Apr 27, 2020
Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript April 27
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a press conference on April 27 on coronavirus. He talked broadly about increasing testing in Virginia. Read the full transcript of his briefing updates.
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Ralph Northam: (00:00)
… workers in sectors like energy and construction. To date, our department of corrections has made 470,000, masks which are being distributed for use by people who are incarcerated in correction facilities as well as staff, law enforcement and other state employees. This is a critical part of Virginia’s PPE strategy, and I may add that the facial protection that I use was also made and supplied by our department of corrections, and to all of those folks, I say thank you.
Ralph Northam: (00:37)
We also have an update on testing. Last Monday when we announced our testing task force, we were testing about 2,000 people per day. In the last few days, we’ve been able to test around 4,000 people per day. That’s a good step forward. Also, this weekend and into this week, the health department has been doing testing in public housing neighborhoods in Richmond. That’s part of a pilot project we’re doing with local health departments to ensure that people who are vulnerable, such as economically disadvantaged populations, are able to access test.
Ralph Northam: (01:21)
As part of this project. We’re also providing PPE and information about accessing healthcare. On Wednesday, I’ve asked Dr. Karen Remley to give you a more comprehensive testing update, but I will before Wednesday tell you that I’m just so pleased that she was able to join our team and as you’ve heard, our testing per day has almost doubled within the last weekend, so I thank her and her team.
Ralph Northam: (01:50)
Now I’d like to talk about our rising concerns for spread in our meat processing plants. Our teams across Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware and the CDC worked throughout this weekend on this. Here’s where we are. Virginia has 10 poultry processing facilities, primarily in the Shenandoah Valley and the Eastern Shore, which is where my home is. Last week, data in the Eastern Shore health district began to show a rising number of covert cases among workers that poultry processing facilities in Accomack County. Similar facilities across the Delmarva Peninsula, including Maryland and Delaware, are seeing a similar rise in sick workers. These poultry plants are a vital part of our food supply chain, providing food to millions of people on the East Coast, but the health of the people who work in these plants is also critically important.
Ralph Northam: (02:53)
While the companies here in Virginia are taking additional safety measures inside their facilities to protect workers and keep the plants operational, I am very concerned about the continued rise in cases. I grew up on the Eastern Shore and I know it very well. It’s a rural area with excellent access to healthcare, but I know how quickly our medical resources there could be overwhelmed with a surge in cases. The workers in poultry plants are particularly vulnerable. About 3,000 people work in two plants on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Many of them do not speak English as their first language, and the close quarters of the house and makes measures such as isolation and quarantine even more difficult.
Ralph Northam: (03:47)
Friday evening, I joined Governor Hogan of Maryland and Governor Carney of Delaware in writing in a letter to our president. We’re asking the federal government for assistance and for a fully coordinated approach in dealing with this rapidly evolving situation. Because the poultry economy on the Delmarva Peninsula is so interconnected, a coordinated approach is critical. My team worked over the weekend with our partners in these other states and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has committed to deploying teams on the ground in all three states, and we expect a team to be in Virginia today. This team includes epidemiologists and contact tracers as well as language specialists who speak Haitian Creole, the language spoken by many workers in the Delmarva plants. The CDC team will work with our local health department and VDH. We expect the CDC team to do an overall assessment of the situation and help with wider scale testing to determine the actual scope of the problem that will allow us to detect the most appropriate mitigation steps to contain the outbreak on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Ralph Northam: (05:15)
These requests are generating results. Yesterday, the CDC released new guidance for meat processing facilities, several which have begun seeing large scale outbreaks across the entire nation. Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Bettina Ring, and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Gina Berger, are leading our efforts. We spoke yesterday with corporate leadership from both poultry companies with operations on the Shore, and I’d like to thank them for their willingness to cooperate with us and to share needed information.
Ralph Northam: (05:56)
While the situation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore is our immediate concern, we are also following developments at the smaller poultry facilities in the Shenandoah Valley as well. Virginia has more than 120 federally inspected meat processing facilities. Our local health departments have been on the ground working with facilities to track cases, increase safety procedures, and recommending mitigation measures. We will ensure that workers are screened, provided care if they are sick and measures are taken to protect other workers not showing symptoms.
Ralph Northam: (06:38)
Now I would like to talk briefly about vaccinations. We all have heard about global efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19. A vaccine would mean we could resume our lives, our economies, and our society. It’s important to remember how many epidemics we have avoided by having vaccines for other diseases that once killed people, like polio, measles, or tetanus. Today is the start of National Infant Vaccination Week, and I wanted to take this opportunity to strongly urge parents to keep up their children’s vaccination schedule. It’s essential to vaccinate young children on time to provide immunity before children may be exposed to potentially life threatening diseases. Fortunately, most Virginia children are vaccinated on time. However, due to COVID-19, we’re starting to see a decline in immunizations. Parents are opting not to take their children to the pediatrician for their vaccines.
Ralph Northam: (07:49)
As a pediatrician, this is very concerning. Vaccinations are a critical protection for children and communities. We don’t want to see an outbreak of a preventable disease such as measles on top of the COVID-19 pandemic. I know that healthcare providers around the state are working hard to make sure that children still receive the well visits and immunizations they need. Some pediatricians are scheduling well visits at different times or different locations than sick visits, so please, parents, call your pediatrician or your family practice providers and make sure that your child is getting his or her vaccinations on schedule.
Ralph Northam: (08:36)
While we focus on Virginia’s physical health during this epidemic, we know that this has taken a toll on mental health as well. Some Virginians are feeling isolation or even depression. Some people are using alcohol or other substances as a crutch, or stress from job loss are experiencing family challenges. The CDC tells us that people who may be most stressed in a crisis like this include children and teens, health workers and those who have mental health conditions are problems with substance use. People who were already getting behavioral health treatment for mental illness or substance use may find they need that help now more than ever, and people on the front lines like our healthcare workers may find themselves in need of help to cope with the emotional toll of being constantly exposed to trauma, loss and suffering.
Ralph Northam: (09:39)
We expect the demand for behavioral health services to increase, so we need to be able to provide treatment. Our behavioral health providers can offer therapy through virtual means, but not everyone has the necessary technology. Today, I’m glad to announce that Virginia has received a $2 million grant from the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to start addressing the behavioral health impacts of COVID-19. The grant money will go through our 40 community service boards and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. This grant will help our CSBs continue to provide outpatient treatment for behavioral health and substance use via telehealth. The behavioral health treatment provided by our CSBs is critical as we battle the mental health impacts of this pandemic. It will also help provide medication assisted treatment for opioid addictions, along with recovery services and recovery housing, and we’ll be able to support healthcare workers who may need behavioral health treatment through partnerships with hospital systems. This grant will help us ensure we can provide these critical behavioral health services.
Ralph Northam: (11:02)
We continue to work to support businesses and infrastructure that are affected by closures. Our Go Virginia economic grant program will use $14.6 million in its funding for a new economic resilience and recovery program. That money will go through our Go Virginia regional councils for initiatives that will help support business needs caused by the pandemic in their communities, focusing on economic resilience and recovery. Also, the Commonwealth Transportation Board has approved allocation of nearly $100 million in federal public transportation funding that Virginia is receiving through the federal CARES Act. These emergency relief funds will go to help offset the revenue losses that local governments and transit agencies are seeing.
Ralph Northam: (11:57)
Finally, on Friday, I issued an order moving to May 5 local elections to May the 19th. I encourage everyone to vote absentee by mail if possible, and want to remind Virginians of the deadlines. The last day to request a mail in absentee ballot is Tuesday, May the 12th, so the last day to request a mail-in absentee ballot is Tuesday, May the 12th. Just contact your local registrar’s office to request one. Mail-in absentee ballots must be returned no later than May the 19th, the day of the election, so you’d need to get your ballot back in by May the 19th. We will do everything possible to protect the health of poll workers and voters. Volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps will help election workers and polling places put additional safety measures in place. That will include …
Ralph Northam: (13:03)
… adequate supply and proper use of PPE for our poll workers. Now we’ll turn to Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver for a health update and then we will be glad to take your questions. Thank you. Dr. Oliver.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (13:18)
Thank you governor.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (13:21)
Good afternoon. I’ll be brief and just give the figures for today. We’ve seen them across the country the new milestone and the number of people who have died from COVID-19 now surpasses those who died in the Vietnam war. We are, as governor Northam has said, in a real war here.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (13:46)
Total cases in the Commonwealth now number 13,535. That’s 565 new cases in the last reporting period. Total deaths now number 458 and that’s 10 additional deaths in the last reporting period. If you go to our website you will see that there’s a lot of granularity now in the data tables by districts. The disproportionate number of cases among African Americans and Latinos continues to be about the same, around about a third of the cases and the third of the deaths.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (14:26)
We’ve continued to experience a number of outbreaks, 199 across the state and 113 of those are in nursing homes. We are working very diligently with our longterm care facility task force to step up our surveillance in nursing homes and intervening to provide mitigation there. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (14:49)
Thanks Dr. Oliver.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (14:49)
Ralph Northam: (14:52)
Be glad to take your questions.
Governor, Judge Patrick Gates at the 24th circuit ruled Lynchburg Range and Training can reopen. I guess your response to that ruling and then also I guess bigger picture. Are you worried you’ll see more lawsuits like this challenging your order the longer this goes on?
Ralph Northam: (15:10)
Yes. Well, we’ll look at our options as we move forward, Henry. But the point that I would might like to make clear to all Virginians is that the decisions that we are making are to promote and provide health for and safety for Virginians. And so no particular business has been singled out, but businesses where that patrons would be at risk to be confined, whether it would perhaps be more than 10 people, we made the decision to close those.
Ralph Northam: (15:44)
So why I respect the decisions of our judicial system, we will look at our options as we move forward. My goal certainly for all of Virginia, for all businesses, is to put this health crisis behind us. You’ve heard me say many times that we’re in the middle of a health crisis and also an economic crisis and so many businesses are suffering. Many people are sacrificing, making sacrifices now. So the sooner we can get this health crisis behind us, the sooner we’ll be able to get into phase one and start reopening businesses and to ease some of the restrictions.
Speaker 1: (16:20)
The first question will be from Rebecca Feldhaus Adams with WHRO.
Rebecca Feldhaus Adams: (16:23)
Hi, [inaudible 00:03:27]. Thank you so much for taking my question. Governor Northam, your office has said that you’ve been trying to get the tests, but Virginia has consistently lagged behind other states, even with the increase you mentioned today, why couldn’t we access the same number of tests that states like North Carolina or Maryland access? If other States got them it can’t just be a supply chain issue, so what’s causing that hold up?
Ralph Northam: (16:51)
Well, let me reiterate the evolution of our testing process. Our first case was on March the seventh. At that time, the test that we were able to do in Virginia were sent to Atlanta to the CDC. March the seventh was not that long ago. Since that time, we have evolved, our state lab is now able to do about 400 tests per day right here in Virginia. Colleges and universities have come online, VCU and UVA in particular. We also have private labs, LabCorp and Quest.
Ralph Northam: (17:32)
Remember initially some of these turnaround times were a week to nine days? Well now we’ve decreased that to a day or two and now healthcare providers, healthcare systems are doing in-house testing, so we’ve come a long way in just over six weeks. And I’m proud of our team. One of the, I think the factors that was causing us to not be able to test as many individuals as we would like was a lack of supplies and just like PPE.
Ralph Northam: (18:05)
And it’s not just Virginia, it’s governors across our country are literally competing for supplies. And as I mentioned earlier, FEMA has now sent us a new shipment of swabs. So I think what you’ll see is every day things will be improving. And in order to reopen our economy, we really need that testing and so last week we were at around 2000. This week we’re testing over 4,000 a day, and in the next couple of weeks with Dr. [Remley’s 00:18:36] help our goal is to get to 10,000 and maybe above depending on how many we need.
Ralph Northam: (18:41)
So I don’t think at this time that the question was why couldn’t we be like other states? All of the states have been in the same boat, if you will. We’ve all been doing this on our own from day one. And again, I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been able to accomplish in Virginia.
Speaker 1: (18:57)
Governor, the state Republican sent out a letter today, one criticizing how you’ve been talking about coordinating with D.C. And Maryland for reopening and not mentioning Kentucky and Tennessee where they’re lifting restrictions and also asking for more concrete timelines regarding the phases in the real [inaudible 00:00:19:17]. Do you have a response to that?
Ralph Northam: (19:17)
Well, we continue to communicate with our neighboring states and again, whether it’s Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maryland, the District of Columbia, if it hasn’t been me personally communicating with them, someone from our staff has been. So I think for, I didn’t see those particular comments from the letter, but to say that we haven’t been communicating I think would be inaccurate.
Ralph Northam: (19:48)
As far as the letters, the emails, any type of input that we receive, whether they’d be Republican, Democrat, or just citizens right in Virginia, I do appreciate that input. I take all of that into consideration and we make decisions literally by the hour and we’ll continue to use data. We’ll continue to use science and input from around Virginia to make the decisions that are in the best interests of Virginia.
Ralph Northam: (20:17)
I would also say that our task group, our business task group where we have over two dozen business leaders throughout Virginia, we’re going to have our second meeting this afternoon just after we finish this press conference and the input that we’ve been receiving from these businesses to talk about how we can make sure that our consumers feel safe, how we can open up in a responsible manner have just been invaluable.
Ralph Northam: (20:42)
And so the communication throughout Virginia, from politicians, from business leaders, from just constituents has been great and I just want to let you all know, we take all of that into consideration and we appreciate it.
Speaker 1: (20:56)
The next question will be from Matt Barakat with The Associated Press.
Matt Barakat: (21:04)
Governor, this might be a bit of an adversarial question, but you’ve talked about basing your decisions on science, but the science is all over the map. There’s not a lot of clarity right now about when the pandemic even arrived in the United States. You’ve got one model that says maybe we’ve reached our peak, you have the UVA model says over the next five weeks we can keep going full bore and stay at home and you’ll just get another peak, a big peak in August. So when you talk about being guided by the science, I mean isn’t it to some extent sort of picking and choosing the science that supports your policies?
Ralph Northam: (21:40)
I appreciate the question. The question was about the science and it’s not a perfect science and I would be the first as a scientist to agree with that. There are many challenges as we make these decisions, but I will remind Virginians again, going back to the March 7th, that was our first positive case in Virginia. And they call this a novel COVID-19. Novel meaning that it’s new to the world. It’s new to our country, it’s new to Virginia.
Ralph Northam: (22:18)
So there are a lot of things that we don’t know about the virus that we’d like to know. And science, yes, science evolves so we don’t even know today if this is a seasonal virus, like a cold virus for example. There is no treatment for this virus to date. There is no vaccination for this virus so again, it’s not a perfect science. We are doing the best that we can with a just a magnificent, a great team to make science-based decisions to at the end of the day keep Virginians as safe as we can. That’s my first priority and then to get this health crisis behind us and get our economy back up and running again.
Is there increasing questions about reopening certain areas of the state before others? Can someone talk to me about deploying tests in more rural areas of the state and if there have been enough done to know how the virus is spreading there?
Ralph Northam: (23:18)
That’s a great question. And the question is about reopening different parts of Virginia doing it on a regional basis and how that is dictated by testing. And so the testing, Kate, is improving every day and whether it’d be the Southwest or the Eastern shore, I think our capabilities are improving all the time.
Ralph Northam: (23:43)
And so while the testing, as we’ve been saying, every day is not where we want it to be. We’re getting there. We’re up to 4,000 tests. Our challenge, our goal is to get to 10,000 tests. So I’m confident as we move forward and get into the summer months that our testing will be where we need it to be. It will be adequate.
Ralph Northam: (24:05)
I think the other part of your question is important and certainly we’re open-minded and can we open up different regions quicker or sooner than others. And a great example is in Bristol, and I suspect most of you are familiar with Bristol, but on one side of the line is Tennessee and on our side is Virginia. So again to, to try to be consistent. Is it really fair for Tennessee’s businesses to be open and Virginia’s not to be in.
Ralph Northam: (24:34)
So this is one of the things that we’ll be discussing this afternoon with our businesses. How can we do this? Is being able to open certain regions of Virginia possible? So I’m open minded to all of that and I would say stay tuned. We’re still at a stage where we haven’t gone into phase one yet. We’re watching the trends as you know, but just as soon as we can open businesses throughout Virginia, we will do that.
Just a quick follow up. Speaking from your perspective as a medical expert, do you think that enough testing has been done in those areas to make an informed decision about reopening there?
Ralph Northam: (25:12)
Well, the question has enough testing been done? The answer to that is obvious. No. Enough testing hadn’t been done anywhere. Okay. It’s not just in rural areas. Again, on March the 7th we were sending what few tests we were able to do to Atlanta. Every day that’s ramping up in Virginia. So we’ll get to the point where we have adequate testing, but it’s not adequate anywhere in Virginia. It’s not adequate anywhere in the country right now. I think if you talk to other governors, you would hear the same challenges.
Speaker 1: (25:45)
Greg Hambrick with Inside Nova.
Greg Hambrick: (25:48)
Governor, when it comes to providing information about how COVID-19 is impacting communities, Fairfax County Health District has started providing information in groups of zip codes. Maryland is offering zip code level information-
Greg Hambrick: (26:03)
… for individual zip codes. I’m curious if the state is going to start providing more residents zip code level information so they know how COVID-19 is impacting their communities?
Ralph Northam: (26:16)
The question is about how COVID-19 is affecting different communities, different regions and, and how we’re using data to do that. There are all kinds of things that, opportunities that we’re looking into using the technology, using different apps. I think as this evolves certainly into the summer months, especially as we start lifting restrictions, getting people back to work, opening businesses again, all of this information will be very important. Data is very important. We’ll use the technology, we’ll use the apps that are available to allow different regions, different towns, different counties to know how they’re doing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Greg Hambrick: (27:05)
Just to follow up, Governor, does the state have the capability to know on a zip code level how many cases per zip code the coronavirus is impacting per zip code? Do you have that information now?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (27:17)
Ralph Northam: (27:18)
Dr. Norm Oliver: (27:22)
The question is whether we have the data at a zip code level and could we do that?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (27:26)
We have the data right down to very granular level of the individual. The way that we report the data, now, if you go to the VDH website, you will see cases, hospitalizations and fatalities at the health district level with demographic information regarding age, sex, race, ethnicity at that district level. We, at the locality level, provide that same information without the demographics, so it’s a lot more granular, I believe. In large jurisdictions like Fairfax County, we are exploring other ways of perhaps heat maps or something like that to give people a idea of where concentrations are without giving actual numbers.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (28:21)
The issue with zip code, we believe, is that said zip codes can be problematic. The zip codes here in the Richmond area that include both Richmond and Henrico and it would not be really a good data point for someone to understand the actual distribution of what was going on. Doing it at the jurisdiction level, it’s actually far better, we believe
Ralph Northam: (28:50)
Thank you, [inaudible 00:02:51].
Speaker 4: (28:52)
Yeah, you mentioned earlier that you guys are getting 14,000 test swabs from FEMA, I believe. What I’m wondering is as if we’re hoping to get to 10,000 tests a day in not too long a time, does that even make a dent in the shortage? Do you have any updates on the use of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of those supplies?
Ralph Northam: (29:15)
Do you want to address the …
Ralph Northam: (29:20)
The first part of the question is, does this make a dent in what we need?
Ralph Northam: (29:26)
Every bit helps right now, whether it be testing equipment and swabs, reagents, the more we can get, the better. As I said, we’re not where we need to be, and the same as with PPE. I think you saw the slide earlier, we’ve made a lot of progress and we have a supply chain now, so we’ll continue to improve every day, but we’re not where we need to be quite yet.
Thank you, Governor. We have an additional 200,000 swabs on order from FEMA when they can supply those. There are shortages around the country. We’re aggressively pursuing supplies. Again, you’re seeing steady progress. We look forward to Dr. [Remly’s 00:30:16] continued influence, partnering with physicians, hospitals, federally-qualified health centers, all the places where people are getting care.
I think one of the other aspects is that because of shortages in the past and the long turnaround time, that providers are now seeing that that turnaround time is lower and that the supplies are getting increasingly better, especially with the commercial labs so that they’re more likely as they move up from the priority one hospitalized patients and symptomatic healthcare workers to other priorities so that we’re able to meet that supply and also that physicians and other providers are able to have those orders be filled in a timely manner. I think those are evolving together.
Ralph Northam: (31:07)
Thanks, Dan. Kate?
I’m was going to say, I think the commercial labs particularly because they give you a kit which includes the swab and the reagent, so it’s very efficient and effective way to be able to do a test, matching PPE with that, with a patient, with a doctor or someone else who can do the test is what we’re working on today.
I think the other thing I’ve learned in my week is that through the leadership of Dr. Tony and the governor and the secretary and the commissioner, we have not been a state that has bought fraudulent swabs that don’t work with the reagents. We haven’t. They’ve been very careful and very selective to make sure they get quality products to be able to do the testing so the testing is accurate and we’ve been able to scale it up effectively. I think that’s a real important part of the story too.
Speaker 5: (31:55)
Is there any update on the Defense Production Act from the White House and using that to kick up?
I turn that over to the secretary. I don’t know if there’s anything.
The question was, was there any evidence of the War Production Act increasing testing supplies here in Virginia? I can’t point to that today.
Speaker 6: (32:13)
The next question will be from Sherry Hamilton with the Foster Matthews Gazette Journal.
Sherry Hamilton: (32:21)
Yes, Governor, COVID-19 cases in the rural areas, like the middle peninsula, appeared as much as two weeks later than cases in urban in areas like Richmond and Northern Virginia. Is there any indication that the people follow a similar trajectory occurring earlier in urban areas and later in rural areas?
Ralph Northam: (32:47)
Doctor Norm is going to address some of this, but let me just, the question is about peaks occurring in rural areas sometimes a week, two weeks after those in the more dense and urban areas. Just a great example of that is, I just spoke to a little while ago about what’s happening on the Eastern Shore, which is where I’m from. We have some hotspots over there right now that are lagging behind some of the other more dense areas where this virus initially started. As you remember, our first case was at Fort Belvoir and then we had a wave come through Hampton Roads, Newport News, Yorktown area.
Ralph Northam: (33:29)
The point I would make, Dr. Oliver can follow me, is that this virus is highly contagious. Whenever a person or persons in any particular area of Virginia are exposed to this, it just spreads like wildfire. That’s what we’re seeing right now in some areas, some especially rural areas of Virginia. We’ve got to continue to do the things that we’ve been talking about every day, the social distancing and keeping to crowds of less than 10 individuals, keeping six feet apart, hand-washing, using protective facial equipment, all of these things are so important. This viruses, as I tell people every day, it’s still out there. Look at the numbers. Look at these outbreaks. We’ve got to be vigilant and continue to do what we’re doing as we move forward.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (34:27)
Thank you, Governor. I won’t have to add much to that. I think the governor answered that question quite well. The only thing I will add is that, yes, there will be variation across the Commonwealth. I think what that will mean is that as we move into different phases of our reopening of Virginia, we will find ourselves having to calibrate our containment efforts around the pandemic differently in different places, just like we’re doing, for example, and really focusing in on longterm-care facilities. Now there may be particular areas of the state that will have to do more containment than in others.
Thank you, Dr. Oliver.
Governor, I don’t know if [inaudible 00:35:15] but is there a sense that [inaudible 00:35:25] who are most of the people who are getting it now? Are they frontline workers in nursing homes or grocery stores or are they people who are flouting the rules or the people trying to follow the rules but they still rub their eyes [inaudible 00:35:42]
Ralph Northam: (35:44)
The question is, I think, Laura, if I can paraphrase, is, as we have talked about the importance of the guidelines that we just spoke of who gets it and who doesn’t? I think the majority of Virginians, and again, I thank you all for following these guidelines, I think we’ve been at this now since, in Virginia, March the 7th, even before as we’ve watched this evolve across the world. I think, Laura, I would hope that those that are going to get it, have gotten it. Obviously, there are some individuals out there that perhaps don’t believe in what we’re saying, but that’s certainly a choice that they are able to make. Again, I just encourage all Virginians to take this seriously. It is a very contagious virus.
Ralph Northam: (36:38)
The guidelines that we’ve been using are working. I know you all have heard more than you probably want to hear about flattening that curve, but one of the reasons that we’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to open up our hospitals again this Friday to elective procedures is because they haven’t had that surge that we were so worried about and they’ve been able to get the amount of PPE and the testing equipment and the bed capacity, the ventilators that they’ll need to move forward. I think that’s a long-winded answer to your question, but I think the majority of Virginians get it and had followed the guidelines. I’m very appreciative that they have.
Speaker 6: (37:20)
Speaker 7: (37:26)
Hey, Governor, thanks for taking our questions. You said that there isn’t a treatment but that doesn’t appear to be totally true because we do have people that have recovered. The restrictions were meant to do what you just said, allow hospitals to prepare bed space and facilities and PPE. If we have been told that they can handle the surge, doesn’t that mean that we should start looking at lifting some restrictions?
Ralph Northam: (37:59)
The question is lifting some restrictions because we haven’t had the surge.
Ralph Northam: (38:03)
I’m not sure exactly what the question is directed to but let me answer it as best I can. I think you started your question by saying that I made the statement that there’s no known treatment and you said, “Well, there are some treatments because people have recovered,” which is accurate. What I was referring to is there is no known antiviral agent thus far. There are trials going on across the world, certainly in our country and here in Virginia. Controlled studies, which are very important. That’s the way we figure out in what we call double-blind studies, where the individual administering the medicine and the individual receiving the medicine are blinded and that’s the way we are provided a reliable data to move forward. There has not been an antiviral agent. There has not been a medication that blocks our immune system to prevent this from happening. There has not been a medication to block-
Ralph Northam: (39:03)
… block what we call the acute lung, which we’re seeing. There’s not a medicine to block the cardiomyopathy that we see from the virus or even more interestingly as we’ve seen in some young people, there’s a hypercoagulable state where the blood clots faster than it should. And so again, I’ll go back to what I was saying earlier. This is a novel virus. A lot of research has taken place to find better treatments, but to date, we do not have a specific treatment for COVID-19.
Speaker 8: (39:38)
Governor, could you give us an update on your pilot program where you’re testing more in the African-American communities, and what does that program need to show to expand testing? And then on sidebar, can you talk about some of the precautions you’re taking to keep our veterans hospitals safe?
Ralph Northam: (39:56)
Yes, great question. And Dr. Oliver, if you want to talk about some of the testing we’re doing in the localities.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (40:03)
So, last week we conducted a pilot study here in Richmond in which we went into a housing development here in Richmond. The purpose of doing that and utilizing forces from the Virginia National Guard, the Richmond City Health Department and others was to test out how well we could work together in actually implementing those tests. And we were very successful, very successful, and the community really welcomed that. What we would like to do is to begin scaling that up. As you know, we’ve been focusing a lot on the longterm care facilities where the majority of our outbreaks have been, but we also know that communities of color across the state are being hit very hard as well by COVID-19 and we want to scale up our ability to do testing in those communities. So over time, we’ll do a couple more places and begin scaling up to full steam.
Speaker 8: (41:13)
[inaudible 00:41:13] any idea which-
Dr. Norm Oliver: (41:16)
It’ll be part of a overall plan as we go into forward Virginia to expand testing, hit and cover the most vulnerable populations. And so as we flesh out that plan, we’ll have more details on that.
Ralph Northam: (41:38)
The second part of the question was what are we doing to help our veterans, and I appreciate that question, especially as a veteran myself. We pride ourselves in Virginia being the most veteran-friendly state in the country, and so we are paying particular attention to our veterans facilities across Virginia, and I’d like our secretary of veterans affairs, Carlos Hopkins, to elaborate on that. Carlos? Thanks.
Carlos Hopkins: (42:03)
Thank you, governor. And the question was what we’re doing to protect our veterans, particularly our veterans hospitals in Virginia, and I just want to start by saying just last week, Virginia operates two long-term care veterans homes here with two being built, and the governor was able to speak with the directors of those homes just last week to get an update on what’s taking place within our veterans facilities. But our veterans facilities follow the guidelines of the CDC, and we’ve taken added precautions in terms of restricting access to only those individuals for end of life care.
Carlos Hopkins: (42:33)
We have our residents at our care centers. We keep them in their individual rooms and provide their meals in the rooms. The staff has worked extremely hard to make sure that veterans are still able to communicate with one another. And so they’ve arranged for a number of activities for the residents within the facilities, while at the same time maintaining the social distance. We restrict access by also asking that anyone entering the facility, whether if they work there or if they are a family member in those end of care situations, that we perform screening of those individuals as well. So, temperature test as well as questionnaires to make sure that we don’t allow the virus into the facilities, because we certainly understand how vulnerable that particular population is.
Carlos Hopkins: (43:18)
And we have an extremely close coordination with our federal veterans facilities as well. Here in Virginia, we have three federal VA hospitals and they work closely with our two care centers to make sure that we’re communicating in terms of any potential for an outbreak or if there’s any particular testing that needs to be done or any transport of patients between the facilities. Our directors at both our federal facilities in our state facilities are constantly engaged. And I’ve had numerous calls with our federal directors as well as with our state directors to make sure that we’re taking every precaution we can here in Virginia for our veterans. Thank you.
Speaker 9: (44:03)
One more question. When can we expect to see a full detailed plan of what phase one is going to look like, and can you talk about how long you anticipate phase one lasting?
Ralph Northam: (44:07)
The question is when will there be a detailed plan of phase one as we ease restrictions, and then how long phase one will last before we go to phase two, and then phase three. Now, we are in the process of establishing a plan as we move forward. That’s why we’ve created the business task group. As I said, we met last week and we’re going to have another meeting this afternoon to really determine when we go into phase one, what businesses we can reopen first, whether we can do that on a regional basis, et cetera. And then as far as I think the second part of your question, how long will we be in phase one before we go to phase two and then phase three, if one looks at the CDC guidelines, we use the same criteria that we use to enter phase one that we will to go from phase one to phase two. So, we will look at the new cases each day, we’ll look at the number of hospitalizations. Are they going up? The need for ICU beds, ventilators, our ability to test the amount of PPE we have. So all of these things will be taken into account as we evolve from one phase to the next. But the answer to the initial part of your question, when will you see a plan, we’re in the process of developing that plan as we speak.
Speaker 9: (45:42)
Ralph Northam: (45:42)
I want to just close by again thanking all of you for following these guidelines. We’re, going to get through this together. As I’ve said before, I know this has been tremendously difficult and people all across Virginia have made tremendous sacrifices. On a personal note, as a healthcare provider, as a physician, it is very, very important that all of us take care of our healthcare needs and those of our family. And so I will speak more about this on Wednesday, but you’ve heard me talk before about that this is going to be a consumer and business driven recovery. And that means that our businesses will do everything that they can to make our consumers feel safe going into that place of business, and there is no group that has been working any harder than our healthcare providers and our hospitals. And I just wanted to let you know today that hospitals, that doctor’s offices are safe, and it’s okay for all of you that need healthcare to get back into that system.
Ralph Northam: (46:56)
So as we look at hopefully reopening our hospitals on Friday to elective, to outpatient surgeries, I encourage all of you to get in touch with your providers because there may be some labs that you need. There may be X-ray that you need, imaging studies, whatever, to prepare for these hospitals, and again, in hopes of starting to do elective surgeries again on Friday. So between now and then, again, this is not something that you just flip a switch. A lot of preparation as you know, whether you need a hip or a biopsy or whatever. A lot of preparation needs to go into being able to do that procedure, to do it safely, even if for example, COVID-19 testing needs to take place before you have that particular procedure. So, contact your providers and stay safe, and take care of yours and your family’s healthcare needs, and we will look forward to being with you on Wednesday. Thank you very much.