May 1, 2020
Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 1
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a coronavirus press conference on May 1. He spoke about the testing progress in Virginia.
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Ralph Northam: (00:11)
Good afternoon, happy Friday to all of you and thanks for joining us today. Today, I want to talk about our data that we follow daily and also testing. First, I’d like to remind everyone of how far we have come. Less than two months ago, we faced the beginning of this pandemic. Our first positive COVID case was on March the 7th, less than eight weeks ago. We feared a surge in hospitalization that would overwhelm our ICU and our ventilator capacity. We struggled to get enough PPE as well as supplies for testing and we were planning to build alternative care facilities. I directed Virginians to stay home and many businesses temporarily closed or moved to telework and take out. We stayed six feet apart and we waited to see if it worked.
Ralph Northam: (01:11)
And it has worked. These actions have flattened that curve as we have often talked about. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. Hospitals have continued to have the ICU beds and the ventilators that they so desperately needed. Our case counts continue to climb, but so does our testing. We have slowed the spread, but we are not out of the woods yet. We must continue to move forward carefully. Testing is key to that. I want to show Virginians where we are today. Then Dr. Karen Remley will take a deeper dive on how we are ramping up our testing. We will make a full version of this presentation with closed captioning and sign language interpreting available after today’s briefing and again thanks for being with us each day.
Ralph Northam: (02:11)
This is a chart of our daily cases and our cumulative cases. As you can see, the daily case number is rising, that’s the blue graph on the top, but not drastically and that is good news. We hope that soon we’ll see that line go down and not up. The bottom line, the orange line, is our daily cases and as you can see it fluctuates a bit but it is remaining fairly flat and we would certainly like to see that diminishing over the next days to weeks. Our hospitalization rates remain steady. This is an important slide graph that you all have seen before. The yellow line on the top shows our hospital capacity, the beds that we have available throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The blue line on the bottom shows our covert cases in Virginia, and as you see, that has stayed fairly flat. And that, by the way, is what allowed us to open up our hospitals today and our outpatient providers to be able to do elective surgeries.
Ralph Northam: (03:23)
One way we’re boosting our PPE is by sanitizing what we already have and we’ve made great progress with our PPE. These pictures here show innovative new PPE cleaning systems from Battelle. These systems have multiple units that are each the size of a storage container and can clean up to 80,000 masks per day using a hydrogen peroxide vapor. PPE can be decontaminated and reused 20 times without degrading performance. This will be a big help to our medical facilities and our first responders, Virginia is receiving three of these from the federal government. Our first Battelle unit is being built in Blacksburg, where we are sharing it with West Virginia and Tennessee. We are starting to receive materials to build units in Richmond and in Hampton Roads. We expect all of these systems to be operational within the next week.
Ralph Northam: (04:26)
Once all three units are operational, we will have the ability to decontaminate up to 240,000 masks in the Commonwealth per day. A stable supply of PPE is key to moving forward and you can see that we are in good shape and getting better every day. Another key that we’ve been talking about every day is our testing capability. We have made tremendous progress. On Wednesday, we test it more than 5000 people, our highest one day number ever. Yesterday we grew that number to another new record, testing more than 5800 people. That’s around a 15% increase in one day. We’re moving forward aggressively and I’d like to ask Dr. Karen Remley to explain how. But I want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Remley for helping with this project and also the various people that are volunteering around the Commonwealth too, include our National Guard that have really helped us ramp up this system. So Dr. Remley, welcome.
Dr. Karen Remley: (05:43)
So, as you can see, this is just sort of the best way I think to be able to show everybody that when you talk about a test, it is not just a test. There are five steps that come into play, and if we’re going to look at now we maximize testing, we need to think about it from those five different perspectives. I think the single most important one, and you’ve heard the Governor and the Secretary say, “The first mile”, but it really is getting our patients to identify themselves as a patient who might have COVID, to find a place to go get tested, to talk to their healthcare provider and see if they need to be tested, and then find a place to be able to go and get that. That requires a number of things. They need to know where to go, they need to know why should I go, and they need to know the outcome of when they receive that test.
Dr. Karen Remley: (06:27)
So we’ve looked at that and we’ve looked at, how do we communicate? How do we share? You will see if you go to the website, the VDH website, there is a link to an interactive map where you can put in your zip code and any doctor, any person, from all over the state can see where their nearest public testing site is. Those are everything from at times a health department or an urgent care center or a hospital setting or a doctor’s office. We are increasing those numbers every day. I was on the phone with the leading clinicians and physicians in our state and they are committed to making sure those numbers continue to increase. We need to make sure that our clinicians know how to test, and many of you may know that yesterday, actually it was the 29th now, the CDC came out with new recommendations on how to test and that you can take a nasal swab.
Dr. Karen Remley: (07:16)
I can have you have a mask on, I have a mask on, an eye covering, a gown and gloves, we stay six feet apart. You put that nasal swab in your nose, you put it into the tube, you leave the room. Then I go back in and I collect that sample. The advantage of that, it uses much less PPE and much less restricted PPE. It allows the individual to perform their own test and we can do it in many more places. So if you think about it, we’re going to be able to test not just in congregate settings and areas where you test a lot of people in a short period of time, but in doctors offices and clinics across the state. Specimen collection. When we moved to the nasal specimen collection, it’s much easier because nasal swabs are easier to come by, the nasal pharyngeal swabs, and being able to test using different kinds of media, they don’t require storage and cold, refrigerated, makes a big difference to accessibility.
Dr. Karen Remley: (08:11)
For lab tests, as of today by the end of the day, we will have contracted with two Virginia labs and a North Carolina lab to be able to increase our testing through the state to 3000 additional tests a day, as identified by priorities by the Commissioner. And then lastly, test results. Making sure that not only do we have those results come back to the health department so that they can understand and track where are disease is and box it in and be able to think about reopening, but our clinicians also know what to do and how to talk to that patient after they get that result back. What does that mean for that patient, that family, that community?
Dr. Karen Remley: (08:54)
As we remember, this is the timeline we talked about when we first started talking about testing. We are in, as you can see, phase two, and we are very, very quickly moving to the point where we will be in other phases. I would tell you that where a lot of states talk about phase two, we are already there from many different ways. We’ve opened up very judiciously and carefully, our healthcare system. The healthcare community is now testing. Hospitals have agreed to either teach their clinicians how to test in their offices or provide testing availability for them. So we’re normalized and getting testing out to the entire community. We’ve said from the very beginning that we needed more PPE. We have that now. Then we said we needed more testing supplies. We have that now. Now we’re working on education and bringing people to the table.
Dr. Karen Remley: (09:44)
So we’ll talk more about those things going forward I think in the coming days and I think that’s my last slide. Correct? I want to make sure. Oops, sorry. The CDC priorities for testing, I wanted to share those with you too because we’ve really focused on the high priorities. We’re now moving into all priorities. The Health Department of course and Public Health will continue to focus on high priority areas that have impact on communities and on the state but we’re encouraging our clinicians across the state to test anybody who’s symptomatic or if a healthcare provider deems appropriate to test someone that might be prioritized who’s asymptomatic but you could imagine could be a close contact with someone who is or is very high risk and is undergoing a procedure.
Dr. Karen Remley: (10:33)
Next steps. I don’t have my glasses on to be able to see that. I am so sorry. I’m trying. So local health districts are going to prioritize and implement their plans as they go forward, and then getting more PPE, getting testing up and going, and then also launching a public service announcement and campaign that you can help us with. Because if you think about it, I think the Governor said it was March 7th was when we said to the public, “Stay inside. This is a very bad disease. Social distancing is the most important thing we can do.” Now we know what we want to be able to say is, “It’s still important to do social distancing. It’s still important to wash your hands and cover your face. But if you think you have COVID-19, this is the time to call your healthcare provider to go online and see where you can get tested, to make sure that you know if you have COVID-19 or not. There is enough PPE, enough testing, and enough things we can do for you, your family, your friends, and your community by identifying that you have the disease.”
Dr. Karen Remley: (11:34)
And so it’s important for us to change that message and I ask all of you to help me with that. And I’ll turn it back over to the Governor.
Ralph Northam: (11:41)
Thanks you so much. Appreciate it. Again, thank you, Dr. Remley for all of your great work. As you can see, we are looking at a number of data points and they’re not always consistent, especially on a day to day basis. But the big picture is that we are making progress and that’s good news. We’ve said from the beginning that our goal was to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. We have done that. We said from the beginning we need a consistent supply of PPE. We have gotten that. We are testing dramatically more people, as you can see. Our numbers show we’re doing that and Dr. Remley just laid out our plan to test a broad sample of people as we move forward. Everyone wants to know what comes next. We will talk more about that on Monday, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Ralph Northam: (12:38)
When other states talk about going to their phase one of reopening, look closely at what that means. You’ll find their phase one looks a lot like where Virginia is right now. For example, some states’ phase one opens beaches to exercise. We’ve had that from the start and when other states talk about how their phase one includes elective surgeries, we’re doing that starting today. On Monday, we’ll talk more about what our phase one will look like and we’ll also talk more about the data we’re using to inform those decisions. For the press, we’ll have a special briefing Monday morning for you to go over that data.
Ralph Northam: (13:23)
Now I want to make another point about testing. I understand that many doctors are not ordering tests for patients because initially it was very difficult to get patients tested. We didn’t have enough tests and so we really focused on a few specific high risk populations, but now that we were able to do more broad based testing, we are changing that guidance, moving to a new strategy, if you will. So doctors, if you have a patient who has the symptoms and meet the criteria, we want you to please get them tested. As Dr. Remley said, we’re working to make more tests-
Ralph Northam: (14:03)
… available for doctors offices, urgent care centers, free clinics and other sites. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting that they trust. And doctors, we are developing guidance that you will see next week on how to treat COVID patients in an outpatient setting. How to safely test, where to send tests, or if you cannot test, where to send that particular patient. Now, I want to touch on testing in longterm care facilities. Two weeks ago I appointed Dr. Laurie Forlano to head up a task force to ensure that our nursing homes and longterm care facilities have the resources they need to protect patients and staff. This group has been setting up testing for nursing homes and longterm facilities that have two positive confirmed cases. From a data standpoint, these tests are called point prevalence surveys. They test everyone in the facility on the same day. This is being done through a collaboration with our Virginia Department of Health, UVA and VCU Health Systems, and support from our state lab right here in Richmond. Our longterm care facilities can request testing through their local health departments. And I’d encourage them to do so if they have an outbreak. The Virginia National Guard is available to help run these tests if needed. I sincerely appreciate the Guard helping with logistics and supplies across our Commonwealth. If you see them, whether you see their vehicles or the tents that they often put up, it is no cause for alarm. They are here to assist us. They’re doing a great job and they are our friends. I want to end by discussing a few other items. First, this weekend is the Census Bureau’s digital action weekend.
Ralph Northam: (16:07)
It is not too late for people to respond to the Census. And I strongly urge every Virginian to fill out their Census forms online or through the mail. It’s critical that we count every person who is living in our Commonwealth. Second, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander month. A time to celebrate the culture and important contributions that AAPI people make every day. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, people of Asian descent have faced increased bigotry and harassment. This month of celebration comes at an especially appropriate time to remind us of how unacceptable that is and how much we value this community.
Ralph Northam: (16:58)
Third, May is also national foster care month. And I want to take a moment to thank all of the thousands of foster families across Virginia who have welcomed children into their homes and their lives. I also want to thank the social workers who continue to go to work every day to protect vulnerable children. And finally, Virginia’s Department of Education has allocated the $238.6 million in federal funding for school divisions that we received through the CARES Act. 90% of that money will pass directly to the divisions, while the remaining 10% will go to our statewide efforts to increase access to technology and support students, families, and our educators.
Ralph Northam: (17:49)
Now, Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver will give a health update. And then we’ll be glad to take your questions. Dr. Oliver, welcome.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (17:57)
Thank you, governor. I’ll be brief so that we can get to the questions. As of today, we now have 16,901 cases. That’s 1,055 new cases in the last reporting period. Total deaths, now number 581. That represents 29 new cases. Total tests, now number 105,648. And as you heard from the governor, yesterday that was a little bit north of 5,800 tests. Those of you in the media and public who’ve been looking at our website, we’ll note that that’s a big jump in the number of tests. And that’s because we changed our methodology.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (18:52)
As you’re well aware, one of the metrics that we’re looking at to judge when we’re ready to move into phase one for Virginia is the percent of positive tests to total tests. We were previously counting people who were tested, and that test, which makes it not possible to really calculate that well in terms of the proportion of tests. So that’s what that represents. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (19:21)
Thanks, Dr. Oliver. We’ll be glad to take your questions.
Speaker 1: (19:28)
I know we are a week out from your executive order expiring. We had asked are we still potentially looking at a phase one reopening beginning May 8th? Can you update us on where that stands? As well, regarding reopening, I know you said you hope to get schools reopened by late August, early Fall. I know in Hopewell the entire school system is looking for a year round school. We have some other single schools looking at year round. What is the guidance to the year round schools about reopening?
Ralph Northam: (19:56)
Yeah. Two different questions. The first question, our executive order of the closure of businesses ends on May the eighth. And the question was, are we anticipating opening or not extending that executive order passed that timeline? We have had a tremendous amount of input from our business community. I think you’ve heard me speak to that before. Small business, medium sized businesses, large businesses across the Commonwealth represent pretty much every area of Virginia. We are still working on that blueprint. We’re looking at the criteria that we’re going to be using. The diminishing cases, the amount of PPE, the amount of testing capabilities, our hospital capacity. Those are all things that were taken into consideration. And so I will give further guidelines on Monday regarding that plan. And I realize, and again, as a small business owner that planning is very important. And with that date coming up on Friday, we will certainly give the guidelines on Monday.
Ralph Northam: (21:03)
So, I appreciate that question. And also, I appreciate people’s patience. There’s a lot of data that we’re taking into account. And as I’ve said all along, we’re going to do this responsibly and I’m going to do it to keep Virginians safe. And also, to make sure that one of the points of conversation that we’ve had with our businesses and they understand this, is that consumers need to be comfortable. They need to be assured that when they reenter a business that it’s safe.
Ralph Northam: (21:32)
And so when I make the decision on when to go into phase one, I can assure Virginians that we’re going to do it in a safe manner and keep you safe. The second part of the question was year round schooling. And that’s something I haven’t really addressed, year round schooling. But, part of your question was, will we have our children back in schools in late August and early September. And if we keep doing what we’re doing, I’m confident that we will be there.
Speaker 1: (22:05)
But, I think for year round schools, they’re looking at potentially a July start date for the year round school, especially for Hopewell. Has there been any decision made on that?
Ralph Northam: (22:11)
No, there hasn’t. And I’ll be glad to discuss that with them. And then obviously, we’ll work with our Secretary of Education and our Superintendent of Public Instruction. But I haven’t had that discussion yet.
The next question will be from Julie Carey with NBC Four.
Julie Carey: (22:29)
Good afternoon, governor. This may be a question for Dr. Oliver. There was some striking new data in the category of nursing home outbreaks today in which the number of deaths reported went from 118 yesterday to 311 today. I just was hoping somebody could explain that increase in depth in just one day.
Ralph Northam: (22:50)
Well first of all, that’s not the state of Virginia. Is that nationwide?
Julie Carey: (22:58)
No, that was in our data today.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (23:02)
Do you want to take that, Laurie, or do you want me to take it?
Dr. Laurie Forlano: (23:11)
Hi, the question is about the number of deaths attributed to longterm care facilities. The deaths that are on our outbreaks database, so how that data comes into us, is we count an outbreak and those deaths, or any data, numbers of cases, et cetera, associated with an outbreak are added as quickly as possible to that file, so-to-speak. And so sometimes there is a lag in capturing that and entering that data. I’d have to go back to the team to fully understand that jump, but that’s what I think it’s likely to be.
Speaker 2: (23:52)
NPR did a nationwide survey of contact tracing capacity in the state and there was actually no data available for Virginia. So I was wondering if you could give us an update on the number of contact tracers we have and more on that program in general.
Ralph Northam: (24:11)
Sure. That’s a great question. Regarding contact. As we’ve said all along, the process as we move forward is about screening individuals, then testing, and then being able to track throughout Virginia where the cases are. Whether they’re hotspots or not. And so, I’m going to let the folks from the Virginia Department of Health answer to this. But, we are ramping up that workforce so that we can adequately do that.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (24:38)
So, thank you for that question. It’s true that we don’t have a central roster of all our contact tracers. Our local health departments do that work. And so for example, in Richmond City, they had a normal force of about five people that do that kind of work around sexually transmitted infections. And in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, they ramped that up to 20 by pulling in other people from elsewhere within the health department. And that was done across all our 35 health districts. So I don’t know the exact number, but it’s in the hundreds.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (25:22)
We are planning as part of our whole initiative around containing and tamping down COVID-19 as we reopen to ramp up the number of people that we have. And we are working on plans to increase that to somewhere in the neighborhood of about 1,500.
The question will be from Roger Watson with the Farmville Herald.
Roger Watson: (25:51)
Thank you for taking our questions. Earlier this week North Carolina reversed its decision on identifying individual longterm care facilities with outbreaks. And now they’re going to tell the public where the outbreaks are occurring due to the compelling public interest and the health concerns that go along with that. Is changing that rule in Virginia something that you will consider in the coming days?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (26:15)
Yeah. So the question is whether we will consider changing our current policy of not naming the specific longterm care facilities that have outbreaks. Did I understand the question correctly? Yes. As I’ve stated before, this is not a decision that was made by the health department. It is actually something that’s incorporated into the Virginia code, which first of all identifies facilities and corporations, businesses as persons. And then requires us to protect the anonymity of person. So unless the code changes, I don’t see how we could do that.
Speaker 3: (27:11)
Yeah. So, according to some data compiled by Johns Hopkins, Virginia is one of 14 States still seeing new cases double in two weeks or less. And I know you’re still seeing that case count rise, as we’ve seen on that table. So I mean I guess my question is, can you attribute that to this ramping up of testing that Virginia is doing now? And how do you square that against other trends in terms of your decision to reopening? And secondly, just really quick, can any nursing home facility order point prevalence testing at this point just upon request, or is there other criteria that goes along with that?
Ralph Northam: (27:49)
Nursing homes can order that. And again, thanks to our ability to ramp up the testing and the use of the volunteer Medical Corps and the National Guard, and the ability to have the testing that we need-
Ralph Northam: (28:03)
… we’ll be able to do that, so the answer to your second question is yes. The first question, and this gets into the data that we’ll, I think, be reviewing with you all on Monday, is how long it takes over time for cases in Virginia to double. That’s continuing to widen, which is a good thing. It hasn’t certainly slowed down as much as we would like it to, but it is taking longer. If you go back and look at the beginning of the graph, and I don’t have that particular graph today, but it was taking two or three days to double, and now it’s nine to 12 days. So as we get further out, as that curve has flattened, it takes longer for the number of cases to double, which is a good thing.
Speaker 4: (28:49)
But I guess my question is do you think that can be attributed to the fact that we are ramping up testing? Could that be altering the picture of the new growth cases? Do you know what I’m saying?
Ralph Northam: (29:03)
Dan you want to …
Yeah, sure. Or, actually …
Speaker 8: (29:04)
Laurie will do that.
Ralph Northam: (29:08)
I’m going to phone a friend. How about that?
Dr. Laurie Forlano: (29:11)
Yeah. Is the increase in cases attributed to increased testing? Is that your question? Yeah. I think it’s likely a combination. I think that’s what I’d say. We’re working on teasing out the data so we can better understand what proportion of increased cases is because of the testing increase, but I think it’s likely a combination of both. I think we are still seeing case counts go up, but yes, you’re correct. A proportion of that’s because we’re testing more people.
Ralph Northam: (29:43)
Speaker 5: (29:43)
Next question will be from Taj Simmons with WSLS.
Taj Simmons: (29:49)
Thank you again for taking our questions. My question is, Governor, you’ve talked in the past about reopening the state by region. Where are you right now in carrying that out, and can you give us a better idea in how that will be implemented if this is the way you go about this?
Ralph Northam: (30:05)
Yes. The question is about opening up certain parts of Virginia by region earlier than other parts, and we’ve gotten a lot of really good input from our businesses across Virginia, and as I mentioned, I believe at our last conference, we have representatives from Abingdon. We also have representatives from Pulaski, and also a statewide company that that has business throughout Virginia. I also would say that I’ve had great input from our legislators who represent that area, and also our congressmen. We had a phone call last night with all of our Virginia delegation, which went very well.
Ralph Northam: (30:46)
What I would say regarding opening up one region before the other, there are pros and cons to all of the options. Nothing is exactly straightforward. I’ll give you one quick example of a concern that a business out in the Southwest had, and that is that if they are to open their place of business, and, for example, another more dense populated area in Virginia doesn’t, it’s not that difficult to travel around Virginia on our interstates, and it may be two, three hours away. So their concern was, “Well, what if all these folks from another area of Virginia that perhaps even is a hotspot in Virginia come to our places of business we have reopened? Then we have to backtrack and close our businesses down again, and then we’ll never be able to recover from that.”
Ralph Northam: (31:39)
So we’re taking all of this into consideration. I’ve had folks that have had provided input from the faith-based community that want their churches to open earlier, so a lot of people have contributed to our decision making. We’re continuing to work through that plan. I’ll be working on it through the weekend, and as I said earlier, I will give all of Virginia more guidance on that on Monday.
Governor, I just wanted to ask you about the pandemic unemployment assistance program for Virginia workers. Some folks who have been reaching out to us say they haven’t seen any of that money yet, even though your office talked about it, maybe on the 10th of April. Just walk us through what’s going on with that.
Ralph Northam: (32:20)
Is anybody here from … Megan’s not with us today, I don’t believe. Henry, your question is on folks that are applying for unemployment. Let me just address it from a couple of different angles. I know a lot of people have received checks. I’m sure there’s some out there that are still waiting, and I regret that, because everybody relies on financial assistance. We have had a round close number of 550,000 individuals in Virginia apply for unemployment, and our VEC has literally been working around the clock. They’ve updated their system they take these applications through, and while things have improved, they’ve just literally been inundated.
Ralph Northam: (33:17)
As you’ve probably heard me say before, in one week’s time, they had more applications for unemployment than they had for the entire three years previously, so we’ve increased the number of individuals that are working there. Again, we’ve updated our computer system, and we’ll continue to do it as best we can. I know there’s a website that individuals can go to if they feel like they’ve applied and they haven’t received any word yet. I would encourage them to follow up, but again, we’ll continue to do everything that we can get the resources to them.
Speaker 5: (33:53)
The next question will be from Robert Sorrell with the Bristol Herald Courier.
Robert Sorrell: (33:59)
Yes, thank you. As you consider reopening businesses in the state, some small businesses may not be able to reopen. What is the state doing to assist those small businesses?
Ralph Northam: (34:13)
Okay. Aubrey, you want to? Yeah? One of you wanted to talk about what we’re doing. Yeah. Thanks, Clark.
Clark Mercer: (34:23)
The question was what the Commonwealth is doing to assist small businesses that might not be able to open. Earlier in the press conference, the governor mentioned to look at what states are doing when they had their phase one reopenings, because Virginia has a lot of those measures already in place. One of those is that Virginia did not try to articulate every business under the sun and classify them as essential or non-essential. Some states did that, and I think they ran into trouble when they tried to produce those lists. We came out with a very defined list of non-essential businesses where there’s a lot of human interaction and there’s a lot of touching; barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, brewers, and we closed those up until May 8th, and the governor will have an update on Monday as to how we look to responsibly phase in reopening those.
Clark Mercer: (35:11)
We did not close other retail that’s non-essential, so your toy store, your clothing stores. As long as they can abide by social distancing and keep 10 or under in their stores, they can remain open. That’s really important, because other states right now are starting to allow their non-essential retail and their phase one to reopen. We’ve never closed them, and the reason was this: that would be the government picking very deliberately which businesses can open and which ones will close that sell the same product. Take the toy store, for example. If your son or daughter has a birthday coming up and you want to go to the local Main Street Toy Store, you can do that so long as they’re abiding by responsible social distancing. If that store was closed, you might then go to Walmart or Target, which remain open and sell toys, sell gardens supplies, sell TVs, sell clothing, and that would do two things.
Clark Mercer: (36:06)
One, it would drive the small mom and pop stores that you referenced out of business and drive their customers to the big box retailers, and, two, it would drive more people into confined spaces, which defeats the point of the public health, social distancing, so that’s one thing to keep in mind. The second, the governor proposed during this last budget cycle to keep these gray machines or games of skill taxed at a very high level in Virginia. The general assembly, for a variety of reasons, decided to ban those machines indefinitely moving forward, and we certainly respect and understand why they did that. However, given the fact that many restaurants and convenience stores are struggling and are on the verge of going out of business, that’s a revenue stream for many of those businesses that if we were to reopen and then take those machines away, it would be a double hit.
Clark Mercer: (36:56)
So the governor, in the budget process, offered an amendment to keep those games of skill in business for one more year and to tax each machine at $1,200 per month per machine across the Commonwealth, and those monies will go into a COVID relief fund, and that relief fund will be administered by our secretary of commerce, our secretary of finance, working with our Department of Housing and Community Development to give relief to small businesses that are standing back up. One of the complaints that we’ve heard about the small business loans is that these businesses don’t need to take on more debt. They need working capital right now to get them through this rough patch, so that’s going to be a pot of money that we can, can use working with the general assembly and being transparent about how those funds are being used, but to get those funds in the hands of small business owners that need them.
Clark Mercer: (37:45)
Lastly, I would just say you get some reports out of States like Georgia this week that have reopened, and there’s a very tepid response from consumers as to whether they’re going back to restaurants and going back to small businesses, and that’s because we need to make sure, as the governor said, that consumers have confidence that the regulations and the guidelines that were putting in place are responsible and well thought out. So the governor will articulate that more on Monday, but we believe very strongly that that will engender the kind of confidence that is needed so that consumers, when we do reopen, will have that confidence and will do business with those small businesses.
Ralph Northam: (38:21)
Thank you, Clark.
Clark Mercer: (38:22)
Ralph Northam: (38:23)
By the way, that was our chief of staff, Clark Mercer.
Speaker 6: (38:28)
Hi. Yeah, I think one of the charts that was up there, the growth rate, is missing from our packet. I think it’d be helpful if you could share it again so we could look at it. Two, this question I think is for Dr. Oliver. Two days ago, we reported about 5,000 new tests, and like you said, we saw that jump to about 15,000 that was reported today. You did change the methodology. That makes it so that we can’t really compare day to day. Could you share what the number was in the same format that you’ve been sharing in days past, so we could compare?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (39:05)
So is the question can we change it or and present both things? We can certainly consider that. I don’t know. Going forward, I think as you we’ll hear from the governor when he elucidates more on the plan, I think what we are going to have to do is really look at where we are starting at that point going forward and not so much looking back many days now. Is that not the … Did I not understand your question correctly, or were you asking about the actual jump and what was the reason for that?
Speaker 6: (39:50)
You explained that the jump was due to a change in methodology, and so if you could share what the number was before you changed the methodology, then we could actually compare the number of new tests today compared with what [crosstalk 00:40:03].
Dr. Norm Oliver: (40:01)
Oh, okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I misunderstood your question. So what is the difference in the methodology and what was the methodology before? Before, if I came down with COVID-19 and I got tested positive, and then I was in the hospital and they tested me again, and then I got better and they wanted to make sure I was really okay before they sent me up to a skilled nursing facility they test me again, and then I get to the skilled nursing facility and I got tested a fourth time. The way we used to count that was one. I was one person. What we’re doing now is we’re counting the four tests, and that’s the difference, so you couldn’t really compare it. Now, we could go back and dig that all out, but going forward what we’re going to do is count the tests.
Speaker 6: (40:55)
Could that artificially inflate the number of though? I don’t quite understand that switch.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (40:59)
It doesn’t artificially inflate the number. It’s not apples to apples. It’s a difference between counting people and counting the tests.
Speaker 7: (41:09)
And I’ll have the numbers. We can certainly get you those numbers, but roughly, if you’ve been falling, it was 85,000. We had 5,000. Again, the number is accurate on the incremental tests per day, so 85 went to 90, and 90 went to around 95 or 96. That number, I think if you check the website, reflecting the new methodology, it was about 10% of the people. 8% or 9% had a duplicate. Not a duplicate, had an additional test. One of the rationales to include that is because it did consume reagent, it consumed testing time, it consumed a swab, all of which were in great shortage at the time, and it prevented from somebody else getting a test, and that test was important to reveal. As the commissioner of health indicated a little while ago, one of the important points that we’re looking at is the percentage positive, so you need to know the exact number of tests, not the number of …
Speaker 7: (42:03)
So you need to know the exact number of tests, not the number of people who had tests. And again, there are good clinical reasons. Also, exactly the scenario that the commissioner had indicated, we can certainly get back to you what that number would have been, so you can… Until this one time change, then you’ll know what that would have happened today. I think that’s what you’re asking about and we can get Dr. Oliver and the team at VDH can get that for you.
Speaker 10: (42:31)
I have heard that in some ways, some States have reported to test the new way that you’re doing, but they’ve done that all along and that might account for why Virginia kept showing up and doing the least number of tests. I don’t know if that’s true.
Speaker 7: (42:53)
And the question was, may that have been one of the reasons why Virginia was slightly lower. We were about 10% less than, for example, North Carolina for a lot of their time. And the answer is we haven’t done a survey of the 50 States or in district of Columbia, but we will make sure we do check in with what other folks were doing. We realize for Virginia, that that change in methodology made a clear sense because we want to make sure that other number that we’re reporting, because so many folks are focusing on that as we move into the phases, as one of the important indicators. We intend to see what other methodologies other States are doing. There’s not a standard methodology.
Speaker 7: (43:40)
For us, it made sense because these are tests done on separate days by and large. They were clinically indicated and they had a reason to be done. If a patient had a clinical syndrome in the early days that looked all the world like COVID-19 but they were negative and they started having the Bazell or pneumonia that patients develop often as if they get sick, then the hospital would check him on day three and some of those were positive. So those were clinically indicated tests and there were new clinical scenarios that justified the use of new resources.
Speaker 7: (44:16)
We intend to find that out, but on the other hand we are very forward facing. Our focus was on the hospitalized sick folks as Dr. Remley and the governor have indicated, we’re now broadening that focus to rapidly increase the amount of testing in Virginia as we go into the phasing and the criteria that the governor and the chief have talked about.
Speaker 11: (44:46)
Governor, as we move forward, you’ve assemble teams to kind of work with data and the elderly and the nursing home. Would you consider maybe kind of a hardcore team that could help minority as we move toward opening, if you will? Also addressing some of the health disparities as many people know, there are special concerns for people of color, and even to make sure that the funding that you give, gets to people of color who need some of that funding. Some of these federal issues, sometimes people of color never got to see that money.
Ralph Northam: (45:23)
Yes. Great, great. Tracy Dysphasia, who is our deputy secretary of administration of Schumann Commonwealth is with us today and I’m going to let her come up and maybe just review some of the different commissions committees that we have that are already doing good work, for example, like the Health Equity Commission. As you know, we have an officer force one in the country of diversity and inclusivity. So Tracy, would you like to elaborate on some of what we’re doing? Appreciate it.
Tracy Dysphasia: (45:58)
So to restate the question, the question is around is, is there going to be a specific group to address minority businesses and the concerns that minority businesses may have and then also the health disparities. So what I will share is that there is a health equity work group. This group is spearheaded by the health equity leadership team. That includes Dr. Janice Underwood who does serve as the Commonwealth chief diversity equity and inclusion officer. Additionally, on that particular leadership team, there is Curtis Brown, Dr. Lauren Powell and Sabokey Nelson.
Tracy Dysphasia: (46:32)
Dr. Lauren Powell and Curtis Brown are both with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Sabokey Nelson serves as the acting director of the Virginia Department of Health Office of Health Equity. And so that particular team really is working, I would say throughout each of the different work groups that have already been established to ensure that equity stays at the forefront of all of our efforts, whether that be to support minority businesses or to address health disparities.
Tracy Dysphasia: (46:59)
More information on that team is available on Dr. Underwood’s website that can be found through the governor’s website at governor.virginia.gov. Additionally, more information on that work group, the health equity work group is found on the Virginia Department of Health website, and there you can find the specific initiatives that they are focusing on. Currently they have been collaborating with facilities as well as localities to do some targeted testing, but again, more information is available there and that leadership team can speak directly to their efforts
Speaker 11: (47:35)
[inaudible 00:47:35] and could maybe members of that group be at this conference to take questions.
Tracy Dysphasia: (47:39)
Wonderful. We’ve certainly taken note of that. I would say for the funding piece, I’ll turn that back over to our secretary of commerce and trade and our secretary of finance to address that. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (47:47)
Speaker 12: (47:55)
Yes sir. The question has to do with are we going to make sure we have resources available for the equity piece regarding to the public health crisis in the small business. And the answer to that is certainly yes, and that can come in and a variety of different opportunities for us. There are federal money, stimulus monies that can be used for those purposes. Obviously you heard the chief of staff talk about there is some monies the governor has put in the budget that can be set aside for those purposes and in addition to our general fund and just the normal budget process we go through.
Speaker 12: (48:26)
So we’re keenly aware of all those needs. So because of the emphasis put on by the governor and Dr. Underwood and her team and can just assure you that those will be assessed when we’re making the decisions to put revenues, which you all know are in short supply right now because we’re facing the same thing that the rest of our businesses are across the Commonwealth. But that is a priority and they will be prioritized in making sure we’re addressing. Thank you.
Speaker 12: (49:02)
I should have also mentioned to… Thank you chief, that the Northfield Distributor Manufacturing company, we have used for the PPE, they are minority owned. They’re not a minority contractor because not only 50%, but we’ve purposely identified them and they have done a marvelous job for us in terms of meeting our supply chain and stuff. So that was overwhelming in our first decision to make sure we had participation from minority community from the very beginning. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (49:36)
Well again, thanks to all of you for joining us today. It’s Friday. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a little bit of homework to work on over the weekend, and that is to continue doing what you’re doing because what you’re doing is working. And I know it’s difficult, I know people are making sacrifices out there, but continue to keep your physical distancing, six feet apart, continue to stay in gatherings of less than 10 people, continue to wear your facial protection when you’re out. If you do have a essential travel, if you do need to go somewhere, that’s fine. But otherwise try to stay at home, enjoy your time with your family, and again, the things that we’ve been saying all along, the covering your face if you need to cough or sneeze.
Ralph Northam: (50:29)
I was on a call this morning, they wanted to know as a doctor, what did I think was the most important thing. This is an aerosolized virus, that’s the way it’s transmitted and really when it gets on our hands and then we all, whether we know it or not, bring our hands to our face numerous times a day. Wash your hands as frequently as you can. Use hand sanitizers. These are the things that will continue to minimize the spread of this virus.
Ralph Northam: (50:59)
Continue also to take care of your friends, your family, your neighbors, those that need our help. We’re all in this together. So that’s your homework for the weekend.
Ralph Northam: (51:09)
My homework and my staff’s our homework is to continue to reach out to our businesses to continue to assess the data, continue to look at our supply of PPE or our testing capabilities and provide you the guidelines that you need as we hopefully enter phase one. And I will give you those guidelines on Monday. So again, I hope you all have a peaceful and restful weekend and we will look forward to being with you on Monday. Thank you all so much.