Feb 5, 2021
Gov. Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 5
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a press conference on February 5, 2021. He announced that schools must make plans to have in-person learning options available by March 15. Read the full news briefing speech transcript here.
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Ralph Northam: (00:00)
Good morning. And thanks to all of you for joining us, especially since this isn’t our usual time. I know everyone’s schedule is very, very busy. So thank you; as we’ve always said, we want to get updated and accurate information to you, and Friday will be a good time before the weekend.
Ralph Northam: (00:18)
Today I want to give folks an update on the virus in Virginia, our vaccination progress, and our plans to get children back into the classrooms.
Ralph Northam: (00:29)
First, January was a hard month for COVID cases. We saw record numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and sadly deaths. But those numbers are all trending down, and that is something that we can all be glad about. I’d like to show you some of the numbers that we have been tracking.
Ralph Northam: (00:54)
This shows you how our case counts are now finally turning the curve and trending back downward.
Ralph Northam: (01:02)
And this next slide shows you the percent of people getting tested, whose test are positive. That’s also trending downward.
Ralph Northam: (01:13)
Hospitalizations are also going down, which is a very good thing. I know that all of our nurses, doctors, and everyone working in COVID units around the state are exhausted, and anything that lessens their burden is good.
Ralph Northam: (01:34)
While these are all positive trends, we can not let down our guard. The virus, as you have heard is mutating and changing. The variant of the virus from the UK is here; we’ve had four positive cases identified so far in Virginia. And yesterday, unfortunately, the private lab company Labcorp identified the first case of the South African variant right here in Virginia.
Ralph Northam: (02:05)
Scientists tell us these variants of the virus are even more contagious than before. In Israel, for example, the new variants account for more than 80% of the cases in a country that is about the same size of Virginia. These variants make it even more urgent to get as many people vaccinated as we can, as quickly and as equitably as possible.
Ralph Northam: (02:32)
So now is not the time to relax. It’s the time to get even more serious about hand-washing, mask-wearing, and physical distance. That’s why we made some changes to our vaccination plan last week that are already bearing fruit. We adjusted our inventory management plans, we worked with hospitals that had second doses they couldn’t use yet, and shifted those doses to get them in the arms of vulnerable Virginians. We gave our local health departments clear direction about how to prioritize the people eligible for shots in phase 1b. We emphasized that frontline workers should be vaccinated in the priority we laid out in the guidelines, along with people with high-risk medical conditions. And we said that roughly half of the vaccines in each local health district should go to people aged 65 and older. And finally we rebuilt our data dashboard to be more transparent, and revised our data reporting schedule to better align with the CDC’s. All of those changes are letting us put more shots into Virginian’s arms faster. And the dashboard shows us that.
Ralph Northam: (03:53)
I’d like to show you a couple of data points that show the difference that these changes are making. As you can see, we’re pushing vaccines out as fast as possible. We’ve administered 86% of our first doses, and 67% of our total doses; that puts us 12th among other states. And over 9% of our population has received at least the first dose of vaccine, that’s ninth among states. We expect to pass a million doses administered this weekend; that’s more than double the total positive COVID cases we’ve had since our first case on March the seventh. I also want to give you an idea of what this looks like on the ground.
Ralph Northam: (04:47)
Here you can see where the vaccine has been distributed since the beginning of the rollout. Right now, this still reflects that the first waves of vaccine distribution went largely to areas with large health systems. That makes sense because the first wave was to reach our healthcare workers.
Ralph Northam: (05:09)
And here we can see the rate of vaccination in each district. As you can see, the southwest region has a higher vaccination rate than many of our populous areas. Places like Wise and Dickinson counties, Bristol, or Bland County. That’s good to see. And it’s a testament to the hard work of the health districts and health systems in our southwest. That region was particularly hard hit toward the end of the year, with serious concerns about hospital bed space, and the population tends to be older, and to have more health conditions.
Ralph Northam: (05:51)
But of course there are vulnerable communities across every part of Virginia and they all need vaccinations. And we still have a long way to go. I don’t want to sugar coat that, because I know everyone, everyone is feeling impatient. It’s hard to know that you are eligible for a vaccine, but no doses are available yet. But that’s the situation we’re in across the country; demand is much larger than our supply. Every state, and I can promise you I talk to our governors frequently, every state wants more vaccine from the federal government. We can’t make it ourselves.
Ralph Northam: (06:40)
So I’m confident, however, that we’re ready when that supply increases. And more vaccines are in the pipeline for federal approval, which will help. We saw our supply tick up a little this week as Virginia received 23% more doses this week than it did before. It’s still not a huge jump, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Ralph Northam: (07:05)
We talked last week about frustration, about how to sign up. I have an update on how we’re improving that. Most importantly, we are significantly expanding our call center. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin training 750 new call center workers; that will be complete within a week. Wherever you are in Virginia, you’ll be able to call this call center to get information and preregister if you’re eligible for vaccination. The phone line will then go live, and will be available in English and in Spanish. You can also request a call back in one of 60 other languages.
Ralph Northam: (07:51)
So I want to reassure everyone, if you’ve already pre-registered through your local health district, you do not need to preregister again, you are already in the system. The call center, as well as a statewide online registration system that is coming soon, will all feed into the same pre-registration database. The information will be shared with your local health districts. And right now all local health districts have clear information on their websites about vaccine eligibility and how people can preregister online or by phone. I also want to share some other good news. The federal government will soon start shipping additional doses to certain pharmacies. This week the Biden administration announced the next phase of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership. In Virginia CVS will be the first pharmacy in this rollout, because it has the most locations of any pharmacy in Virginia. We have worked with CVS to start with our stores that are within reach of people who are more vulnerable, those aged 65 and up, those who are of low income, and those from disadvantaged communities.
Ralph Northam: (09:10)
CVS is starting with 36 locations sometime late next week. These vaccine doses are in addition to those the state is receiving. We’re still working with CVS and CDC on how registration for those vaccinations will work, so please stay tuned. And be assured this is only the first phase of the rollout of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership. We’re working with other pharmacy chains such as Walmart, Walgreens, and Kroger. Our health department has worked closely with the CDC to make sure this partnership covers as much of Virginia, and as many vulnerable Virginians as possible. This is also in addition to the Virginia Department of Health’s work with independent pharmacies. Here you can see a map of vaccination sites around the state, and there will be more to come.
Ralph Northam: (10:16)
Now I’d like to turn to an issue I know at the top of the minds of families across our commonwealth, that is how we get our children back into the classroom. I’m also pleased to tell you that the legislators are making this a top priority. I’m pleased to have Senator Chap Peterson with us today. Chap, thank you so much for all of your work, and all of the other legislators as well. It is a top priority for everyone.
Ralph Northam: (10:46)
When the pandemic started, believe it or not 11 months ago, schools around the country closed. As school divisions began developing plans for the current school year our guidance to them was that we want students, and we wanted our teachers and the staff to be safe, but we encouraged in-person instruction for the students who needed it the most. When in school divisions were planning this school year, there was a lot of uncertainty. There were no simple or easy decisions, not for school administrators, teachers, or parents. But we’ve seen more data now, and it suggests that schools don’t have the kind of rapid spread that we’ve seen in some other congregate settings. That tells us it’s time to find a path forward to in-person learning.
Ralph Northam: (11:43)
In the past 11 months our children have been champions. They have made sacrifices. They’ve endured a lot of change and uncertainty, and so have their families, and teachers, and school staff. But we know that this has taken a toll on our children and our families. So my fellow pediatricians say they’re seeing increases in behavioral problems, mental health issues, and even increases in substance abuse among their young patients. They’re writing more prescriptions, such as antidepressants and stimulants, and that’s just not a good direction for us to keep going. And we’re also seeing a decline in academic performance.
Ralph Northam: (12:42)
I know this has been hard on everyone. It has been a school year like no other. It’s been hard on children, and it’s been hard on our teachers. But we also know this plain fact, children learn better in classrooms, and that’s where they need to be.
Ralph Northam: (13:04)
Last month, we issued guidance to our school divisions for how to plan a safe return to in-person learning. We didn’t say, “Throw open the doors five days a week, starting tomorrow.” We said, “Here are the steps that you need to take. You can start with the students who most need that in-person instruction.” But we also said, “This needs to happen.” And today I’m saying it needs to start by March the 15th.
Ralph Northam: (13:38)
By that date, I expect every school division to make in-person learning options available in accordance with the guidance. They also need to plan for summer school options. This won’t be mandatory, but it definitely needs to be an option. Our children need to catch up to be ready for learning in the fall. I want our-
Ralph Northam: (14:03)
… be ready for learning in the fall. I want our schools to do this safely, and I want them to prioritize students who need this the most. The guidance lays out the steps for schools to take and the safety precautions that make it possible. But it’s time, it’s time for this to happen. It’s critical to prevent greater learning loss and to support our children’s health and wellbeing. The CDC, which updated its guidance last week, say it’s possible to do this safely. Dr. Fauci has said, it’s possible to do this safely. President Biden has said it’s possible to do this safely, and we will do it safely. And the experience of school divisions across the state shows us that it’s possible to have in-person learning safely. Daycare centers and early childhood educators have demonstrated this throughout the year. We know the right things to do, requiring masks, keeping deaths further apart and more.
Ralph Northam: (15:09)
We have prioritized vaccinating our teachers. We have given school divisions, the funding that they need for safety measures. In-person learning won’t look the same for every school division. And it won’t look the same as school did a year ago before this pandemic began, but we need to make a start. We can do this and we must do this.
Ralph Northam: (15:35)
I want to take this opportunity to really thank our teachers, who have been heroes throughout this time. Teachers always give a great deal of themselves to their students, but they’ve gone above and beyond these past 11 months. Many have been teaching in person this whole time, and many others have navigated a new world of virtual learning. They all deserve our thanks. Now, this is exciting. I’d like to introduce Virginia’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, Anthony Swan. Anthony teaches the fifth grade and I told him earlier, this was one of my favorite grades, at Rocky Mount Elementary school in Franklin County. Today I’m appointing him to the state board of education. He is a fantastic teacher and a tremendous mentor to his students. Anthony understands what this year has been like for students and for teachers. So please join me in welcoming Anthony Swan. Anthony. Welcome.
Anthony Swan: (16:54)
Thank you, governor. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to service the state Teacher of the Year for the year of 2021. As also, it’s an honor and a privilege to be one of the newly appointed members of the board of education. I’d just like to reiterate what the governor has said. Our students need some form of in-person instruction. As a current classroom teacher, I am on the front lines of education all while serving children during a pandemic. I know the importance of safety, but I also know the importance of our students’ education. Let’s face it, although some students are all virtual, they still don’t have true accountability measures in place to ensure that they are learning. For instance, when my district was following a hybrid learning style, I found that when a lot of my students were at home on virtual days, they would not do the work. Once they returned to school, I had to play catch up with them instead of being able to move forward with instruction and curriculum.
Anthony Swan: (18:11)
Our students need in-person instruction. Not only will in-person instruction help them academically, but it will also help our students with their social and emotional needs. For instance, just last week, my district Franklin County Public Schools, was able to bring back all of our PK through seventh graders into the building four days a week with the proper health screenings and mitigations in place. On the very first day with all my students back, one of my students walked in the room and his words, and I’m going to demonstrate how he reacted. He walked in the room and his very first versus, “Oh my God. I get to see my friends.” So as a teacher, I’m observing how he’s reacting. That meant a lot. He was excited. Then he went on to say, “Mr Swan, I no COVID is here, but I’m just so glad I get to see my friends.”
Anthony Swan: (19:12)
Virginia knows just how important it is to keep our students say, that’s why we as educators have been put as top priority to receive the vaccination for COVID-19. I just received mine on Wednesday. Many people are reluctant to take it, but I’ll just leave you with this thought. Oftentimes we put in our bodies things, we don’t have a clue about or things we know that will harm our bodies. For instance, when we eat fried chicken, the grease harms the heart. So, a lot of times people are reluctant to take this vaccination. Why not take the proper things and safety precautions to keep our students safe? At least, that the purpose is to save your life and not take it. I encourage all educators to get your vaccine so that we can serve all of our children in person in a safe manner. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (20:26)
Thank you, Anthony. And I guess also as a pediatrician, thanks for the food advice. Not that I like it, but I think that’s good advice, but thanks so much for all you do. And congratulations on being on the board of education. Yes. And finally, I want to talk about problems I’ve heard people are having receiving the latest unemployment benefits. The federal government extended unemployment benefits at the end of December, that came with some new eligibility rules that the Virginia Employment Commission had to work through and new requirements for independent contractors and our gig workers.
Ralph Northam: (21:06)
I know that some people still have not received these benefits and they’re frustrated. So, many Virginians have lost jobs during this pandemic and many people are still struggling. More than a million Virginians have received unemployment in the past 11 months, amounting to more than $10 billion. The Virginia Employment Commission has served more people in the past 10 months than it did in the previous 10 years combined. For many people, these benefits are critical, and we understand that. The Employment Commission expects to have the last piece of this program up and running by Tuesday. And more information will go out to people tonight.
Ralph Northam: (21:55)
We also continue to work to get people back to work. Just yesterday, more than 13,000 Virginians signed up for a virtual career fair through the Virginia Career Works Centers. We’ll continue to have local and statewide job fairs to help people get back to work and back on their feet. So in closing, I think a lot of encouraging news today. We have made great progress in our vaccine rollout and we will continue to be flexible and make adjustments when we need to. I don’t have to tell you, Virginia, that these vaccinations are critical. Just as Anthony said, I want everyone to be able to get it and I’m doing everything in my power to make it easier for you to get the information you need and get vaccinated when your turn comes. The vaccine supply will increase in coming weeks and as it does, we’ll get it into the arms as fast and as fairly as we can.
Ralph Northam: (23:03)
My promise to you is, that I will keep working to make improvements to fix problems when we find them and to move this effort forward. I like just, all of you want to put this pandemic in the rear view mirror. As you have heard today, I, along with all of these folks and many others that are watching and working on this, we want our children to be back in school safely. We want our businesses to be back up and running. We want our economy to get back on track, where it was prior to COVID-19 and together we’re going to keep working on this until we finally put this pandemic in the rear view mirror. So thank you. Cam, I’ll be glad to take your questions.
So, I’ll start with the school [inaudible 00:23:49] here. Is this a mandate to school districts? I know locally, Richmond has already said all virtual the rest of the year. If not, why not? And then something about the CVS.
Ralph Northam: (24:00)
Yeah. Thank you for that question Cam. Its question was, is this a mandate? This is a direction from the governor. I obviously oversee our superintendents, our school boards, our superintendents. I had a conversation with our superintendents this morning and I gave them the plan, our marching orders, if you will. They are in line with that. And I expect the superintendents, the school boards, our teachers, everybody will come on board with us and get our children back into the classrooms. And these will be options we are given to our schools to do this safely and responsibly.
And about the CVS issue. I talked to is their local reps. And they said that signups is going to be on a first come first serve basis, which could raise concerns about it actually get into the people in the communities that need it most. Are you saying now that’s not going to be the case and there’s going to be some safeguards in place to make sure it gets to the most at risk?
Ralph Northam: (24:57)
I want to phone a friend, if that’s okay? But Dr. Avola, I’ll let you address that. Go up, and thank you for all you’re doing.
Dr Avola: (25:03)
Thank you, governor. The question is that CVS has announced as part of the part two federal pharmacy partnership that they’ll be bringing new doses into Virginia. Some of the local reps are saying that they’re going to have a first come first serve registration process. I think that is how CVS across the country had planned this. We are really taking steps with both CVS and the CDC to try to ensure that that’s not the case because there are thousands of people who have already pre-registered through health departments and through other sources. And so what we really want to do is ensure that CVS can integrate into our state strategy. So we have had daily calls with the state representation from CVS, the state leadership from CVS since their press announcement earlier this week. So we’re still working through some of those details, but our hope and intent is that they would integrate with our strategy and not create another pathway for registration.
Speaker 2: (26:00)
The first question will be from Ben Schenley with the Associated Press. Ben, do we have you on the line? All right. Anna Lay, Virginian pilot. All right. We will then try Heather Graph, WJLA.
[inaudible 00:26:26] back in session.
Ralph Northam: (26:26)
All right, thank you, Chet. Appreciate it.
Hi governor. This is Heather Graph with ABCC. I wanted to follow up on your message, encouraging the schools to extend classes. You said you wouldn’t mandate that, but how would you help school divisions be able to manage the cost associated with extending the school year? Especially for some of these really large schools, for instance Fairfax County here in Southern Virginia.
Ralph Northam: (26:52)
I believe if I heard your question correctly, it’s relating to extended days during the summer session? Yes, it’s a good question. And I have made it clear to our superintendents and our school boards, that it is very important to have these options available this summer to allow our students to catch up. Again, they have lost so much over the past year, certainly some more than others. Also to allow our families to have opportunities to allow their children to go back into schools. And we have the resources available and they will come from a couple sources. First of all, through the CARES Relief Act. We have funding through that, which will, will help support our schools. It already has, especially in taking measures to keep our children safe at school and our staff, school teachers, et cetera, with cleaning, spacing, nutrition, all of those types of things. So we’ll have that available. And then also, we have revenue at the state level, but I can assure you that is a commitment of mine, it’s a commitment of ours and we will do everything that we can to support it financially-
Ralph Northam: (28:00)
… support it financially.
Could you put a little color around the conversation that you did have with the superintendent as this morning? Was at all rosy? Was there some kickback? And then I guess just on vaccinations and teachers, you’ve got a little bit of a month to go now before you start getting everybody in the class which to perform. What’s your message to them as they’re waiting to try to get this vaccine right now?
Ralph Northam: (28:23)
Yes, the conversation, first of all, with the superintendents was a very open, frank conversation. I started it off, and then we heard from our secretary of education, Atif Qarni, and then our superintendent of public instruction. And there were questions. They were good questions. Obviously, we’ve been working on this, Henry, for 11 months now. Every day’s a new day, but I think they understand why it’s important to have our children back in the classrooms. And I think the main thing we need to emphasize, and they certainly want to be part of this as well, we need to do it safely. So we need to continue to follow the mitigation measures, and the schools have done an excellent job with that. We know that if it’s done correctly, that it can be done safely. And so that was a good conversation.
Ralph Northam: (29:16)
I think the second part of your question, Henry, is something that I’ve been excited to see, and I’ve been around to a number of these vaccination sites and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of our teachers and their staff. And as you know, we have made them a top priority in phase 1-B. And I’ve been to sites where 2000, 3000 teachers are coming in and getting their vaccinations, and they want to be back in the classrooms too. And I can’t speak on behalf of all of them, but I certainly sense the excitement and the enthusiasm. And so it’s not a requirement to be vaccinated before you’re back into school, in-person learning, but I’m really confident that if these vaccination sites and clinics continue to go well, that a good majority of our teachers will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and feel safe going back into the school setting, if not by March 15th, shortly thereafter.
Speaker 3: (30:18)
Roberto Rodan, BPM.
Roberto : (30:23)
Yes, hi, Governor Northam. My question is related to the schools and the summer plans. Is there any backup plans for this push to get students back in school on March 15th. If some of the vaccination numbers or if some of the COVID-19 numbers do start to look concerning again, is there a backup plan for in-person learning?
Ralph Northam: (30:51)
That’s a great question. And the question is, if the numbers trend in the wrong direction, will we make adjustments? And absolutely, yes. None of this is written in stone. Right now though, I am confident that as we look at the numbers, the positivity rates, which is trending down, it’s very close to 10. The number of hospitalizations is going down, number of ICU beds, ventilators, et cetera, all of that’s headed in a good direction. And that in combination with, we’ve had close to a million Virginians now received their first dose. So the combination of numbers going down and vaccinations going up, I’m confident that these numbers will continue to trend down and we’ll be able to proceed with our plans. If for some reason things change, obviously we’re going to be flexible and all options will be on the table.
Speaker 3: (31:48)
Hi, I’m Kenya, the education reporter at the Richmond Times Dispatch. I’m wondering what support will the state offer districts serving students that need more wraparound services like transportation. And also, just given that people of color have been disparately affected, what can you say to these families who aren’t convinced that their school districts can keep them safe? I’m thinking of Richmond Public Schools, where parents have been really concerned about the condition of bathrooms, and for the most part have said that they do not feel safe going back to school. In fact, I think most of the families of color in Richmond said they weren’t comfortable saying their kids back. So what would you-
Ralph Northam: (32:22)
That’s a good question and Dr. Janice Underwood, we’ve been working on this through the Health Equity Commission to make sure that we do understand and listen to people that have concerns. And I think what we do as we move forward is just give factual information. One area that I would talk about is throughout this pandemic, our childcare centers have been up and running. The children have been wearing masks. I’ve been out to those places. And the number of outbreaks of infections has been very, very low. So we have that data, we have the experience to know that we can do this safely. Obviously, as I said earlier, not everybody is going to be willing to run through the front door and say we’re back to school as normal.
Ralph Northam: (33:16)
There will be individuals that don’t feel comfortable. There will be families. I have a family, a lot of families that I’ve taken care of that may have individuals at home, maybe a parent, a grandparent, whoever that has healthcare issues. They may not have had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet. So those families are not going to feel comfortable sending their children back into school. I get that, but I’m just hopeful that if we give factual information, in time, people will realize that this is safe and it’s really in the best interest of our children. So that will be the plan. And I think that the other question, your first part of your question was, what about resources? And I spoke to that a little bit earlier, but we have the resources that we need to do everything that we can in the schools, whether it be spacing of our desks, whether it be sanitizing, how we properly give, provide nutrition to the students. Those resources will we’ll be there, and we’ll do everything that we can to make it as safe as we can.
Speaker 3: (34:16)
Bill Atkinson, The [inaudible 00:34:17].
Yes, thank you very much, Governor. My question is not so much a question, I just wanted clarification. When you set the date of March 15th for the in-person learning plans, is that the day you want the students back in the school? And if not, going forward, once you received those plans, when do you think that students could be back in school?
Ralph Northam: (34:42)
Yes, that’s a good question. The question was, on March 15th, is this going to be, we open the doors and everybody come back to school? And the answer is, no. March 15th will be when options are in place through the different school districts across Virginia to allow in person education.
Speaker 3: (35:04)
Hey, Governor. My question is about the summer school. I’m wondering, a lot of teachers don’t typically work during those summer months, so do you believe that teachers should get the choice whether or not to work during those weeks? And then also, how will that work with their contracts and pay too?
Ralph Northam: (35:24)
Yeah. James, you might want to touch on that, but I’ve had discussions with a lot of teachers, and again, I can’t speak on behalf of everybody, but I think the majority of our teachers in Virginia really want to be part of the solution. They realize that our children have suffered and their families have suffered through this. And so I expect there will be a lot of teachers that will say, “We want to be back in the classroom. We know our children need to catch up and we’re going to do everything that we can to help that system along.” There will be some that obviously don’t want to. A lot of people take summer vacation. I get it, but we’re going to work through that and make sure that we have the resources and the teachers there to get our kids caught back up by fall time. James, if you’d like to add to that, you probably have a better feel. So thank you.
Dr. James Lane: (36:18)
Thank you, Governor, and thank you for the question. First, I just want to congratulate Mr. Swan on being appointed to the Board of Education. We’ve looked forward to the day that a teacher would sit on the board and I appreciate the governor’s foresight on that. And congratulations to you and look forward to working with you. As it relates to year-round school, certainly it would be our expectation that teachers would be compensated for any additional time over and above their contract. The governor has mentioned several times the latest round of CARES money. In total, that was around $930 million of which 90% of that has already gone directly to districts. Kenya had asked a question about Richmond City. Richmond City as an example, got $54 million of that. And so a significant infusion of money has gone in place both to address the issues that they may need to open school and the issues they may need to do for extended learning time.
Dr. James Lane: (37:08)
I think it’s important to note that it will look different in every school district, in every school division. Some of our school divisions have been open five days a week since August, and what their students need to do in terms of extra time will be vastly different than in communities that have had no in-person learning up until March 15th. And so I think the school divisions, some will do year round schools, some will do additional summer schools, some may add time to their calendar, some may add time to the school day, and we’re going to work with them between now and March 15th and then into the summer on what those plans look like. And if they need extra support from the state, we’ll be there to help them. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (37:45)
I also had a summer school related question and a COVID question. For summer schools. I’m wondering if VDOE will come out with a comprehensive plan or model for how summer schools to address learning loss should be executed.
Ralph Northam: (38:06)
We’ll take that question, Kate, and you get five questions today, right?
Dr. James Lane: (38:15)
I don’t want to get too far ahead of an announcement that we’ll make in the near future, but we are going to be announcing a work group that will focus on remediation and recovery. We just started sending out invites to the work group members yesterday that we’re calling Virginia Learns. And essentially, that work group will be putting together a document similar to our 3R document that you’re all probably very familiar with now that will address how to address student learning loss, how to think about flexible calendars, how to think about next year in the context of what we’ve seen prior to March 15th. And so yes, the VDOE will be issuing guidance there. But I will also say, and I know I just said this in the last question, it will be nuanced because every school division situation is different with the way that they’ve navigated the pandemic, and our guidance will be flexible enough to help them all think through each of the ways that they go about it.
Dr. James Lane: (39:11)
I can’t thank our school divisions enough. We have many school divisions that have been in-person from the beginning of the year navigating this. And frankly, that’s taught us a lot about what’s possible in terms of keeping teachers and students and families safe. And I thank are those that have been all virtual because I know it’s been difficult for them as well. But we’re going to use all of that that we’ve learned and make sure that each school division has a plan to make sure that every student doesn’t fall behind and is caught back up to where they could have been. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (39:39)
Thanks, James. And Kate, you had a second question?
Yeah, I had a question. So now that the South African variant has been discovered in Virginia, early evidence is suggesting that the vaccines currently available are not as effective that variant, especially. So I’m wondering if health officials have any guidance for, as more and more people in Virginia get their second vaccinations, how should they be acting and proceeding with daily life, given those variants are out there?
Ralph Northam: (40:05)
Yeah, it’s a great question, Kate. And the question was about the South African variant, which is, as we know, more contagious. My message would be, Kate, that the best way to keep that suppressed is to wear our mask, keep our social distancing, wash our hands, and also get vaccinated as quickly as we can. These viruses, in order to mutate, which we know they do, they need a host. And the less hosts they have, the less that virus is able to replicate. And so that’s the key, and that’s why there’s an urgency to get people vaccinated as soon as we can against the variants that we know it works for, and that will keep the others from arriving to keep it to a minimum. So that that’s really the key moving forward.
Speaker 3: (41:00)
Matt Jones, Daily Press. Matt?
Hi. I think I unmuted myself, right?
Speaker 3: (41:16)
Okay. I had a question about schools. I was wondering about what your advice is to schools that are struggling with staffing shortages. I know that there are several school districts that I covered have been struggling with the number of teachers quarantining and getting substitutes. How will schools that have struggled with that to be able to reopen by March 15th?
Ralph Northam: (41:45)
Yes, thank you? Dr. Lane.
Dr. James Lane: (41:52)
Thank you for the question. Obviously, teacher shortages are an issue, not only in COVID, but even before and will continue to be. The department has been given-
Speaker 4: (42:03)
… and will continue to be. The Department has been given flexibility by the Governor and the General Assembly to issue waivers of certain requirements and where there’s needed flexibility, we’re certainly going to continue to provide that flexibility. As an example, a long-term substitute teacher prior to COVID is only allowed to teach 90 days in a row before they must have a full-time licensed teacher. We’ve provided that flexibility so that a long-term substitute teacher can remain for the entire year while we deal with COVID. And so I won’t go into every flexibility, but if school divisions are finding people that are able to come in and support our students in person, while many teachers that are high risk have to stay home, we’ll continue to provide the flexibility so that’s possible. Obviously the best situation for students is a full-time licensed teacher in the classroom. And as much as we can support recruitment efforts, we’ll continue to do that as well.
How are we doing today, Governor?
Ralph Northam: (42:59)
I’m well, Andre, and I hope you are also.
Thank you. Got two questions kind of separate from what we talked about today. We’re still getting phone calls from parents and family members of inmates who say that there are 20 plus people in a pod and there are anywhere from five to eight people who have tested positive for COVID. And also new inmates are coming into the facilities, per some of these parents, who may not have been tested and they are possibly spreading the virus to those who are already inside.
Ralph Northam: (43:30)
If you can, Will, and I’ll come back to you for your next question. I’m going to have Secretary Moran give us an update on the vaccination programs at our Department of Corrections. Brian, thanks.
Secretary Moran: (43:41)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you for the question Andre. Has to do with vaccination program at Department of Corrections, and we’re very proud and we appreciate VDH providing the vaccines to the Department of Corrections. As you know, this has been an issue we’ve been struggling with since March because of the congregate housing setting that our prisons obviously have to experience. So as of this morning, Department of Corrections medical staff had a total of 14,906 individuals vaccinated. That breaks down, 10,391 inmates, 4,516 staff. And that information will be updated by five o’clock today on the DOC website. We’ve received a total of 17,500 doses and we’ve requested, and I believe we will receive another 6,200 next week. So, they’ve been doing first doses for the first 28 days. So we’re going to now go into and able to start the second dose.
Secretary Moran: (44:50)
And in terms of active cases at DOC, I believe you asked about that as well. We have conducted 86,057 tests. So we continue that robust testing program so that we can implement the appropriate separation and isolation and quarantine efforts that’s imperative to arrest the spread. Say, as of this morning as well, 579 offenders have active COVID. So that number fluctuates. 7,886 inmates have recovered. So those are the numbers and appreciate the question. Governor.
Ralph Northam: (45:37)
Thank you, sir.
What about separating them? Could you speak more about the opportunity or the availability to separate those who may have COVID in these pods versus those who don’t.
Secretary Moran: (45:48)
Sure. The question with respect to the appropriate action once the DOC is aware of the… And that’s why the robust, aggressive testing program is so vitally important, because as we all know by now, you can have no symptoms, you can be asymptomatic. And so we’ll continue that testing. I will say, DOC now has reduced the prison population. I believe last March when this began was about 29,000. Well, just over 29,000, short of 30,000. We’re down to about 24,000 total inmates now. And so because of that reduction in population, DOC has been able to take the appropriate steps to separate those individuals who have contracted COVID. So if there are any specific questions with respect to a particular prison, I’d be happy to chat with you offline, and we’ll get DOC involved and address those specific questions. But that is something that DOC is well aware of, and they are following all the appropriate CDC guidelines to arrest the spread of the disease. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (47:03)
And lastly, Governor, there seems to be a number of folks who almost boastfully say that they’re not wearing a mask, they’re not practicing social distancing.=, They’re not adhering to the restrictions. Is there some lax in the enforcement that we may not be seeing or…
Ralph Northam: (47:23)
No, Andre. The question was people that are non-compliant with our guidelines. We continue to monitor and enforce, especially in our restaurants across Virginia. I would just encourage everybody to put the politics aside and think about what we know works, what’s in the best interest of themselves, their friends or neighbors and loved ones. It’s really not asking too much for folks to wear a mask. And as I said earlier, we’re in a race against time right now, Andre. We’re in a race to get people vaccinated and we’re in a race to keep these numbers as low as we can. Back to my earlier point. We know that there are variants out there. We know that these types of viruses, these RNA viruses, they survive by mutating. And so the sooner we can do the right thing and follow the guidelines, wear a mask, do all the things that we talk about, and get people vaccinated, the less chance there is of these variants coming in and causing other waves. So I would just ask people to be part of the solution. Yes ma’am?
Speaker 5: (48:34)
So back with the school thing. So race is a big predictor of who will stay virtual and why. And so with that, I mean, if the message is that being in the classroom is what’s going to help kids and families of color likely won’t send their kids back. How does that not exacerbate equity gaps and achievement gaps?
Speaker 4: (48:53)
I’m not sure I understand your question.
Speaker 5: (48:55)
If families of color aren’t likely to send their kids back, because I know in Henrico, the family that was likely to send their students back were white families and same thing with Richmond. And so I’m wondering how does that not exacerbate equity and achievement gaps?
Speaker 4: (49:09)
The way I would look at this moving forward, I mean, we understand that people have anxieties and legitimate reasons for being concerned. We’ve seen this, we’ve been in this pandemic now for 11 months. We saw it with testing and we really tried to reach out into the communities. We used our Health Equity Commission. We communicated with our faith leaders. They have helped with the folks that come to their places of worship. And so we understand that trust issue. So we made a lot of progress during the testing. We’re going through the same thing with vaccinations. And again, to have people in the community speak up to that this is safe, it’s effective. I mean, to give that factual information is important and the same is going to be with our schools. We’re going to need people to continue to communicate that we realized that there are anxieties out there. We understand that. But at the same time, we need to move toward getting our children back into school and we’re going to do it as safely and responsibly and as equitably as we can. And that’s what we’ll do moving forward.
Speaker 5: (50:19)
Thank you [inaudible 00:50:20].
Speaker 4: (50:20)
I just wanted to end up, to give a couple more thanks if I could. I know it’s been a little bit of a long conference. But first of all, we wouldn’t be able to do this and reach out to those, especially that are hearing impaired, without our sign language interpreter. So thank you all for being here every time. And I might also say I struck up a conversation as I came in here with this young man and he shares the first name as our son. So we have a lot in common. So thank you, Weston, for all that you’re doing.
Speaker 4: (50:53)
Secondly, moving on to perhaps a little bit more serious discussion as we close out, this weekend is the Super Bowl. My team, who wears maroon, is preparing for next year’s Super Bowl. They won’t be playing a Sunday, but what I ask of all of you, I know that it’s a tradition that we gather on Super Bowl and watch the game and enjoy our friendships. But remember to please try to keep your size of your gatherings low, less than 10, continue to wear your mask, continue to keep your hands clean. Again, we saw numbers increase after the holidays. And so I worry about that. But I just wanted to let you all know to be as safe as you can. There is still a lot of virus. We just announced earlier this morning over 5,000 new cases today. So the virus is alive and well. So this is not the time to let our guard down. The second or third part of this is that continue to follow those guidelines of wearing your facial protection, social distancing.
Speaker 4: (52:06)
And then finally, when your time is there to get your vaccination, please think very seriously about doing that to protect yourself, to protect your family, your neighbors, your loved ones. And then just finally in giving thanks. I have been to a number of these sites across Virginia, and it’s just amazing to see the number of people, some are on a payroll, some have volunteered. School nurses. I mean, I could go right down the list. People that show up and give us the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Speaker 4: (52:46)
And all I ask is to, I certainly on behalf of Virginia say thank you to all these people. This has really brought out the good in all of us, I think during these difficult times. But when you go in for your vaccination, look around and you’ll see a lot going on, a lot of people that are helping to make this possible. So all I ask is to say thank you to them. They would appreciate that. So have a good weekend and we will look forward. Henry, when is our next press conference going to be? You call it, we’ll be here. All right. Henry says Wednesday. We’ll look at the calendar. But have a good weekend. Thank you all.