Apr 24, 2020
Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript April 24
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a press conference on April 24 on coronavirus. He announced a task force who will figure out how to reopen Virginia. Read the full transcript of his briefing updates.
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Sure we’re testing across the state. And as you can see as we move to the third group, we continue to look at innovative ways to get testing to different communities, to be able to do large scale testing, and support all of the work of the health department, as they do what Governor Northam just described, boxing people in, making sure we understand where that disease is and how we take care of it. And, as you can see, these are rough estimates, we can make this happen. In group four, we’re really at that point where we’re able to do large scale testing across the state. And that’ll include looking at people who are asymptomatic to determine how much disease we really have throughout the Commonwealth. And then we all can’t wait until we get to step five, which is where we have just an ongoing, very small amount of disease that we can pretty quickly be able to identify and be able to isolate. With that, I’ll turn it back over to you, Governor.
Ralph Northam: (00:51)
Thank you Karen, I appreciate it. So moving forward, we will maintain this testing and tracing strategy. We will ensure that hospitals, providers, medical volunteers, and frontline workers have the PPE they need to stay safe. And we’ll monitor our hospital capacity and use of ventilators, ICU beds, and medical staffing. When we see these metrics I’ve just outlined, fewer positive cases, more testing and tracing, more PPE, and steady use of hospital beds, then we can move to phase one of easing these restrictions. Phase one will still have heightened restrictions in place. Social distancing, for example, will continue. Teleworking will be encouraged and will also continue. We will still recommend face coverings in the public. For business to resume, both customers and employees must feel safe. To create our forward Virginia blueprint for phase one, we have been meeting with stakeholders, local governments, and business leaders. We have put together a small work group of representatives from businesses, large and small, in every corner of our state.
Ralph Northam: (02:21)
It includes barbershops, theaters, hotels, and campgrounds. We’re talking to manufacturers, like Volvo Trucks, restaurants like Mama J’s, right here in Richmond, and entertainment venues like Kings Dominion and the Barter Theatre. Faith leaders will also be part of our work group. We want them to tell us, what is the right way to ease restrictions? What will that look like on the ground? What is practical in real life, and what is not? We will use their input, as well as input from dozens of Zoom meetings we’ve had with local government officials, business associations, hospitals, and health associations, and other groups, to develop two sets of guidance. We’ll have over-arching rules for our businesses, as well as industry specific guidance for sectors like restaurants and nonessential retail. This will help make sure that everyone knows the rules of how they must operate when it is safe to do so.
Ralph Northam: (03:27)
As we go forward, we will fill in the details of the phase one blueprint and develop plans for phases two and three. I am as eager as anyone to move into the time where we can ease some of these restrictions. But we must do so in a safe manner, one that seeks to avoid causing a spike in cases or a surge our hospitals cannot handle. As I’ve said before, we cannot and will not lift restrictions, the way you turn on a light switch. We will do it responsibly and deliberately, and it has to be grounded in data. We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and creates public confidence. Easing too much too soon could jeopardize public health and consumer confidence. One step forward and two steps back is no way to move ahead. We will need everyone to continue taking actions to keep themselves and others safe.
Ralph Northam: (04:32)
When you cover your face in public, or stay six feet away from others, you aren’t just protecting yourself, you’re protecting other people. And that is the most important part of these efforts. None of us is in this alone. All of our decisions impact other people, other Virginians. I continue to be grateful to our medical professionals, our frontline workers from hospitals to grocery stores, and everyone in Virginia who is staying home and making sacrifices to help us get through this together. As you have heard me say many times, we are in the middle of a health crisis as well as an economic crisis. And as soon as we, together, can get this health crisis under control, as soon as we can put this health crisis behind us, we will be able to get our economy up and running again. So I thank all of you for your cooperation. Now, we’ll hear from Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver. And then we will be glad to take questions. Dr. Oliver, welcome.
Dr. Norm Oliveer: (05:37)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon, just an update on the cases that we have of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. As of the last reporting period, we now have 11,594 cases. That represents 596 new cases in the last reporting period. We have a total number of deaths of 410, that’s an increase of 38. I have been giving, periodically, some numbers on the breakdown for race in these cases. And I have to apologize for the fact that I hadn’t been breaking it down by ethnicity. We’ll start doing that in the coming weeks, beginning on Monday. And then we will also include that, race and ethnicity breakdown, on our website. Overall, the numbers still are tracking about the same, with African-American cases numbering about 28%, deaths also around 28%. And among the Latinx population, the deaths are numbering at 5%, and the cases are numbering at 26%. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (07:02)
Thanks, Dr. Oliver. I’ll be glad to take your questions.
Speaker 1: (07:08)
Hi, Governor. Do you have any idea of when you think you might be able to get to that benchmark of 10,000 tests per day, in order to reopen the economy in the state?
Ralph Northam: (07:19)
Well, I think, as Dr. Remley explained, the answer to your question, we don’t have an exact date, but 10,000 is certainly our goal. We’re doing this in a stepwise fashion as fast as we can. But just to kind of go back in history, six weeks ago we had our first case in Virginia, it was on March 7th. And at that time, the testing that we were doing in Virginia was sent to Atlanta, to CDC. And so that process has evolved to include our state lab here in Virginia, VCU, UVA had developed testing, private labs, to include LabCorp and Quest, and then, finally, the hospitals, the healthcare systems, themselves. And so we’ve gone from just a few tests’ capability, to now, where we’re testing 2,000 to 3,000.
Ralph Northam: (08:15)
Today, we’ve tested over 4,000. Again, that’s taken six weeks to get to where we are today. I don’t expect it to take another six weeks. Really wonderful work is going on, Dr. Remley has been organizing, kind of collaborating. And, I guess, one of the challenges that we’ve had was supplies, obviously, and we’re doing better with our supplies. But the other challenge, quite frankly, was that the tests were so cumbersome that a lot of providers in Virginia were just choosing not to do it. So, we wrote a letter to our providers and have encouraged them. Rather than the last mile, it’s really the first mile, getting the patient, having the testing availability there, and getting our providers to do that test. And so…
Ralph Northam: (09:03)
Availability there and getting our providers to do that test and so I would hope again that this will be ramped up in the next couple of weeks, but as far as an exact date of 10,000, I don’t have that. But as soon as we can get there, we will.
Yeah. Following up on that Governor, Dr. Remley, when you say that the tests were too cumbersome, the doctors weren’t doing that, what exactly does that mean and has the state pinpointed any other reasons why testing isn’t at the level that we’d like?
Ralph Northam: (09:35)
Yeah, Kate, when I say cumbersome one, not having the supplies in your office. Doctors obviously just like everybody, they’re very busy. So in order to get a test kit in their office was difficult, that’s become a lot easier, a lot more efficient now. The other, when I say cumbersome, the other drawback was as you remember when we were talking about this earlier, some of the results were taking five, seven, nine days in order to get those results back. And so again, it’s kind of like, well if I don’t know if I’m going to even get the test results back for nine days, why do the test. And so now it’s become much more efficient. The turnaround time is much shorter. And I think what you’ll see as we have collaborated with the labs, with the supply chains, with the providers that the testing will get up and running in a much more efficient manner.
And what’s the capability at the state lab currently? Is the plan to build capacity through relying on more private labs or through boosting capacity at the state lab?
Ralph Northam: (10:37)
Kate, I don’t have the exact answer but I have someone that may be able to help us out. So Dr. Tony, thank you.
Dr. Tony: (10:44)
So the question was what is the capacity at the state lab? And we have definitely increased our testing capacity and we are now able to test in the range of four to 500 tests a day. But we are also working in collaboration with hospital laboratories, both UVA, VCU and Virginia Tech and trying to coordinate our efforts to expand testing across the Commonwealth so that as Dr. Remley mentioned, we can meet that benchmark of 10,000 tests across the Commonwealth. But that will also include some of the private commercial laboratories as well.
Ralph Northam: (11:24)
And Dr. Remley is going to expand on some of the comments I made as well, Dr. Remley.
Dr. Remley: (11:29)
So I think what’s really important is the clinical community has done exactly what they’ve been asked to do. They’re continuing to see patients by telemedicine. They’re trying to decrease the amount of patients who come into their office. But the other thing to remember is the gold standard first test with something we call a nasal pharyngeal swab. And you probably have heard people talk about it. It’s a skinny little swab that goes all the way back in your nose. If you’re a pediatric ER doctor like me or a pediatrician, you do them every winter when kids are sick for RSV, respiratory syncytial virus. If you’re a cardiologist, you may have never done that before. So we are involved in a very collaborative but very aggressive turn time to really make sure all of our clinicians understand how to do this safely, how to do it accurately, and to be able to use the private labs that are out there to get these tests done out in the community.
Speaker 2: (12:31)
Hi, my question is for Governor Northam, so you’ve talked about coordinating with Maryland and DC about when to allow for non-essential businesses to reopen. There’s much of Virginia is not experiencing the same infection rates as Northern Virginia. Would you consider lifting restrictions earlier in other regions of the state and what factors play into making that decision?
Ralph Northam: (12:56)
The question is that some, obviously some parts of our Commonwealth are more dense than others. They’ve had larger numbers of positive tests, larger numbers of hospitalizations, but we’ve seen spotty cases throughout Virginia. And so the question was do we plan on opening up some parts of Virginia before others? And I have really as best I can try to be consistent and doing this as the name of our Virginia is a Commonwealth. So our plans to date as of today are to not open up one region before the other.
Ralph Northam: (13:34)
What we’d really like to see, I’ve given the guidelines of when we plan to ease these restrictions, we are hopeful that we have hit our peak. As you know, businesses have been asked to close through May the 8th, which is two weeks by the way from today. Hospitals will be allowed to do elective surgeries a week from the day, which is May the 1st. If our numbers will continue, if we can get a little bit of help out there with our numbers, I would really like to see us be able to go into to phase one as soon as May the 8th, but certainly no sooner than that.
Speaker 3: (14:19)
Yes, thank you. Governor Northam, candidates running in municipal elections in November are currently being forced to either go out and get voter signatures during the stay at home order to meet that May 9th deadline, June 9th deadline, excuse me. Other States have extended filing deadlines or move to allowing electronic signatures and I just want to know if your administration has any plans to address the issue of qualifying for the ballot during the stay at home order?
Ralph Northam: (14:52)
That’s a good question. I’m going to let our Secretary of Administration, Secretary Conner answer that. Thanks.
Secretary Conner: (15:01)
Yes, thank you for the question. We are aware that candidates who are running for the November ballot as an independent have a June 9th deadline to turn in all of their petitions as well as their declaration of candidacy. We are exploring a number of options. Unfortunately, we do not have the technology today to allow for electronic petition signatures. We are hoping that as some restrictions are lifted that candidates will be able to meet that deadline. I will also say that some candidates have sought relief from the courts to lower the number of petitions that they have to submit and that is also always an option for candidates to pursue.
Ralph Northam: (15:42)
Speaker 4: (15:45)
Virginia’s GOP sent out a letter today asking for you to reconsider your decision, particularly surrounding some of these nonessential businesses as we’re calling them. Obviously we’re seeing some States move forward without the data matching as far as this 14 day decline. So can you speak a little bit more to that decision and why you’re so adamant about those numbers matching up before you progress forward?
Ralph Northam: (16:11)
So I believe the question was that some individuals in Virginia have sent a letter, is that-
Speaker 4: (16:17)
Yeah, the GOP.
Ralph Northam: (16:18)
Or put out a statement that we should look at easing the restrictions outside of the guidelines that we have presented. Is that-
Speaker 4: (16:27)
Surrounding nonessential businesses specifically.
Ralph Northam: (16:29)
Well, the first thing I would say is that the guidelines that we’re using come from the CDC and they were announced by our President a week ago yesterday. And so while there have been some mixed messages coming out of Washington, that is a message that I think the Governors across our country have tried to abide by. Obviously nothing is written in stone, but we have really been trying to make our decisions with data and following the science. And the CDC I think is a good source of of guidelines. And so the guidelines that I have outlined today that we’ve been talking about every day for that matter, come from the CDC and we’ll continue to follow those.
Speaker 5: (17:25)
Thank you very much Governor. Prior to the suspension of the utility cutoffs, there were many people, especially in our area and in the lower income communities who had previously had their water services shut down prior to the suspension and they were working on trying to get them reinstated when everything happened and they are finding themselves without water and some of the other utilities. And without the water, they’re unable to follow some of the CDC protocols, such things as washing their hands. Is there anything the state can do to work with some of the more local utilities like water and sewer to make sure that these people who are working to try to get the access.
Speaker 6: (18:02)
To making sure that these people who are working to try to get the access turned back on will have that access during the crisis?
Ralph Northam: (18:08)
If I heard the question correctly, it sounded like some folks have had their utilities, their water turned off. And I regret that being the case. I don’t have any reason to doubt what you’re saying. But I would say that, if there are families out there that are having those difficulties, please direct them to our website. And we will do everything that we can, not only to help the families but also to deal or discuss this with the utilities and forgive them for not being able to pay their bills during this difficult time. So, please refer those to our office. And we’ll do everything that we can to remedy the situation.
Governor, what are businesses saying about phase one guidelines and if they’re going to be able to actually meet those guidelines when we do get back to reopening?
Ralph Northam: (19:00)
That’s a great question. Angela, do you want to talk? Angela Navarro has been communicating with our businesses on a daily basis. Thank you.
Angela Navarro: (19:10)
So, Angela Navarro, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade. Your question is, what has the business response been relative to guideline development? So, we’re working with businesses, both through the business task force that the governor announced earlier today, as well as with business community members outside of that task force. We’re really seeking their guidance and their recommendations as we’re developing these guidelines. We’re, of course, working with the Virginia Department of Health. And all of the guidelines are really focused on ensuring public health and security of individuals as they enter the workforce and as they go into these public facing businesses. We’ve had a really strong and positive response from businesses. They want consistency and they want clarity from government as we’re putting out these guidelines. And that’s what we’re hoping to provide in developing this process is that consistency and that clarity. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (20:00)
And Henry, just to follow up on that, as I’ve mentioned earlier in my comments, this recovery, this economic recovery is really going to be driven by our businesses and by our consumers. And so, this is the reason we’ve reached out to businesses. Because they have to be in a position, whether it be a barbershop or a hospital, to make sure that the consumers are comfortable coming back into their place of business. And so, I say, they’ve really, I think, been creative and innovative and certainly part of the solution. And we’ve really been pleased by the response so far.
The next question will be from Mike Murillo of WTOP.
Mike Murillo: (20:40)
Governor, thank you so much for taking my question. I know you’ve touched on this a bit, but with many Virginians, frequent commuters into D.C. And Maryland, how might the decision to ease restrictions in the Northern Virginia region be impacted by what’s happening in Maryland and D.C.? Could a lot of case activity, say in Maryland or in D.C., potentially delay an easing of restrictions in the Northern Virginia area?
Ralph Northam: (21:01)
The question, I think, deals with the consistency, as we move forward with easing these restrictions. And I’m in frequent communication with the mayor of Washington and the governor of Maryland. We’re neighbors, especially in the Northern Virginia area, just separated literally by the Potomac River. And while it’s not going to be an exact easing of guidelines, we are doing everything that we can to work together to be as consistent so that we will decrease any confusion moving forward. So again, every state, every city has a little bit of a different situation. And that’s certainly the case between Maryland, Virginia, and Washington. But, as best we can, we’re going to try to be consistent as we move forward.
Speaker 7: (21:53)
Can you talk more about contact tracing and what the state’s goals are for that? I know it’s a pretty labor intensive effort. I also know that Dr. Carrie has talked about the use of maybe phone apps or something like that to track people and their risk. Can you expand on what the state is planning for tracing?
Ralph Northam: (22:11)
Does one of you want to say?
Speaker 8: (22:12)
Yeah. I think Dr. Oliver first.
Dr. Oliver: (22:18)
The question was to please expand upon contact tracing and how we propose to do that as we step up to prepare for phase one and going into phase one of recovery. As you pointed out, contact tracing is a very labor intensive thing. For every one person who has COVID-19, you have to track down all the people that they’ve come into contact with. We understand that, as we begin to move toward decreasing social distancing, we will have to increase our ability to do contact tracing because the cases will start to rise again. And we want to try to contain that as best we can.
Dr. Oliver: (23:03)
So, part of what we’re doing is not only ramping up on our testing capabilities, but looking to ramp up our medical workforce, utilizing our Medical Reserve Corps, utilizing furloughed and under utilized healthcare workers through hospital systems and private practices, and other volunteers as well. We also are looking at a number of apps to help us in that process. I would point out that, even with those apps, however we will still need that expanded workforce. There will be other work that will require human intervention. And we won’t be able to just do it all electronically.
Speaker 7: (23:51)
Are there any specific applications or companies that are doing this work that you’re looking at that you can tell us about today?
Dr. Oliver: (24:00)
The question is, are there any specific applications? We’re looking at a number. There’s none that we’ve particularly latched onto at this point. But there are several interesting possibilities. And many of you probably already know about Google and Apple working on something that supposedly will be ready sometime in May.
We’re going to do one more on the phone, and then-
Ralph Northam: (24:24)
Elaine, we’re going to have-
Speaker 8: (24:24)
I’ll simply add to Dr. Oliver’s answers that we are, even this afternoon, after this is a briefing with Apple to see what progress they’ve made and where that application may be able to fit into the plans that Dr. Oliver, Dr. Forlano, and Dr. Peake can use as they expand that capability. That is human but also with tools. So, that is obviously an emerging field. And we’re looking broadly to see what are the right tools for Virginia.
On the line, David McGee with the Bristol Herald Courier.
David McGee: (25:03)
Yes. Thank you. Governor, you emphasize absentee voting in your remarks on the election. I just wonder if your order is going to extend the deadline for absentee voting since you’re extending the election?
Ralph Northam: (25:14)
You want to address that?
Speaker 9: (25:21)
Yes. So, the question is, will the deadline for absentee voting be extended due to the governor postponing the election? And the answer is yes. So, the last day to request an absentee ballot is May 12. And then, the last day to return an absentee ballot is 7:00 P.M. on election day, May 19.
Laura [inaudible 00:25:43].
Governor. [inaudible 00:25:53].
Ralph Northam: (25:59)
Maybe you want to address that. Laura, I was going to give it a try, but I’m going to let… no, no, no. I’m going to let Dr. Forlano, I’m going to take off my doctor’s hat and let a real doctor address it.
Dr. Forlano: (26:12)
Hi, thanks for the question. The question is, is it expected that we’re seeing case counts continued to rise right now? Is that right? Yeah. So, I think that is expected, particularly as we increase testing capacity. Obviously, we’ll detect more cases and those cases will be counted. I think some of the phase recommendations you saw today point to positivity. So, what proportion of tests are positive? So, that’s another important measure to look at. Thanks.
Ralph Northam: (26:44)
Well, just in closing, a couple of comments I wanted to offer, and I appreciate your all’s patience. The work that is being done right now to obtain more PPE, to do everything that we can with the guidelines, to flatten the curve, to increase our-
Ralph Northam: (27:03)
Headlines to flatten the curve, to increase our ability to do more testing across the commonwealth of Virginia, is really done now in an attempt to be able to open up our economy and get back to where we were prior to this. And as I answered a little bit earlier to one of the questions, this recovery is going to be business and consumer-driven. And perhaps it’s not a good analogy or comparison, but we all remember what happened back in 9/11. And after that time, Americans were fearful of getting on an airplane and flying, understandably so. So a lot of modifications were made. And in time, people again became comfortable and we got back to as near normal as we could. That’s really what we’re doing now with all of our efforts. We want to make sure that our businesses are doing everything that they can.
Ralph Northam: (27:59)
And that’s why we established this work group to let our consumers, whether again … And whether it’s a barber shop or a hardware store or the hospital, we want to make sure that the consumers feel safe and comfortable that when they come into that place of business, they’re safe. And so there’s a lot of effort that’s going into really working out how we can make that recovery is as efficient and as effective as we can. I wanted to take this opportunity, I know we’re all going into the weekend, but I wanted to again thank some people because a thank you goes a long way. And to the press, to all the journalists, all the networks that faithfully come to all of our press conferences and write about this on a daily basis, or our broadcast and really work to make sure that Virginians are getting accurate and updated information, I say thanks to all of you.
Ralph Northam: (28:53)
To those individuals that are working in our hospitals, in our nursing homes, in our grocery stores, our first responders, our law enforcement agents that literally are working around the clock to keep Virginians safe. On behalf of Virginia, I sincerely say thank you for all of your dedication and work. And then finally you have heard and seen some very talented people that stand with me every day, and there are a lot that work behind the scenes. And I just want to let you know how hard they’re working seven days a week. A lot of them are working through the night to make sure that we as Virginians can recover from this. And so on behalf of the commonwealth of Virginia, to all of them, I say thank you.
Ralph Northam: (29:48)
They are what make me proud as a Virginian, and hopefully you proud as well. So as I said, a thank you goes a long way. So if you see a first responder or someone who’s working in the hospital or one of our cabinet secretaries or our staffers, just please tell them thank you. And to all of you, it’s Friday. That’s a good thing. I hope you all get some rest this weekend. Have a safe and peaceful weekend, and we look forward to being back with you on Monday. Thank you all so much.
Speaker 10: (30:19)
Required to stay at home and are the most vulnerable to this disease.