03)
… Doing to rectify that. The backlog of deaths reported comes from how soon those things are actually put on to a death certificate, and then get to our Office of Vital Records. We have talked to providers about that, to increase the rapidity with which we get those reports. The other thing you should know about recording deaths in the epidemiologic record is you will hear epidemiologists talk about death as being a lagging indicator. So, we had a big upsurge in cases that peaked in January, cases that then proceeded to unfortunately die. That happens later. And so, some of these numbers are just that, the lag from the upsurge that we had, and you’ll see it come down in the coming days and weeks.

Mel: (33:06)
Can you talk about the decision to lift some of the restrictions that we’re under? I’m curious in particular about why the state is retaining the 25 person limit for private in person gathering, while we’re increasing the limit for entertainment venues. Just curious if you could walk us through your thinking on that.

Governor Ralph Northam: (33:26)
Mel, I think the main focus that we need to talk about is indoors versus outdoors. We know that the spread of COVID occurs when people are in close proximity indoors, where the ventilation is not as good. So, with the weather starting to break… Obviously this past week was difficult, but with the weather starting to break, we really encourage people to get outdoors. So in March and April, much of the focus will be on outdoor venues. And you know, what we take into account are the measures that I’ve talked about all along. But we’re in I think a more hopeful place right now, in that we have decrease in number of cases, and we have increase in number of vaccinations.

Governor Ralph Northam: (34:13)
And you know, another point I would make… And not to get too much into the weeds, Mel, but over 500,000 Virginians have had COVID, that have been diagnosed with COVID. There are estimates that it could be double that, even triple that. So if you do the math, if you take 500,000 individuals that have had COVID… I am one of those. There may be another 500,000 that had it that didn’t know it. But that’s about a million people that are immune, or should be. They should have antibodies to COVID. And then as I said earlier, we’ve vaccinated almost 1.7 million. Our number of allotments are going up. And so, if you do the numbers into March, and then especially into April, we should have three and a half, four million individuals. It’s about a half of our population in Virginia. So, that’s some of the trend that we’re following in helping us make the decision. But again, most of the focus right now is being to lift some of the measures outdoors, rather than indoors.

Melissa: (35:18)
Andre Whitman.

Andre Whitman: (35:26)
Good morning, Governor. How are you doing today?

Governor Ralph Northam: (35:28)
Hey. Good morning, Andre. It’s good to hear from you.

Andre Whitman: (35:33)
Yesterday you were in Charlotte courthouse, and there are still those who are concerned about making sure that centers for vaccination will be developed in some of these rural areas. Even we’re getting phone calls from folks in Bedford County and even Isle of Wight County. Could you assure these folks that there will be adequate places for vaccinations?

Andre Whitman: (35:57)
And then on a sidebar, if I may, the inspector general’s report has been revealed that the parole board includes… Well, the inspector general’s report shows that there were allegations that the parole board’s past chair, Mr. Bennett, past chair Bennett, encouraged two employees to falsify reports, which would violate their ethics. Could you respond to those two issues?

Governor Ralph Northam: (36:27)
Yeah. I’m going to let Dr. Avula address the clinics, and how we set those up across the Commonwealth, and then Secretary Moran is here to address the parole board. Andre, I did see you in Charlotte County yesterday, and I just wanted to let Virginians know that we feel badly that there’s still individuals that haven’t had their electricity put back. There are crews… And that’s one of the reasons I was out there yesterday. There are crews working around the clock, and they assured me and felt confident that these individuals will have electricity by this weekend.

Governor Ralph Northam: (37:06)
But I did want to credit our VDOT. This was probably one of the worst storms, ice storms that Virginia has ever seen. We had over an inch of ice in some localities, especially in the south side. VDOT did a great job not only preparing, but then helping to clear the roads. We have different electric co-ops that have worked together. They’ve brought in crews from other states that have been very helpful. And then finally, I’d just like to thank our law enforcement, our Virginia State Police and other police departments, have answered hundreds and hundreds of motor vehicle accidents and distressed vehicles. And so, I was out in Charlotte, as you know, yesterday, to thank those individuals. Danny, do you want to address the clinics, and then Brian? Thanks. Thanks.

Dr. Danny Avula: (37:57)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So Andre, to the question of when will the community vaccination sites come, and particularly to these more rural areas. You know, we’re looking every single day at the vaccination rates by locality, and looking at which ones need additional support with capacity for vaccination. So, as early as next week… And that’s a scalable model, right? We don’t need to do a huge, 2,000 person a day vaccination effort in more rural communities. We may scale that down to a place that can do 100 doses a day over the course of a week. So, as early as next week we will see in parts of the Piedmont Health District, and south side and Pennsylvania-Danville and Crater, where some of these scalable models are coming along to augment the vaccination capacity of those health districts.

Sec. Brian Moran: (38:53)
Good morning, Governor. Andre, sorry not to see you here today, but pleased to be able to respond. The governor was right, first of all, to credit the wonderful work on behalf of the Department of Transportation employees and all its contractors, as well as law enforcement. So, I’ll echo those comments. But I’d also like to give a shout out to the Department of Emergency Management. In addition to supporting the vest and our response to COVID, they’ve also been dealing with all of these storms. And the ice storms that the governor mentioned are probably the worst since at least 1994, maybe even before that. We have VDEM employees embedded in the local emergency operations centers, working to provide generators, food, water, other necessary supplies as people are trying to cope with the lack of electricity. So, a very difficult situation in those counties, and VDEM, as our Department of Emergency Manage, is providing state support.

Sec. Brian Moran: (39:56)
Now, with respect to the second question, Andre, there was a report done last night that referenced an Office of the State Inspector General report. This is about a case that was decided by our parole board last March, March 2020, and at that time they made a number of decisions that received public scrutiny. And because of that, we welcomed Office of the State Inspector General Report investigation, OSIG investigation. And in light of that investigation, a number of recommendations were generated, many of which included in a piece of legislation that the governor submitted this session that is being carried by delegate Don Scott. It is winding its way through the legislative process, and I know the governor is anxious to sign it when it reaches his desk. It addresses a number of the deficiencies that OSIG was able to point out in their report.

Sec. Brian Moran: (41:01)
So, you know. Specifically, we received a report from OSIG. That report was ultimately provided to the press and the public by a number of legislators. So, you have what we have, and beyond that, I would have to… You know. If there was additional information, I would have to review it to be able to discuss any specifics with respect to that report.

Governor Ralph Northam: (41:30)
You have a question?

Jon Burkett: (41:31)
So Secretary, you’re telling me the six page report we got last summer is what you saw? You didn’t see the 13 page report that omitted things like the OSIG recommending a criminal misdemeanor charge against the current State Parole Board chair for falsifying documents? And also Adrienne Bennett, admonishing her for her conduct, as not being impartial and so on and so forth?

Sec. Brian Moran: (41:58)
Yeah. Jon Burkett from CBS News, who ran the story last night, Jon. We had an email exchange yesterday. At that time, I asked for what it is that you’re reporting on. I’d be happy to review it and discuss it with you at that time. The report that we received last June is the report that the press has. That’s the report I have.

Jon Burkett: (42:23)
You never saw the report, the part where it said blatantly that the OSIG found that Ms. Bennett lied to you, in particular?

Sec. Brian Moran: (42:33)
Absolutely no knowledge of that report, sir. I do not have that report. And I’m anxious to review it if you have it.

Jon Burkett: (42:42)
Governor, do you plan on retaining Ms. Chapman, that the OSIG has recommended a criminal misdemeanor charge against your State Parole Board chair?

Governor Ralph Northam: (42:51)
As Secretary Moran said, if we have the availability of what you’re looking at, we’ll be glad to look at it and then address it. But I can’t speculate on something I haven’t seen.

Melissa: (43:05)
[inaudible 00:43:05].

Carrie Pugh: (43:08)
Thank you, Melissa. Governor, each one of these pharmacy chains that are working with the state to get the vaccines out [inaudible 00:43:17] strengths and skills. Obviously, Walmart for example, with their reach into the communities that are more socially vulnerable, vulnerability indexes, such as Petersburg and Crater Health District. What do you see is the benefit of them getting involved, and do you think that once most clinics start up and everything, we’ll start to see an increase in the numbers among the lower income and more rural communities as far as the vaccine getting out?

Governor Ralph Northam: (43:55)
Yeah. No, I think the question is what advantage do we see in getting the different pharmacies involved. As we’ve said, we have eight different pharmacies now that we’re working with, and there will be others, community-based pharmacies. And the advantage of this is that individuals are used to going to the pharmacies to get vaccinations. I mean, the example I would use is our flu vaccinations that we get each fall and winter. So, that’s an advantage. People know that mechanism exists. And also transportation. A lot of our pharmacies are in areas that our public transportation serves, and we certainly want to be able to get people to those areas. So, we’re excited about working with this federal… Again, it’s a federal program. It’s 52,000 more doses per week than we had several weeks ago, and I don’t know whether there are plans to expand it, but certainly if there are, we would welcome that again, because it makes it more efficient for more people to get doses in their arms.

Melissa: (45:08)
All right. We have one more on the phone. Jenna Portnoy with The Washington Post. Jenna?

Jenna Portnoy: (45:09)
Hi, Governor. My question is about testing. Testing appears to be down. Why is that, and how much is that responsible for the infection rate going down as well?

Governor Ralph Northam: (45:16)
So a great question, Jenna, and the question is that testing is down. We still have the capacity to do really as many tests as we need to do, but less people are symptomatic. And when less people are symptomatic, there are less requests for their providers to do the tests. So, I think that’s why we’re seeing those numbers go down. Dan, do you have anything to add to that?

Dan: (45:41)
Yeah, I can.

Governor Ralph Northam: (45:42)
Sure.

Dan: (45:45)
Just adding to the governor’s point, you know, how do you know you’re doing enough testing? That’s the percent positivity, and that continues to fall. And the COVID-like illness that we track at the Virginia Department of Health and emergency rooms, that has fallen by 50% in the last several weeks. So people are less symptomatic, and the number of infections is dramatically down, and the positivity rate is dramatically down. It was 8.3% yesterday, and it fell further… I don’t recall the number… today, on a seven day moving average.

Dan: (46:22)
So, if the test numbers were falling and the positivity rate was increasing, then I think you’d have an argument that we’re not sampling enough folks, but they’re both going in the same direction. And as the governor said, should we move resources, frankly, as the rates have fallen down, to the vaccination side? But we can also stand up more resources should those trends reverse. But we think with the trend and all the measures that the governor mentioned, that those trends should continue. So, thank you.

Governor Ralph Northam: (46:58)
Thank you all again.

Jenna Portnoy: (47:00)
[crosstalk 00:47:00] might really… Oh.

Governor Ralph Northam: (47:02)
Yes?

Melissa: (47:02)
Do you have another question?

Jenna Portnoy: (47:07)
Oh, hi. I just wanted to follow up and ask how many fewer tests are being conducted, as opposed to your high watermark? Do you know about that?

Governor Ralph Northam: (47:15)
How many tests did we report at today?

Dan: (47:21)
I can answer that. On a seven day moving average, we’re right at 20,100. So, remember when we were trying to get to 10,000. So our high watermark in terms of seven day moving average was above 30,000, so we’re probably down about a third or so. So, there’s still over 20,000 tests being done. I think they reported out 17,000 new PCR tests today. I think the other side of that is that we’re reporting out the PCR tests, but we’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of antigen point of care testing that are also being used. So, the number of PCR tests that are being demanded are indeed less.

Governor Ralph Northam: (48:02)
Thanks, Dan. Thank you all again for…

Speaker 2: (48:03)
Indeed less. Thanks Dan.

Governor Ralph Northam: (48:03)
Thank you all again for being with us today and I think the messages for today, one, we encourage everybody to get outdoors. We know that there’s less chance of spread when we’re outdoors, continue to do the things that we have asked, the measures that we’ve talked about, wearing our masks, keeping our distancing, keeping our hands clean, we know that those things work, and then finally, as you can see we are excited about our vaccination rollout and the doses, the lot money is increasing by the week and just encourage you all to register and also to answer your phone if it rings and check your email because I think you will see in the next few weeks that it will really ramp up, the number of doses that are going into arms so we want all of you to be ready and again, with the numbers going down of cases and the number of vaccinations going up, if we all continue to do the things that we need to do, we will finally be able to put this pandemic behind us and get back to our near normal lives. So Henry, what are you thinking, next press conference, a week from today? I’m flexible.

Speaker 3: (49:15)
[inaudible 00:49:15]

Governor Ralph Northam: (49:15)
All right, Henry says next week so we’ll let you all know but again to those of you all that are with the press, we do really appreciate all that you’re doing and as I’ve said all along we do everything that we can to get accurate and up to date information to everybody and you all certainly play a large part in that so thank you and stay safe.

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