Jun 25, 2020
Gov. Ralph Northam Virginia Press Conference Transcript June 25
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a press conference on June 25. Northam announced a rent and mortgage relief program for Virginians, using $50M in federal funds. Read the full news briefing speech transcript here.
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Governor Ralph Northam: (00:32)
Well, good afternoon. And thanks again for all of you joining us this afternoon. Today, I’d like to review our numbers, talk about testing and discuss some programs to help people as we move into phase three, and managing COVID over the long term. First, as we approach the end of June, I want to remind Virginians of how far we have come. When the pandemic began, watching other states, we worried that our hospitals would be overwhelmed with COVID patients. We considered building new temporary hospitals. We didn’t know if we had enough ICU beds or ventilators. We knew we needed more PPE and that we needed more testing and testing supplies. America saw little to no leadership from Washington, and states and governors like myself came to the realization that we would be on our own.
Governor Ralph Northam: (01:33)
We said, “Stay at home.” We closed our schools for the rest of the school year. We issued restrictions on businesses and gatherings. We moved restaurants to take out, and we urged our houses of worship to give sermons online. Many businesses, including state government, moved to telework. We have gotten familiar with social distancing and Zoom meetings. I’ve had three this morning, and I’ll have some more this afternoon. In the three and a half months since our first case, we’ve learned a lot about the virus, how it spreads, how contagious it is, and how we can keep ourselves safe. Our efforts to slow the spread continue to work. Other states are seeing surges now, as people move about more. But in Virginia, so far, we’re not seeing a surge in cases. In fact, our numbers are very good. Today’s percent positivity number is the lowest it’s been in weeks. This is entirely thanks to all of you. You have helped by staying home, washing your hands and wearing face coverings.
Governor Ralph Northam: (02:53)
We all need to keep doing all of these things because we do not want our numbers to go up like we are seeing in other states. Especially as we ease restrictions next Wednesday in phase three, it is vital that everyone continue to be cautious. This virus has not changed. It has not gone anywhere. We can see that in the numbers from other states. The only thing we can do is protect ourselves and behave responsibly. So let’s take a look at some of our numbers. First, our percent positivity continues to trend down, and the latest number is 6%. That’s the yellow line on this slide.
Governor Ralph Northam: (03:42)
Our hospitalizations for COVID have been trending downward as well. The yellow line is the moving average. The light blue is COVID patients on ventilators. That’s at the bottom. And the medium blue is those in the ICU. The dark blue is the total COVID patients that are hospitalized. And all of those continue to trend downward. You can see that while more hospital beds are occupied, we’re still not close to our surge capacity. All along, we’ve said that increased testing and tracing are critical to keeping this virus in check. We have been able to ramp up our testing in the past several weeks.
Governor Ralph Northam: (04:28)
I want to take this opportunity to have Karen Remley, Dr. Remley, come forward and kind of go over where we’ve been with our testing and how we plan to move forward. But I also especially want to take this opportunity to thank her. As you know, she used to be our commissioner of health. And as I will announce a little bit later, she has taken a job with the CDC, so we will have that inside connection. But we certainly thank you, Karen, for all that you’ve done, and we wish you best on your next adventure. So welcome.
Dr. Karen Remley: (05:10)
Thank you, Governor. So I’ll begin with the slide that you all have seen before, but I can’t show it enough times, because I remind myself of this every morning. Hand-washing, six feet away, wearing your mask, and making sure you understand if you have symptoms, are the things we’ve all done as Virginians that have made a difference. So we’ll go to the next slide, which is that classic epi curve. And remember, this is not when the test is done to say somebody has COVID, but is when somebody actually has symptoms, so it goes back farther. And as you can see, we have that curve going up. We flattened that curve, and now we’re seeing that curve come down. And one of the things that’s really important, the sooner we can make that diagnosis, the sooner we can isolate someone, and the sooner we can slow down our rate of spread. And that’s why it’s important to follow this closely and see this. Next slide. This is a complicated slide for all of us to look at. It comes from the UVA, as we looked at their models. And what this looks at is the rate of infection. And we’re starting off in March, and you can see we’ve slowly but surely come down. Another word that’s called as the R-naught. And what that really means is if I’m infected, how many people do I infect? And so you want that number to be less than one, because you want to make sure if I’m infected, I haven’t infected anyone else. And we right now, statewide, are at 0.727. As I said, our goal is to be less than one. As you can see, we have a little bit of variability around the state. We continue to work very aggressively at contact tracing, identifying cases early and making sure people have accessibility to test. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (06:45)
So as the governor said, here’s the number of people tested, the number of positive tests, the percent positivity. And as you can see, we’re consistently … If we had also the slide that shows you the seven-day average, our seven-day rolling average now is consistently at 10,000 tests per day, which is what our goal was. We have some days where we may be doing 15,000, some days where we may be doing eight. But overall, we’re seeing that consistent need to be able to test about 3 to 4% of our population. And so, as we look at this, as the governor said, the most important thing is you’re also seeing not just increased testing, but also decreased number of cases and a decreasing percent positivity. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (07:26)
A lot of people have asked about antibody tests. And as you know, not only do we get the PCR results reported to the state, we also get antibody tests reported to the state. To date, we’ve had 53,000 antibody tests that have been reported. Of those, only 6.4% were positive for the antibody. And if you take the confirmed cases that also had an antibody test, there were 2.1% that had a positive antibody test that actually had a positive PCR. Remember that all of the people who have a positive PCR don’t necessarily get an antibody test. And of those probable cases, 17% had a positive antibody case. And then of the not cases, so people who didn’t have a positive PCR, just had an antibody test, only 3.2% were positive. And of those, remember some of those will be false positives. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (08:17)
And so one of the questions that we all ask is, “Do we have enough lab capacity?” Because we know when we started this journey, we didn’t have enough lab capacity. So how do we build on that? And building on something that already exists is always easier than starting from scratch. So there’s something called the Public Health Laboratory Response Network. It started in 1999 to start to look at bio-terrorism, and if we had events of bioterrorism in our country, how would we have a network of labs around the country that would be able to support our needs? At that time, here at DCLS, we were part of that network and continue to be. As you can see, it’s the federal labs, the state labs, and then sentinel hospital and local labs. We’ve used this for H1N1. We used it during Ebola. And we’re going to expand that network to be able to use it now for COVID-19. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (09:06)
Through the governor’s approval, using CARES Act, we will have a one-lab network. So we will expand the capability of DCLS and Fairfax, our two large public health labs in our state, but also partner with at least three institutions’ facilities to be able to expand their ability to do testing specifically for public health. And this will allow them to expand to … We start off with 1,000 PCR tests today, but if we need to go more greatly, we can expand that and build on that capacity. Our plan is to make sure that the capacity we build for exceeds what we imagine we will be seen through the UVA model. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (09:47)
So as we talk about that, our broad testing goals, anybody who’s symptomatic, or who has had a close contact, who’s been referred by public health to seek testing or a clinician deems that they need to be tested. We talked about 2 to 4% of the population a month per district. We want to make sure that’s not just statewide, but every district. So we’re looking across the commonwealth for disease. That’s between 6,000 to 13,000 tests per day. Making sure that we’re less than 10% positivity for each region and over-testing those high risk populations. So we’ve talked about this before, the socioeconomically disadvantaged, people with chronic illnesses, the elderly, people in congregate settings.
Dr. Karen Remley: (10:27)
We’re in the process of doing point prevalence surveys in long-term care facilities. We’re working with the nursing homes and assisted living, getting those point prevalence surveys done. We’ve also been testing in prisons and jails and behavioral health. There are over 400 outbreaks in this state that we do outbreak testing and containment. Our containment efforts are much more aggressive and fast now because we’ve got access to that testing, so can very quickly identify that. And then overall containment through contact tracing. And then I always say we try and also be very good stewards of all of our funds and make sure, when appropriate, insurance should cover that test for clinical need, and that the HHS portal for the uninsured, that we’re using those whenever possible. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (11:10)
So what does that look like going forward? This is based on the UVA models. We anticipate in May, and we did far exceed the number of tests that we needed to do per month, 30,000 per month. You look at that, then you say, “Okay, if we’ve got that many cases, then how many contacts do we think we might have? How many public health coordinated tests do we do? What’s our testing goal?” So you can see for May that was 6,500. We were significantly over that. In June through August, that’s going to be around 10,000, September to December around 11,000. This is based on the current UVA model. But as I said, we looked at the one-lab concept. We looked at what was the worst possible scenario, which we’re not predicting now, to make sure we had that lab capacity, if we need it. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (11:55)
The other thing we’re starting now in July, to make you aware of, is this is something that we do at the health department every year in partnership with our outpatient providers. We look for influenza in facilities, doctors’ offices around the state. We pick two doctors’ offices or outpatient facilities per district. We do five specimens a week. It’s whoever comes in with symptoms that are consistent with COVID. Those first five who agreed to be tested, we do those tests. That’ll be 350 total tests a week or 1,400 a month. That gives us an idea of what the disease looks like around the state, one more piece of information for us to have. We’ll be doing the influenza sentinel screening too. And then the second is we will be looking at vulnerable populations by using a similar method. So imagine that we’ll be doing essentially these sentinel surveillance in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, low-income housing complexes, anywhere where we’ve identified there might be a higher risk of disease. Next slide.
Dr. Karen Remley: (12:53)
And then something that I’m particularly proud as a Virginian to share is that for every individual in our state who has been identified as having a positive COVID test, that we need to do contact tracing and provide clinical care, because of the incredible strength of our partners, we are able to say that in every district, every patient has somewhere to be referred to for a medical home. And our free clinics went from four free clinics in April that we’re testing for COVID, they’re now up to 26. That’s more than anywhere else in the country. Our federally qualified health centers are partnering with us to make sure that people who are tested have clinical care. And CVS, through their MinuteClinics, has also expanded significantly so that we are sure we can meet every patient’s needs, and everybody who’s been exposed’s needs. There are also many COVID clinics our healthcare systems around the state have put in place. Next slide. And so I would just stop and say, it’s been an honor to do this, if [inaudible 00:13:52] give me the permission to say that.
Dr. Karen Remley: (13:53)
As a Virginian, there’s nothing more fun than helping other Virginians. I think the governor says Virginia is the best place to do business, but I also think it’s the best place to have partnerships with public health, healthcare, the business community, everybody coming together to do what they can do for COVID. And it’s a success story for now. But I would say as a mom and a grandmother and a public health physician and a pediatrician, nobody let your guard down, because it’s going to be a long, long summer and a long fall for COVID. Thank you.
Governor Ralph Northam: (14:23)
Thank you so much.
Dr. Karen Remley: (14:23)
Governor Ralph Northam: (14:34)
Well, once again, Karen, thank you, one, for the overview, and thanks for all the work that you’ve done. You may not know this out in Virginia, but Karen and I go back a little ways. We’re dear friends. We both were on the staff together at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. Karen, back in her earlier days, was an ER physician. I was a child neurologist. And I never will forget, one early morning hour at 2:00 AM I received a phone call from Karen and she said, “Ralph, I have an interesting patient to discuss with you.” And my response was, “Karen, at 2:00 in the morning, nothing is interesting to me, but I will be glad to hear your case.” But Karen, thank you for everything that you’ve done.
Governor Ralph Northam: (15:24)
Now, I’d like to talk about our efforts to help people who are finding it difficult to pay their bills. The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges. People who did all the right things, who worked and were able to pay their rent and their bills, have found themselves out of work, and also out of money. Virginians are facing a number of difficulties, but having a safe and stable place to call home shouldn’t be one of them. Housing stability is a nationwide challenge, and Virginia has worked to be a national leader in ending homelessness and investing in affordable housing. We also recognize that we have an eviction crisis in Virginia and a number of our localities have had some of the highest rates of evictions in our country.
Governor Ralph Northam: (16:18)
Over the last two years, we have worked closely with the general assembly and localities on programs to reduce the rate of evictions. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that many families, especially minority families, are one financial challenge away from an eviction. Early in the pandemic, my administration worked with the Virginia Supreme Court to stop eviction cases. Then, at my request, they put a moratorium in place. They extended it through June the 28th. Well, that’s Sunday. Once the moratorium is lifted, it is expected that thousands of Virginians will face eviction, and that’s just not acceptable.
Governor Ralph Northam: (17:02)
… will face eviction, and that’s just not acceptable, so today, I’m calling on our chief circuit court judges around the state to further extend the moratorium as appropriate in their locality. They have the authority to do so. In addition, we are taking action at the state level. I have directed the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to create the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program using $50 million in federal CARES Act funds. The program will help cover rent and mortgage payments on behalf of households who are experiencing financial instability due to the pandemic. Because we know the pandemic is having a disproportionate health and financial impact on people of color, this program will have an equity lens and target outreach to those communities.
Governor Ralph Northam: (17:57)
I urge all landlords and lenders to partner with the state on this effort so we can help families get current on their rental and mortgage payments. Our priority is to prevent evictions and help get Virginians back on track with their rent and mortgage payments. More information, including how to apply, will be available when the program launches on Monday, June the 29th.
Governor Ralph Northam: (18:24)
We’re also working to help folks who are having trouble paying their energy bills. The Department of Social Services operates an existing Energy Assistance program, which offers cooling assistance for low income families with children less than six years of age, senior citizens, and Virginians with disabilities. Applications are open through commonhelp.virginia.gov, I’ll repeat that, commonhelp.virginia.gov from now until August the 17th.
Governor Ralph Northam: (18:59)
Additionally, DSS is preparing to launch a one-time COVID response Energy Assistance program in mid July, again, using CARES Act funding. The program will help households that aren’t typically eligible for Energy Assistance. The focus of that program will be to help pay off energy debt that they’ve accumulated during the pandemic so as to avoid disconnections when the moratorium on service cutoffs ends on August the 30th. VDSS will also issue one-time supplemental payments to households that have previously received Fuel or Crisis Assistance. DSS will release more information on both of these programs next month.
Governor Ralph Northam: (19:48)
As I said on Tuesday, Virginia will move into phase three next Wednesday, July the 1st. July 1 also marks the day that legislation passed by the General Assembly in its regular session takes effect. I want to highlight some of those bills that are especially important to what’s going on now. We took steps toward criminal justice reform with bills to decriminalize marijuana and raise the felony threshold, both of which will reduce the chances that a person gets a criminal record for a relatively minor offense. We ended permanently the practice of suspending someone’s driver’s license for failing to pay court fees to help ensure that we’re not punishing poverty.
Governor Ralph Northam: (20:36)
We also wrote new laws to establish transparent policies for how police departments use body cameras. The commission to examine racial inequity in Virginia law, which I established last year, found nearly 100 instances of racist or discriminatory language in the acts of assembly, and we passed legislation to remove it. Earlier this month, I extended that commission and expanded its mission so that it will recommend changes to current policies or regulations that are inequitable or discriminatory. We’ll also have new laws making it easier to vote. This includes early voting with no reason required, removing the requirement of a photo ID for voting, making election day a state holiday, and extending our polling hours.
Governor Ralph Northam: (21:31)
As we mark the progress made during the regular session, we’re also looking toward a special session later this summer. While that will primarily focus on how to adapt our state budget around the lower revenues and additional cost of the pandemic, there is clearly a need to address issues of racial injustice and police reform. I have had conversations with lawmakers about potential legislation, and I will continue to meet with them and others as we shape this reform agenda.
Governor Ralph Northam: (22:04)
I am committed to continuing this work and making meaningful change. I will look for policy proposals that protect our communities, increase accountability, transparency, and diversity in law enforcement and improve the way we handle our response to people in a mental health crisis. These are serious issues and will require a thoughtful, serious process to create real reform that works for our communities.
Governor Ralph Northam: (22:34)
Before we turn to your questions, I want to address a couple of other issues. As our DMV offices have reopened, they’re requiring appointments. That means people who must go into a DMV to renew a license or get another service may have trouble getting an appointment before their license or registration expires. We previously gave a 90-day extension to renew licenses, registration, or other credentials that expire before July the 31st. Today, we’re giving an additional 90 days to do that. We also expect more appointments, lots to open up as more DMVs reopen. I also know that back-to-school is already on everyone’s mind. We’re hearing a lot of questions, and I appreciate that. I want to ask our Chief of Staff Clark Mercer to come up and perhaps clarify a bit and maybe answer some of those questions as we move forward. Clark, welcome.
Clark Mercer: (23:41)
Thank you, governor. We have gotten a lot of questions and inquiries and suggestions about are kids going back to school this fall, and we have a number of parents in this administration with young children. We understand just how stressful and intense it has been to have our children home with us over the last several months. I can assure you, we appreciate the juggling act that parents throughout the commonwealth have been doing.
Clark Mercer: (24:08)
I wanted to clarify, we’ve gotten some inquiries from our state legislators as well as parents of students around the commonwealth. A few weeks ago, we released the state’s guidance for Virginia’s pre-K through 12 schools to help with their reopening plans. The Virginia guidance document, it aligns with CDC guidance for reopening and provides considerations for school divisions in the first three phases of reopening, and we are all going into phase three next week throughout the commonwealth. It is intended to inform the discussions happening at the local level, but it does not mandate any one particular approach. Guidance is not law. This is up to your local school boards to decide how they’re going to open responsibly.
Clark Mercer: (24:55)
Virginia’s a very diverse state. The infection rates that we have seen on these graphs, they are different throughout the commonwealth. We appreciate that. As we reopen and as full boards grapple with their ability to reopen, teaching remotely, they need to take all of these things into consideration. It has been represented that the guidance is in fact law to these localities. That is not the case. Certainly, we will continue and would like to take suggestions from legislators and from parents throughout the commonwealth, but if you do not know your local school board member… Most of our school boards throughout the commonwealth are elected. A handful of them are appointed. I would encourage you to get to know your school board members and discuss the reopening plans for your jurisdictions with them. The final decisions about reopening are squarely in the hands of local school boards.
Clark Mercer: (25:51)
Local public health conditions, community concerns, and practical facility constraints have to be taken into account in the school reopening decisions. We believe our local leaders are best positioned to do that thoughtfully. Those communities with no or little transmission should also consider the CDC guidance on those particular circumstances. The state’s guidance document recommended three phases of reopening, and like Virginia’s businesses, we recommend that schools enter phase three next week. I will say all of this, in terms of reopening, whether it’s businesses or schools, are predicated on doing so responsibly and making sure that that graph that we see with the infection rate stay steady or declines.
Clark Mercer: (26:36)
As the governor said, we do not want to see for Virginia in the position of several other states that are seeing sharp increases. That’s the worst thing that can happen. We have had some comments about transmission among our youth and how impactful that is to their health. We also have to keep in mind, one, we have a number of youth throughout the country becoming infected, especially in other states where we see the transmissions increasing. That 18 to 29 year old age set is now the fastest increasing age set for positive cases. We have plenty of teachers and faculty and staff, from our janitors to folks that work in the cafeteria to our teachers to our principals and administration who are in that age set where they would be very susceptible to COVID. As anyone that has children know, once something starts spreading into school, you will get it at home, and we expose our family members, our grandparents, our aunt and uncles and folks throughout the community. We all know how quickly viruses spread through school-aged children.
Clark Mercer: (27:36)
By way of reminder, phase three of our guidance recommends all students be served in person with consideration for mitigation strategies such as physical distancing in place that may trigger altered schedules. It’s important to note phase three is not the end state for our schools. Each phase we’ve had has been several weeks long, and phase three will be as well as the governor and his team evaluate the health data. We know that full-time in-person instruction for all our students is critically important to their academic growth and their personal wellbeing. We also recognize it’s important for parents getting back to work.
Clark Mercer: (28:17)
As Virginia’s numbers continue to trend positively, we have moved through these reopening phases expeditiously, but the phase guidance we issued did not include guidance for beyond phase three. Those discussions are underway with our education and public health experts, and the guidance for beyond phase three will include a path to getting every student in school every day and increasing opportunities for athletics and activities while remaining vigilant about the health of our students and staff. I hope that clarifies to our localities and our local school boards as they grapple with these decisions. Again, I would just end with where the governor has started and talked at every press conference, it’s all predicated on being smart about our own choices, wearing the facial coverings, remaining socially distance, taking common sense approaches to curb the spread of this disease. That’s how we’re going to be able to open up our schools responsibly and get our students back in the classroom. Thank you.
Governor Ralph Northam: (29:17)
Now I’d like to ask Dr. Norm Oliver to give us a health update. Norm, thank you.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (29:25)
Thank you, governor. Just very quickly on the numbers. Our cases now stand at 59,946 cases across the commonwealth in the last 24-hour reporting period. That is 432 new cases. Total deaths stand at 1,675. That’s 14 new deaths in the last reporting period. Total tests, as you heard from Dr. Remley, we’ve done very well. Our total tests now stand at 654,500. A new PCR tests that were recorded in the last reporting period was 16,391. I’ll just leave it at that. Thank you very much. Thank you, governor.
Governor Ralph Northam: (30:14)
Thanks, norm. All right. Be glad to answer your questions, Andre, you have any questions today?
Sure, governor. Two, if I may. First, Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, made a statement recently saying that there has been a rise of those who don’t trust science and the validity of some of the numbers that are coming out as a physician, maybe you and Dr. Remley. Just wondering how you would respond. Then on the sidebar, back in Lynchburg, a group has filed a lawsuit against your signed law on requiring background checks for those who are purchasing weapons, and they see that as unconstitutional. Just wanting to know if you had a response to that pending lawsuit.
Governor Ralph Northam: (31:01)
Yeah, so thank you, Andre. The first question is about science, and I would just remind folks, we have scientists that this is all that they’ve studied during their adult careers. We have epidemiologists that you see with us every day, Andre, and I watch the same things that you watch. I’ve practiced medicine for over 30 years, and obviously, there’s some people that don’t trust or don’t believe the science, but we are data-driven as we make decisions. We make those decisions by the data that we have. I would just continue to encourage everybody to trust us as best you can. The things that we have recommended, the guidelines, and I know you’ve heard them so many times now, but the social and physical distance, the washing of our hands, the facial coverings, we know how this very contagious virus is spread, and so these are all very much science-based, and anything that we continue to recommend to Virginians will be based on the science.
Governor Ralph Northam: (32:17)
The second part of your question was about background checks. Andre, we introduced a number of pieces of legislation regarding gun safety in Virginia. These have all been thoroughly vetted with our Attorney General, with our legal minds. They are constitutional, and I’m confident that they will stand. Obviously, people can choose to sue for whatever reason, but we’re on very solid legal grounds, and I don’t expect those to change.
Speaker 1: (32:55)
Speaker 2: (32:57)
Yeah. The question will be from Julie Carey with NBC4.
Julie Carey: (33:03)
Good afternoon, governor. I know a lot of people are excited about phase three, but I’ve heard from a number of Virginians who are worried about moving to phase three, especially because of permitted gatherings up to 250 people. Given the spikes we’ve seen happen in other states, is there any reconsideration being given to allowing that kind of group size, and secondly, if not, why do you believe that Virginia won’t necessarily go the way of North Carolina in terms of seeing a surge once we open up more?
Governor Ralph Northam: (33:37)
Julie, thank you for the question, and the first part of it is gatherings of 250, and obviously those gatherings, we continue to encourage social distancing. If people can’t stay six feet apart, then we wouldn’t recommend the gatherings. We also continue to recommend the facial coverings, which we know work well. Am I worried? I worry every day, Julie.
Governor Ralph Northam: (34:03)
Am I worried? I worry every day Julie and I watch the data every day and we’ll continue to do that and as I’ve told Virginians, that if we see the numbers trending in unfavorable directions, then we’re obviously going to have to make some difficult decisions. So it’s really up to all of us as Virginians to be smart, to be safe and to take care of ourselves, our families, and really to take care of others as well. The second part of your question was, what about North Carolina? What about other states? And I think I would say the same. We’re going to watch the numbers in those states, those trends. We also watch the numbers here in Virginia and depending on where those numbers go, we’ll make decisions.
Speaker 4: (34:51)
Governor, two parts as well. Why not request a continuation of the moratorium on evictions at the state level, rather than going down to the circuit court level? And the other question is regarding the contact tracing, are we or is the state still looking at utilizing smartphone app technology? If so, where does that sit?
Governor Ralph Northam: (35:13)
Yeah, I may let met Dan address the part of it. And this is why I don’t like two part questions, but you’re right.
Speaker 4: (35:22)
Why not request the statewide extension on the moratorium?
Governor Ralph Northam: (35:26)
Yes. A couple of things I would say. The extension was because of a discussion I had with our Chief Justice Donald Lemons. He could not have been more agreeable and understanding of what’s going on. As far as extending that, that would be an option but we have a plan in place that we are confident that will start in time to help with this. In the meantime, as I said, circuit court judges can adjust their dockets for the eviction cases. But as far as what I can do as Governor, I can request through the judicial system, but we can’t make that decision at the executive level. So I hope that answers your question. But we’re going to do everything we can [inaudible 00:36:20]. The point I was trying to make and hopefully made is that we don’t want anybody getting evicted at any time, but especially during this pandemic. We know people are going through hardships and we want to take care of everybody that we can. So Dan, you want to address this?
Thank you Governor. I think the question really was two part, where do we stand with contact tracing? And then a second question about where we are with exposure notification app development here in Virginia. So first, we’re really excited about the increasing numbers of contact tracing personnel in the Commonwealth. Right now we sit around 1,050. About 400 of those are contractors between contracted with the Virginia Department of Health or with the Fairfax, Newington Health Departments that have, I believe we’ve mentioned in this forum before, a special MOU relationship with the Virginia Department of Health. So that’s increasing and gradually over time as additional contractors come on, Virginia Department of Health personnel will, who are doing that contact tracing today, will go back to other positions. So that transition will occur over the next several weeks. And again, our initial goal of 1200 is based on that 15 per a hundred thousand.
We may find that to do the job adequately we need a higher number and we’ll learn as we move forward. So that number continues to increase and we’re excited about that workforce. Secondly, the Bluetooth low emission Apple Google app, we’re really excited about our partnership with SpringML, along with Google Cloud, and actually this morning, Dr. Oliver encouraged to us to be part of the beta testing of that app and I downloaded it this morning. So right now it’s contacting, excuse me, it’s keeping track of who the folks I’ve been close to, as part of our near final testing. So we’re excited about that tool. Again, it’s a tool to be used by the contact tracing team to be able to find out who, in addition to the interview, “Hey, can you download who you’ve been exposed to?” Because I could have forgotten that I was talking to that someone on the side of the street that if I were to become a case or a contact. So we’re excited about that progress that we’ve made and we’ll be ready to make that when we’re completed with testing.
Yeah. We’re moving. Alpha testing was last week. Beta testing is this week.
Speaker 5: (39:02)
Speaker 4: (39:03)
Mid July it should be ready for full prime time and dissemination around the Commonwealth.
Governor Ralph Northam: (39:09)
Thank you Dan. Appreciate it.
Speaker 3: (39:13)
David [inaudible 00:39:13] with the Crystal Herald for you.
Yes thank you. I have a question regarding phase three. We’re hearing from some operators of some auto racing tracks that they cannot financially operate under the restrictions that are even in phase three. And just wondering since those activities occur outside and many of them have large [inaudible 00:39:32] if the state might consider exceptions on an individualized basis?
Governor Ralph Northam: (39:40)
The question is about the auto racing and I think it’s also a part in it for other sports, baseball stadiums, et cetera. And as you know, we allowed the race to move forward in Martinsville a couple of weeks ago, that was with no fans. But again as we go into phase three and Angela, I know you’re here. I don’t want to misspeak, but we’ll continue to have the social distancing and as far as the numbers, do you want to comment on the numbers at the stadiums and that type of thing?
Absolutely. Thanks Governor.
Governor Ralph Northam: (40:14)
No problem. Angela Navarro, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade. So in phase two, these facilities could operate spectatorless with individuals there as part of their employment. So they could have the racers, and the staff who are supporting the race itself. Moving into phase three, we can have some spectators, up to a thousand individuals can participate in these functions. As the Governor and the Chief have said, these are phases so they’re incremental and they will adapt over time. But obviously as we’re moving into phase three and removing some of these restrictions, the public health team will continue to monitor the data. But up to a thousand individuals is what they felt comfortable with. Again, with the social distancing, maintaining the separation amongst individuals, wearing face coverings and all of the other requirements that are currently in place for those venues. Thank you.
Governor Ralph Northam: (41:07)
[inaudible 00:41:10] So the first one actually kind of has to do with along the same lines. We’re hearing from some of these [inaudible 00:41:19] parks like Kings Dominion, who are basically saying that the 1000 cap on gas doesn’t reflect the large volume of space that they have. And they don’t really feel like they should be lumped into small entertainment venues like bowling alleys when they do have a vast amount more space. So would you consider making independent requirements for those larger amusement parks?
Governor Ralph Northam: (41:40)
Yeah Jackie. Thanks for the question. It was regarding the amusement parks and we’ve had a lot of discussions with the amusement parks. And I would just say that I want them to open up as soon as they can and do it safely and responsibly. A lot of the tourism industry depends on them. Hotels, restaurants, et cetera. But we also I think have to be cognizant of the fact that there are so many contacts at these amusement parks, people touching different things. And so we have had discussions with our Virginia Department of Health, with our epidemiologists and that’s the decision that we’ve made. Obviously we’re going to continue to follow the numbers in Virginia. We’re in phase three. We’ll continue to have those discussions and as soon as we feel that it’s comfortable, that we feel comfortable that we can move forward safely, then we’ll do that.
Governor Ralph Northam: (42:33)
And I know it’s difficult as I’ve said every time I’ve been at these press conferences. These decisions are tough. People have had to make a lot of sacrifices. But I think if we look at the reality of what’s going on especially in the other states around us and we’re seeing surges in numbers, those individuals are the same folks that come and enjoy our amusement parks, the ability to travel around Virginia. So we’ve got to be very careful as we move forward. We’ll continue to follow those numbers and as soon as we, again, as soon as we think it’s safe and responsible, then we will allow those numbers to increase.
Governor, a quick follow-up on [inaudible 00:43:15] question.
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:15)
You mentioned that you cannot extend the moratorium on eviction statewide unilaterally but you can request it through the judicial system. Have you requested that formally at this point? The state level?
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:27)
Not through the Supreme Court. No, I haven’t because we’ve chosen a different Avenue. We want to do it at the local level with our circuit court judges. And we also have a program that we think is going to be very good. And we know that there are going to be a lot of requests. We know a lot of people are vulnerable to being evicted. And so we have that in place ready to roll out.
Do you have a sense of how many people could be assisted through that program?
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:53)
I don’t know [inaudible 00:43:51].
Can you estimate?
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:53)
Actually. Yes I’m going to get you an answer in just a second Jackie. Welcome back.
Yeah. So I work on housing issues as well. So we will be announcing more details around the program on Monday as the Governor said. This is an initial $50 million allocation for the program. We are closely tracking all of the unlawful detainer proceedings that were previously docketed through the courts. So we’re certainly assuming that we will get tens of thousands of applicants through this program, and we will be able to assist a lot of Virginia families that request assistance under it. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (44:34)
Taylor Coleman with ABC 13.
Taylor Coleman: (44:37)
Hi Governor. My question is, if nursing homes can’t reopen till 40 days after the rest of the state moves into a new phase, where are our nursing homes now in regards to phasing? And does it mean they’ll be open on July 14th?. And also, are you concerned about the spike of folks getting COVID from Myrtle Beach and is the VDH working on any guidance for folks who do vacation there and come back to Virginia?
Governor Ralph Northam: (44:59)
You want to address the nursing home? Thanks Laura.
Hi. The first question was about the phased reopening of nursing homes. That guidance was published late last week. And so the answer to the question of where nursing homes lie in that process will be facility-specific. There’s sets of criteria for each phase that we recommend be met before moving into the next phase so I can’t really speak across the board because it’s a facility-specific answer. So that’s the answer for that question. The second question was about I think travelers to Myrtle Beach and does VDH have guidance on that? VDH does have some guidance around domestic travel. At this point in time there’s no statewide guidance for individuals who have traveled to certain places domestically. You can find that on our website. So there’s no restrictions but obviously lots of these things can change with time. Thanks.
Speaker 6: (46:07)
Yeah. Just following up on the eviction moratorium one more time. Advocacy groups have been asking you to use your executive authority to extend the moratorium. Is that something you’re considering or do you believe you have that authority?
Governor Ralph Northam: (46:21)
That would be a difficult authority as I’ve said at the executive level. We’re planning on moving forward with the program that Deputy secretary Navarro just discussed and also working with our circuit court judges at the local levels.
Speaker 6: (46:37)
Is there a reason why you said you didn’t request an extension of it at a statewide level? It seems like going on sort of an ad hoc basis where there’s different rules in different localities based-
Governor Ralph Northam: (46:49)
No. Again, I appreciate the question there, but I think the Supreme Court, our Chief Justice was very gracious in doing that. And I just think we can take a different path moving forward.
Speaker 3: (47:04)
Yeah. Tracy Agnew with The Suffolk News-Herald. Tracy.
Tracy Agnew : (47:08)
Thank you. You mentioned on Tuesday Governor that the numbers at long term care facilities being reported by the VDH are not the same as the numbers from the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.
Governor Ralph Northam: (47:20)
Tracy Agnew : (47:20)
There’s a disclaimer on the VDH website that says the difference is due to a number of different factors and reporting requirements, case classifications, timelines, and others. So, can you elaborate on some of those different factors and explain exactly how they’re making the numbers inconsistent?
Governor Ralph Northam: (47:37)
Okay. Thanks Laura.
Thanks. Fair questions about the differences in data from the CMS data on nursing homes and VDH’s published data on longterm care facilities that have experienced outbreaks. The main difference between those two data sets is definitions. The definitions for reporting to NHSN which is the National Healthcare Safety Network, which is CMS’ data system are different than the reporting requirements that facilities, physicians, practitioners have to report diseases to VDH. So those numbers will likely not match because of those different definitions. There’s also different timeframes. VDH’s data updates daily. CMS’ data, my understanding is that they update that weekly. So that’s another discrepancy that would cause that difference. Thanks.
Speaker 3: (48:33)
Kate [inaudible 00:48:33]
Yeah. I also had a couple but can go one at a time. And the first one is also related to longterm care facilities. I’m sorry Laura. I was wondering how the state’s guidance is going to be implemented. It’s framed as guidance, but I’m wondering how VDH will determine that nursing homes are following those steps and if they’ll be actually required to implement it before they reopen. And that’s my first question.
Sure. Thanks Kate. So the question’s about how are we implementing the Virginia nursing home reopening guidance? And it is guidance and it’s a set of recommendations and the components of it that it’s essentially linked to funding a lot of it. So for testing the testing components for example, if a facility wants to seek reimbursement for that activity, they would have to have done it obviously. But what I would say is that largely facilities that we work with and this isn’t unique to COVID, really aim to be compliant with public health recommendations and the tool and the guidance is just to help them think through that a little bit more systematically. And we encourage our local health departments to work with them along the way as well. There’s a point in the guidance where a facility, when they feel like they’ve met the criteria, that’s the self-assessed that they notify their local health department through an attestation. And then the local health department can be aware of that.
[inaudible 00:50:04] on the nursing home-
It acknowledges. That’s correct. Right.
And then my other question was actually for the Governor specifically. Moving towards this special session obviously there’s been renewed focus on racial-
Governor Ralph Northam: (50:19)
Injustices in policing. And I’m wondering if you could tell me what specific policies related to that you have either proposed or supported leading into August?
Governor Ralph Northam: (50:31)
Kate without getting into the details, obviously we need comprehensive reform. I’ve had discussions with a lot of people in the communities. I’ve had discussions with the police departments. I just was on the phone before I came to this with the African American Advisory Board. I’ve also had a lot of discussions with legislators. As you know, the Legislative Black Caucus just released a list of their agenda. And I think a lot of those are great ideas. And so we’re-
Governor Ralph Northam: (51:03)
A lot of those are great ideas. And so what we need to do is, is go through that process. There are a lot of ideas out there, Kate, and I’ll have those discussions with folks in the community. We’ve got some of those scheduled now of continued discussions with our legislators. And we’ll go through that process. We’ll probably come back to Richmond around the mid to late part of August, and obviously a lot of that is to discuss our budget, but we have a fairly ambitious agenda regarding the other issues that you brought up. So we’ll work forward with that. Thank you all for being here. If you can just hang with me for a couple more minutes, I would appreciate that. And I will be brief.
Governor Ralph Northam: (51:47)
But I just wanted to close by saying that when this pandemic began, we held a press briefing to make sure the press and Virginians had as much information as possible. We have kept that up ever since starting with daily briefing seven days a week and then scaling back to now twice a week. So I want to thank all Virginians who have tuned in to watch these and get information. I particularly want to thank Virginia public media for taking a lead role in making these briefings accessible to thousands of Virginians. I’d also like to thank our interpreters, Carrie and Liz, as well as others who have stepped in. And I want to thank you, the press. You have had the difficult job of explaining what can be complicated state policy and health data to the general public. And for many of you, these last few weeks, that job has also been paired with reporting on the protests around racial injustice. You’ve done this while dealing with furloughs at newspapers as well.
Governor Ralph Northam: (52:55)
So on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and all of us that watch this every day, I just wanted to thank you for your work and to remind people that a free press is essential to a functioning democracy, and your work is vitally important. Going forward the regular twice weekly briefings will end. No tears shall be shed, but I do want to assure you that we will hold briefings as needed. The department of health will continue to update its data daily, and my staff and I will continue to answer your questions, and I expect to hold more informal briefings to update members of the press going forward. So to all Virginians, I appreciate every sacrifice that you have made and continue to make as we adapt our lives to this pandemic. Like all of you, I look forward to the day when we have a vaccine or a treatment. And as you’ve heard, Dr. Fauci’s name was mentioned earlier. He is very optimistic, and that’s great news that we may have a vaccine by the end of this year. And wouldn’t that be a blessing for all of us and that we can all return to as close to a near normal as we can?
Governor Ralph Northam: (54:16)
So until then, let’s all continue to be careful and take care of one another. And I just want to remind you all, and I speak on behalf of what we’ve been dealing with, this is a very, very stressful time for all Virginians, for all Americans, for that matter, for people around the world. And I feel your stress, and I just wanted to remind all of you… You can agree to disagree, but be respectful and be kind to each other. That’s the way we’re going to get through this. Treat other people as you would have them treat you. So I thank you for all of that. And I just thought I would end… You all have asked me a lot of questions over the last few months, and now I’d like to, if I could, ask you all, the press, some questions. And there will be prizes for the winners. And I will let you know in just a second. But my first question is a two-part question, and it’s for you, Kate, if that’s all right. I would like you to answer when was the first case reported in Virginia, on what day? And where in Virginia was that case reported?
Speaker 7: (55:30)
March 8th, Fairfax.
Governor Ralph Northam: (55:32)
Is your name Kate?
I actually think it was March 7th in Fairfax.
Governor Ralph Northam: (55:42)
Okay. You’re close. It was actually March the 4th. No, you’re right. You’re right, March the 7th. Yes. So I have a reward for you, and it’s one of my commemorative coins. It’s very, very valuable. And this is my personal one, but we will make sure that that’s delivered to you in the near future. Okay, so thank you for that. My second question… We’ve had a number of conferences. Cam, maybe I’ll ask you this question. When was the first COVID press conference? On what day?
First COVID conference? March 15th.
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:29)
Close. You want to phone a friend? That’s fine, if you’d like.
[inaudible 00:56:34]. March 12th.
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:37)
No. You’re getting warmer.
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:43)
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:46)
Warmer. You all are getting warmer.
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:51)
I mean, the winner, if you give me the date, will get one of these commemorative coins. So, I mean-
[crosstalk 00:56:57]. March 7th?
Speaker 8: (56:56)
Speaker 8: (56:56)
Governor Ralph Northam: (57:01)
There you go. Right. Good job. [crosstalk 00:57:04]. And our last question… And anybody can answer this from the press, but we’ve had a number of these press conferences, and we appreciate the opportunity. So I would like to know, including today’s press conference, how many press conferences have we had related to COVID-19?
Speaker 8: (57:21)
Governor Ralph Northam: (57:25)
You’re a little bit off, but yes?
Governor Ralph Northam: (57:30)
Speaker 8: (57:32)
Governor Ralph Northam: (57:32)
Who said 47? [crosstalk 00:57:34]. All right. All right. So you win another commemorative coin. So anyway, thank you all for being here. And again, we appreciate the opportunity to make sure that all Virginians have accurate and updated information, and we will continue to have these as needed. So stay safe out there, and may God bless all of you. Thank you all so much.