May 18, 2020
Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 18
Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a coronavirus press conference on May 18. Northam announced the opening of Virginia beaches this Friday for Memorial Day Weekend.
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Ralph Northam: (01:33)
Are you ready? Good afternoon and again, thanks for being with us today. I hope you all had an enjoyable and safe weekend. As you know, this was the first weekend of phase 1 in most of Virginia. I’ve been getting reports on how it went and from what I understand, it went well. By and large, most Virginians continue to do the right thing and for that I say, thank you. And people need to keep following the restrictions, especially for social distancing and wearing mask in public. While some of you may find it a bit inconvenient to wear your mask, remember it just may say another person’s life. I want to show a few data points today. First is the most up to date testing slide. Here you can see the number of PCR tests done through yesterday. The percent of those tests that were positive and the seven day moving average of the percent positivity you can see by following that yellow line, that it continues to trend downward.
Ralph Northam: (02:43)
The number of tests we’re performing depends on the day. Yesterday, we performed about 5,800 PCR tests and about 1700 antibody tests. Remember the PCR test is the nasal swab. The antibody test is the serum or serological test. We’re doing testing at sites around the state. And I’d like to show you a couple of slides that show you where we’re doing the testing and how we’re ramping up testing specifically in areas that have at risk populations. In this slide, you can see the cases by zip code. Zip codes with higher case counts are darker blue. Locations with at risk populations are blue dots. We’re defining those at risk populations as places where people have a higher health risk for complications from COVID-19 and incomes of less than $30,000 per year. The red triangles are current testing sites in these areas.
Ralph Northam: (03:56)
This data is helping inform our Health Equity Work Group as it focuses testing on at risk communities. In this slide, you see the same data presented by County. We’re taking that data and using it to help target our testing. Here’s a look at testing done today in Prince William and this slide lists a few of the test sites that we have over the next couple of weeks in high risk areas. This is not all of the plan testing sites around our Commonwealth, but you can see that we’re putting a focus on Northern Virginia in particular. You can also see from this slide that our team will be testing in Petersburg on Saturday. Our health equity working group has been working with Petersburg officials and they’ll be on the ground in Petersburg that day distributing 20,000 masks and 20,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, as well as educational materials in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the city.
Ralph Northam: (05:06)
This is one example of how the Health Equity Group and the Department of Health are working together with the National Guard to target testing, and support at risk communities who need it the most. They’re already working to pair testing with distribution of these materials in Richmond, Harrisonburg, and Chesapeake. Now I’d like to talk about our public beaches. You’ve all seen that public beaches along the East coast are taking the next steps. Officials and our beach localities, particularly in Virginia Beach, have been working for some time on a comprehensive plan for how to reopen the beaches while maintaining safety and social and physical distancing. When I saw the first draft, I said, this needs some more work. I directed our secretary of natural resources, Matt Strickler to work with beach communities, to toughen their plans. We have worked with them to improve those plans.
Ralph Northam: (06:11)
Today, I’m announcing that as of Friday, May the 22nd, which is this Friday, I will allow the City of Virginia Beach to open its beaches to recreational activity. This includes sunbathing and swimming as well as fishing and surfing as defined by the city’s ordinance. It does not include group sports, alcohol, speakers, use of tents or groups of umbrellas and parking will be capped at 50% capacity. They’ll have beach ambassadors, monitoring compliance, and enhanced cleaning schedules for high touch areas. Let me be clear, these rules must be followed. If people swarm these beaches and ignore social distancing rules or the regulations the city has put into place, I will not hesitate to reinstate phase 1 restrictions or even close the beach outright if necessary. My message to Virginians is this and it’s very simple, you must be responsible.
Ralph Northam: (07:26)
Now we’re here from our Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer on how his city intends to enforce these restrictions and ensure that there are met. And before Mayor Dyer comes to the podium, we have had a wonderful working relationship between Virginia Beach and our governors administration here. As you know, we have been through some difficult times. We had the mass tragedy back in Memorial Day. We worked very closely together. Now we are preparing to open the beaches in Virginia Beach, and I could not ask for a better relationship. So mayor Dyer, I appreciate your leadership. And I also appreciate you joining us here today. So welcome to the podium. Thank you.
Bobby Dyer: (08:08)
Thank you, sir.
Ralph Northam: (08:09)
Bobby Dyer: (08:10)
Good afternoon everyone. I thank Governor Northam for granting us the privilege today to open in a phased and safe way. Virginia’s beaches offer important mental health benefits through rest relaxation and exercise. We have an opportunity to provide that safe outdoor space on one of the widest beaches on the East coast, Virginia Beach. Our city is committed to opening our beaches in a way that’s safe for our residents, visitors and thousands of frontline staff who bring our beaches to life. Reopening the beaches safely will require a coordinated effort that focuses on the following; cleaning high touch services, educating guests on how they can enjoy the beach with physical distancing and enforcing regulations through interaction with beach ambassadors and cleaning teams. I believe we have a great plan and I am prepared to stand by this plan to ensure that when we open, we will be the safe beach that is required in these most challenging times. I urge all of our visitors and residents to adhere to the rules and regulations in order to provide distancing at our beaches. We must not take this opportunity for granted and everyone needs to be committed to being safe and proactive when visiting the beaches. And let’s remember this is short term inconvenience for a long term gain. We have to ensure that we are safe, that people that want to come to our beaches feel that they are safe and welcome, and we will do that. And let’s always remember that we all are one day closer to this terrible pandemic being behind us than we were yesterday. Mr. Governor, I thank you for this opportunity. Thank you.
Ralph Northam: (10:16)
Thank you Mr. Mayor. Thank you, Mayor Dyer for your leadership. This opening applies only to Virginia Beach and to First Landing State Park, which is contiguous to Virginia Beach, but I would encourage other beach localities to use the Virginia Beach plan as a model for how they can develop plans to enforce restrictions once they are allowed to open back for recreational use. Now I’d like to talk about our schools. I know everyone wants to know what’s next for our K- 12 schools and our colleges and universities. We were the first state to close our K-12 schools through the end of the year. And that has proven to be the right decision. All of our colleges and universities, likewise moved the remainder of their semesters online, which was also a good choice. Now our schools from early childhood education through higher education are looking toward the fall. They are all working to figure out what will be possible in terms of opening classes and schools.
Ralph Northam: (11:27)
I know that’s an important question to the millions of students and parents around Virginia, as well as to the teachers and other educators. Today, I’m announcing that we have named a team of education leaders at all levels, K-12 schools, as well as our public and private higher education institutions. It will include our state superintendent of public schools, Dr. James Lane, as well as local school superintendents, education officials, and university presidents from public and private schools. This group is meeting regularly together with our public health team, there’ll be laying out specific next steps over the coming weeks. Today also marks the first day that some of our courts are reopening to hear cases. Unfortunately, this also means some eviction proceedings may move forward. I want to outline the steps that we are taking as a Commonwealth to protect Virginians. We’ve worked with Virginia housing, the state housing financing agency to provide a three month mortgage deferral for those experiencing economic hardship.
Ralph Northam: (12:45)
If you are a landlord who has had your Virginia housing back mortgage deferred, you must pass this deferral on to your tenants. Virginia housing has committed $12 million in funding to support more than 200 nonprofit housing organizations across all regions of the Commonwealth. So they can continue to deliver housing support services to Virginians. Last month, I amended legislation so we can ensure that tenants receive a 60 day deferral on an evictions proceeding, if they can show that they lost wages due to COVID-19. New legislation caps late fees at 10% on the periodic rent are 10% of the remaining balance due whichever it’s less. This will prevent unfair late fees and cascading late fees due to missed payments. We are already pushing the federal government to include additional rent relief funding. In the next stimulus package. We have a new website with Virginia housing and the Department of Housing and Community Development that you can reach to stayhomevirginia.com.
Ralph Northam: (14:02)
Let me repeat that. The website is stayhomevirginia.com. There you can find tools, information, and resources for renters, homeowners, landlords and people experiencing homelessness. That site also has a summary of federal and state protections that are in place. Now I’d like to make a brief personnel announcement. Dr. Jeffrey Stern, who has ably led our department of emergency management as coordinator for the past six years, is moving on.
Ralph Northam: (14:41)
Dr. Stern has taken a position with FEMA as superintendent of the emergency management institute. I want to thank Dr. Stern for his leadership of VDEM over the past six years, which has included nearly 50 disaster declarations. Now on a lighter note, I have allowed him to move to FEMA with one stipulation, no hurricanes this fall. You all right with that, mayor?
Bobby Dyer: (15:12)
Ralph Northam: (15:12)
All right. I thought I would get at least one supporter. I also want to congratulate Dr. Stern. This is an impressive appointment for him. And while we will miss him, we’re glad to know that the training of emergency managers is in his capable hands. Dr. Stern will leave us on June the 8th, and I will announce his successor at a later date.
Ralph Northam: (15:37)
In many localities, local elections will be held tomorrow. I hope most Virginians have already voted absentee by mail. But for those who are going to the polls who are working to ensure that cleaning and social distancing are done, volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps will help election workers and polling places put additional safety measures in place. That will include an adequate supply and proper use of PPE for our poll workers.
Ralph Northam: (16:10)
Finally, I want to reiterate that moving into phase one for those localities doing so does not mean we can let down our guard. This virus has not changed. It is still with us. And as we allow people to go more places, it becomes even more critically important that people wear face coverings in public places and stay physically distant from each other. And also that you remember who continued to wash your hands frequently.
Ralph Northam: (16:42)
We are all responsible for the health of our neighbors and our community. We need to act so as to protect the health of the people around us, as well as ourselves. That means physical distancing, and it means wearing face coverings in public places. Now I’d like to ask our Virginia health commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, to provide a health date, and then we will be glad to take questions. Dr. Oliver, welcome.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (17:09)
Thank you, governor. Just a quick update on the numbers that were posted a little bit earlier on the VDH website. The total cases now number 31,140 cases. That’s 732 new cases in the last 24-hour reporting period. Total deaths stand at 1,014. That’s five new deaths in the last reporting period. The governor mentioned that we had 1,500 or so recorded PCR tests yesterday, as well as about 1,700 serology tests.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (17:50)
I’ve been giving you the breakdown regarding demographics. I’ll do that again today. Cases of African Americans with COVID-19 stand at 4,864 or about 23% of our cases. African-American deaths stand at 213, which is about 24% of the deaths for which we have that demographic information. Latinx cases stand at 9,374, for about 45% of the cases. And Latinx deaths are at 82 or about 9% of the cases. Thank you very much.
Ralph Northam: (18:31)
Thanks, Dr. Oliver. Be glad to take questions.
Hi governor. Have you made social distancing and masks mandatory for salons and restaurants as they’re expanding operations? [inaudible 00:04:48]. Why have you decided to make those mandatory for those industries but not other places that you have allowed to stay open throughout the pandemic like offices, construction sites, industrial [inaudible 00:19:00]?
Ralph Northam: (19:01)
The question is why some retail are mandatory that they wear facial protection and others not. A lot of it has boiled down, Ned, to those that serve others, for example, in our restaurants, in grocery stores, those types of things. And we’re continuing to work through that. If we feel that as we move forward, if we need to require a mask, I’ll take that into consideration. But thus far, we’ve made the guidelines and that’s what we’re sticking to presently.
Can I just ask a couple of follow-ups?
Ralph Northam: (19:37)
Are you satisfied with the way the state has followed up on workplace complaints from employees who are concerned about their safety?
Ralph Northam: (19:45)
It’s very important to me, it’s very important to our administration that if people don’t feel comfortable in their workplace, that they are able to make that known. And I think you’ve heard us outline all of the options that we have. Could things be better? Obviously. But we’re working very hard to, we have federal guidelines as you know that we have to follow. But we’re working very hard to give people information that if they’re not comfortable, they can have that discussion, as I’ve said before, with their supervisors at work, that they can also file a complaint through Doley and then they also contact OSHA. So there are a lot of avenues to take if one doesn’t feel comfortable, and we’ve done everything we can to be open about that and encourage people as they go back into the workplace to have those options should they feel uncomfortable.
Speaker 2: (20:44)
The question will be from Tracy Adnew with the Suffolk News Herald.
Tracy Adnew: (20:49)
Thank you. Candidates for local election on the November ballot are facing a June 9th deadline to get their signatures carved in and that’s only three weeks away. They already lost more than two months with this process and many are behind in fear they won’t be able to access the ballot. So has the department of elections looked into moving this deadline?
Ralph Northam: (21:09)
Is secretary Connor with us? Yeah. While she comes to the podium, the question is those that are filing for the November election, in order to get their signatures or petitions. And I would just ask all of them to find ways that are creative. Just the other day, I know one was circulating in our office. So there are ways that you can have these petitions go to a workplace, wherever. So the question of, can we change that, I’m going to let secretary Connor announce, but I would encourage all the candidates to be creative in their going forward and collecting those signatures.
Kiana Connor: (21:55)
Thank you, governor. Kiana Connor, secretary of administration. We understand that candidates are facing a hardship right now with their petition requirements. Unfortunately, the governor nor the commissioner of elections nor me as secretary of administration have any statutory authority to move those requirements or to waive them. Some candidates had sought relief from the courts and those have been granted. So I encourage candidates, as the governor says, to find innovative and creative ways to collect those petitions. And if they feel that they can not, they can also petition the courts for any type of relief to assist them during this process. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (22:34)
Yeah, I’m wondering [inaudible 00:22:37]. And as there are calls for transparency from doctors across the country, but [inaudible 00:08:54]?
Ralph Northam: (22:54)
The question is regarding remdesivir?
Speaker 3: (22:57)
Dr. Norm Oliver: (23:01)
The question was how are we deciding on the distribution or the allocation of remdesivir to hospitals. First of all, remdesivir is an investigational drug that has received emergency utilization designation by the FDA for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The manufacturer that produces remdesivir donated a number of doses, somewhere around one million and a half doses, to HHS. And HHS initially sent out a [inaudible 00:23:45] these medications to hospitals that they had identified had very high numbers of patients. So the very first shipment went to Fairfax, which received a number of cases of the medicine.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (23:59)
A few days after that, the HHS decided that it would be more appropriate to send the medication to a central site in the state. And that site here in Virginia is the Virginia department of health. We have worked with, within the unified command, there is a group called the Virginia, it’s a medical advisory committee, and that comprises hospitals and other healthcare providers. They met and came up with an allocation process that allows for the random selection of hospitals to receive this. It’s set up in such a way that every individual patient with COVID-19 has an equal opportunity and equal chance at getting this medication. 1.5 million doses sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t once it’s distributed across the entire United States.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (25:00)
We recently received 10 cases, which was just enough for a handful of patients, and distributed with that allocation process. And a couple of days ago received 96 cases of remdesivir, which will treat somewhere between 350 and 400 patients. As you know, we have far many more patients than that. So it’s a very scarce resource. And through this random selection, everyone will have a chance of getting it. And the followup question that you had regarding naming the hospitals, we will provide you with the names of the hospitals that get the medication.
Speaker 3: (25:42)
And just to clarify as well, so every patient has a fair chance of getting it? Is there certain criteria of severity of symptoms that they have to meet before they’re kind of put their name in the hat?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (25:55)
No, every single patient has their name in the hat.
Speaker 3: (26:00)
That are hospitalized?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (26:02)
That are hospitalized. There are requirements about how to use the medication that are determined by the FDA. So there’s some restrictions. If you have real bad kidney function, for example, you couldn’t get this medication. But everyone’s name goes into the hat.
Speaker 2: (26:20)
Sam Turken with WHRO.
Sam Turken: (26:20)
This is a question for governor Northam. Court started hearing [inaudible 00:12:31], as I’m sure you know, [inaudible 00:12:38]. Other states, including Florida, have gone further and issued formal executive orders explicitly banning evictions through at least the end of the month because of the financial stress residents are still experiencing. Why isn’t Virginia doing the same?
Ralph Northam: (26:55)
I apologize. Your voice was a bit mumbled, and I heard about a third of what you said. And so if you could start over, please, we’ll try to-
Sam Turken: (27:03)
Yeah. Can you hear me better now?
Speaker 2: (27:07)
Yeah, we can hear you better now. Thank you.
Sam Turken: (27:10)
Yes. So [inaudible 00:27:18] forced tenants to go to court and provide paperwork showing they’ve lost income. Other states including Florida have gone further and issued formal executive orders explicitly banning evictions until the end of the month because of the financial stress their residents are still experiencing. Why isn’t Virginia doing the same?
Ralph Northam: (27:40)
The question as best, I apologize, still having difficulty hearing everything, regarding evictions and what Virginia is doing compared to other states. And I would just reiterate the steps that I just outlined that we’re working on in Virginia to hopefully prevent any evictions, especially during this COVID-19. And we’ll continue to follow those guidelines.
Ralph Northam: (28:03)
And as I said earlier, we’re also communicating with our national leaders, our congressmen, and senators to allow us more resources to deal with the homelessness issue and certainly those that are facing eviction. So we’ll continue to pursue that. As far as comparing Virginia to other states, I’m not prepared to say anything further about that right now.
[inaudible 00:28:29] Elaborate a little bit more on that and what they’re looking at. Are they looking at getting students back into classes for the fall? Or are they looking to maybe do more of the virtual?
Ralph Northam: (28:45)
Yeah, good question. As far as the planning and the discussion, Secretary Qarni, if you’d like to come up. Our Secretary of Education happens to be with us and I’ll let him elaborate, Henry, on that. But certainly, while he’s on his way to the podium, that’s something that our parents and children and students, college students alike are anxiously awaiting how we face reopening and if and when we do that in the fall. So appreciate the question. Secretary Qarni.
Secretary Qarni: (29:12)
Thank you, Governor. The question was what is the Education Task Force specifically focused on or looking at? They started to meet about three weeks ago. And it’s a nexus to bring all the early childhood stakeholders, K-12, and higher ed all together to communicate across what they’re working on. There’s a lot of subgroups that are focusing on a variety of things as the response to COVID-19 and what does reopening look like? So they’re working closely with the Department of Health. So for example, we have a subcommittee that’s made up of our Department of Education folks who are working with the Department of Health in developing plans and what the different phases look like and what does reopening look like? There are going to be very specific gating criterias in place. The same thing is happening with our institutions of higher education, for example. So in the coming weeks, once those plans are ready, we’ll put them in front of the Governor and he’ll eventually announce them and so forth. So that’s what they’re working on right now.
Ralph Northam: (30:10)
And Henry, I believe it’s fair to say that there are going to be options. It’s not going to be a one plan fits all because, as we always say, this is a novel virus and a lot of these questions could be answered more accurately if we knew how the virus was going to act, what the prevalence is out there, whether it’s going to go away this summer, come back this fall. I mean, there’s just so many unanswered questions. So I think a lot of this group moving forward, it will be looking at a lot of different options. If we are seeing the virus still here, then we’re obviously going to need to go by plan A, and you get it. So it’s not just with education, but it’s a lot of these different topics. It’s just very challenging to predict when it changes day to day. So we appreciate the cooperation and understanding.
Speaker 4: (31:04)
Luanne Rife with the Roanoke Times.
Luanne Rife: (31:07)
First, I want to thank the folks at VDH for handling amazing amount of data and attempting to put it in the dashboard in a usable fashion. But I have a question about testing in localities. Back in April, the dashboard included testing by each health district. And then that information disappeared during one of the updates. And it came back last week under the testing tab, but it’s showing the number of tests for Roanoke remarkably fewer than they were before. Back on April 23rd, there were more than 2000 tests for Roanoke. And now the website just shows 766. Can you explain the discrepancy? And also, if the new testing encounter numbers are correct, then far fewer than 1% of the city’s population has tested. How do we really know the prevalence of this disease?
Ralph Northam: (32:02)
Do you want to address that one, Laurie? I’ve got people rushing the podium, so let me control this.
Dr. Laurie Forlano: (32:15)
I think I’ll answer the latter part and then maybe Secretary Carey can come up for the first question. The second question I heard I think was around the positivity rate and whether or not that is an assessment of prevalence. Is that right? I’ll assume that’s the question. So the percent positivity is best used as a measure of how well we’re reaching with testing and testing capacity. We aim for a 10% positivity rate or lower. And as you can see by the slide that was illustrated earlier, we’re definitely trending in that direction. Do you want to handle the …
Secretary Carey: (33:03)
Thank you, Dr. Forlano. And this is the question about a particular data point that apparently shifted during the revisions of the and continuing improvement of the website. And we don’t know that exact … I don’t, in my memory, know that exact point in Roanoke. But we are keeping track. And this group knows well, based on our comments on Friday, that we are keeping track of total tests. That includes serologic and antigen tests, as well as the PCR nasal tests. And that may have been a place where a great number of tests were indeed the serologic tests that indeed will have significant value as we accumulate those over time. And as more and more of those are the much higher sensitivity and specificity and FDA approved. So we’ll have to look into that exact data point to make sure that there wasn’t some error in the data. We’ll double check to make sure that that there’s not another explanation, but those are the potential explanations in terms of a number of the tests may have been of the serologic type and the type that are being shown there are indeed the PCR. And again, we’ve made every effort to make that as transparent as possible on the website.
Luanne Rife: (34:23)
I thank you for that, but the testing encounters are saying all types of testing encounters. The whole number is substantially lower than what you showing for for tests. And so if you could provide the information as to how many tests are being done in this area, and it just seems like such a low rate for the population. Could you address that aspect?
Ralph Northam: (34:49)
Well, I’ll tell you what. We’ll address that and maybe try to get back with you and explain that rather than do that in this setting.
Luanne Rife: (34:57)
Governor, last Friday, you mentioned that you would reach out to, not Congress, but legislators in the state. Just wondering if you had a chance to connect with them, maybe over the weekend, and address some of their concerns. Because they felt as though we were moving too soon in some of the opening in Virginia. And especially for black and brown people [inaudible 00:35:23].
Ralph Northam: (35:24)
Sure. The question, Andre, as far as the Black Caucus, Legislative Black Caucus, and the letter that they wrote and whether I have had correspondence with them. I have had some, our staff has had some, our Chief Equity Officer has had some. So we’ve all been in communication with members of the Black Caucus. And I think what you’ll see is perhaps better communication as to what we’ve been doing around the state addressing equity, addressing access to healthcare, addressing access to PPE, to the testing. And so we’re in the process ongoing of improving, if you will. And also in our communication with these individuals. And I think, again, I went through a list on Friday with you of the things that we’re doing in Virginia and we will continue to do that. And as I said, continue to communicate with not only the Legislative Black Caucus, but people around Virginia, as to what we’re doing. And so you have a question for our mayor.
Is that too much trouble?
Bobby Dyer: (36:34)
Not at all.
Mayor, how is Virginia Beach coming in terms of planning possible activities as you come up on the year of the mass shooting in light of what you’re doing with COVID-19? Then on a sidebar, as we open the beaches, we’ve seen in other places that people are having real struggle adhering to social distancing and following the guidelines. In an earlier article, I think you mentioned something about having safety ambassadors.
Bobby Dyer: (37:04)
Yes. Yeah. Thank you for your questions. We are coming on the first anniversary of the greatest tragedy in the history of Virginia Beach. It rocked our foundation, it rocked our national foundation. And we are planning to memorialize them this year virtually because obviously COVID-19 has put dampers on giving the full recognition. But be assured, moving forward, any victims that were tragically killed, wounded, or witness or the city will be embraced in perpetuity going forward in some form of a permanent memorial going forward.
Bobby Dyer: (37:50)
And yes, once again, I think every state beaches are confronting problems with compliance. And I have publicly asked a number of times, publicly, that our people stay compliant because that’s how we move to the next phase. That’s how we get to phase two. And we want people to know that if they do come to our beaches, they are welcome and they’re going to be safe. But we’re going to ask them to comply with the rules.
Bobby Dyer: (38:19)
And we have established an ambassador system, I believe 150 people, where people will diplomatically come and say, “Please maintain your distancing or maybe just relocate or don’t congregate.” We’re going to make sure that surfaces are cleaned. We’re going to encourage people to continue with hand washing because this is how we benefit each other as friends and neighbors. We want to keep people safe. That is the number one concern, both the governor and I, we really share together. But once again, by having people come to our beautiful beaches, it’s healthy, it’s good emotionally for people to come to the beach. The sunshine is good for them. And just help them get out and resume a little bit more of normalcy in life. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (39:16)
Next up is Bruce Leshan with WUSA9.
Bruce Leshan: (39:21)
Governor, thank you so much. I wanted to ask a question about the schools as well. And you’ve kind of spoken a little bit about it, but just give me a gut check. How important is it for you to get those kids back to school in the fall? Fairfax County has put out a PowerPoint and they’re talking about millions of dollars in extra costs, dramatically reduced capacity, both in buses and in classrooms. How are you feeling about it? How important do you think it is to get those kids back to school? And do you think it’s going to happen?
Ralph Northam: (39:56)
Wow, I like that question. That’s a easy question to answer. It is very important for me to get our children back in schools. But let me back up just a little bit and commend our educators, our superintendents, our principals for reaching out to our students through virtual learning, through making sure that our most vulnerable have nutrition, delivering meals every day. I mean, the work that has gone on around Virginia to do that is just so important. But here’s the caveat. We know that that’s not a perfect solution. Our children, our scholars in colleges and universities, are going to be much better back in the classroom because it’s an equity issue. You’ve heard me talk about access to broadband. Right now, there are about 550,000 families in Virginia that don’t have access to broadband. So while it sounds reasonable and encouraging to say that we’re doing a great job educating our children through virtual learning, there are a number of children around Virginia that don’t have that opportunity. And so as soon as we can safely get our students back into the classroom, we will do that. And again, you’ve heard me say this before, I’m a glass is half full person, but I am hopeful that our students will be back in the classroom this fall.
Speaker 5: (41:30)
I was just wondering. Has Virginia found any cases of this inflammatory disease that children with past COVID-19 cases are showing in cities like New York and Massachusetts? And then the other question was who is the point person that will replace Dr. Stern in an active capacity while you find a replacement?
Ralph Northam: (41:50)
Yeah. Do you want to address the first question?
Speaker 6: (41:55)
So now the first question is whether or not we have any cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, which is the-
Speaker 6: (42:03)
… inflammatory disease that impacts multiple organs in the child’s body that’s associated with the virus that causes COVID-19. We have learned of one case of MSC at this point, and that’s the only one that we have. We’re currently getting the data on that, and we haven’t yet reported it as we’ve just learned of it.
Speaker 8: (42:28)
Do you know the age of the child?
Speaker 6: (42:31)
I personally don’t recall the age of the child.
Ralph Northam: (42:37)
And now I will follow up. We talked about the testing, the PCR test versus the antibody test. The PCR tests says whether you have the virus today, right? The antibody test says whether you’ve been exposed to it. And this is the reason why the antibody test is important, because this inflammatory process in children is what we call a post-infectious disorder. It can happen weeks after someone has been exposed and had the virus. So that’s why, as we move forward, the antibiotic test is going to be helpful. And also to look at the prevalence, has someone been exposed or how much of the community has been exposed? But just wanted to make that point clear. The second part of your question was the replacement of Dr. Stern. And we have some very competent people that work in our Department of Emergency Management. As you might have heard, his last day will be June the 6th. So between now and then I will find, along with my staff will work and make sure we find that the best person to replace him, but we haven’t made that announcement yet.
Speaker 9: (43:50)
Max Thornberry with Northern Virginia Daily.
Max Thornberry: (43:56)
I’ve got a question about testing guidance, who can receive a test and who is not receiving a test yet. At what point is that going to change? As I understand it right now, we’re still testing relativity high risk people, first responders, people in nursing homes. Is it when the state can test a certain number of people a day, that 10,000 mark that has been said is the goal. And if that is the number, what is the delay in reaching that goal to this point?
Speaker 8: (44:28)
Dr. Remley is with us today. Dr. Remley?
Dr. Remley: (44:35)
Thank you, governor. The first question, I think if I heard it was about testing people who are high risk versus testing people who may have symptoms. I think it was, and I get my days mixed up because they’re all the same right now. But I think it was about two weeks ago, the public health recommendations were anybody who had symptoms or was in close contact with somebody who had symptoms be tested. Throughout the state, the Commonwealth, there are people who are symptomatic, who are being tested in doctor’s offices and urgent care centers, at emergency rooms. If they’re going to have a procedure at a hospital or going to deliver a baby, they’ll be tested. There are opportunities to be tested at pharmacies. Our very focused, as the governor showed earlier, very focused community events are in particular to make sure that we’re not missing populations of people that may be at extra risk to be infected because of their socioeconomic status or where they live geographically and where the infections are right now.
Dr. Remley: (45:32)
So it’s a combination of looking at every day, where is testing occurring in this state? And then adding the public health layer on top of that. The second part of the question is when are we going to get to 10,000? I will tell you, we have at least 5,000 tests that are still in the process of being entered into the electronics system as we bring on a new lab. And you have heard me talk about bringing on three new labs in the last week and a half. They have to marry their electronic reporting system with our electronic reporting system. And that takes a period of time. So right now we do have paper test results too that are being entered into the system.
Dr. Remley: (46:08)
So I think we’ve had days where we probably are at that 10,000. Is that a magic number? Absolutely not. The magic number will be when we have enough testing numbers to be able to hit that 10% positivity, as Dr. Forlano talked about to know we’re testing enough people, but also to make sure we can identify, take care, do contact tracing of every Virginian that might be infected. So that number will change as disease in the community, changes.
Ralph Northam: (46:41)
Dr. Remley: (46:41)
Oh yeah. And then the other question the governor just made which just very important, because it’s occurring right now in Prince William. Any event the health department has, we’re never going to turn anybody away who wants to be tested. We encourage people who are symptomatic to come forward, but certainly if you think you’ve been exposed to somebody nearby, or you think you may have symptoms, or not sure, the approach is to never turn anyone away.
Ralph Northam: (47:04)
Thank you. Appreciate it.
Kate : (47:07)
Yeah. A [inaudible 00:47:07] number of nursing homes across the state are reporting shortages of PPE, [inaudible 00:47:17] COVID-19 cases. So two questions based on that. I’m wondering if there will be a concentrated effort to prioritize some of these in the future. And then also, do you still consider the state’s supply of PPE sufficient given that these facilities still are making these requests?
Speaker 8: (47:33)
Kate, I think you said that a significant amount of our nursing homes are saying that they have a shortage of PPE. I don’t … I wouldn’t call it significant. It’s a minority of responses are requests that we’re getting. And to answer that, we have PPE. I was just at the warehouse a couple of days ago and not is our PPE there, but we also have incoming PPE. And so we are working with our nursing homes to make sure or that they know how to request PPE if they need it. And that’s through our Department of Emergency Management and through our local health departments. And so if the nursing homes need more PPE just as dental offices or anybody else out there, as long as they go through the proper chain and avenue, then we’ll be able to provide them with that PPE.
Kate : (48:28)
Some of the [inaudible 00:48:34] they were concerned that the data based on the state’s reporting system is actually under report, because it’s not mandatory. So it’s not really clear if it is the minority of nursing homes that are struggling with procuring PPE. So I’m wondering if the state will allocate additional resources to these nursing homes, because it is clear that some are struggling.
Speaker 8: (48:54)
At top priority from since this pandemic started, because just knowing the nursing homes have some of the most vulnerable population is to make them a priority. And so we have the nursing home task group that we’ve talked about and anything that we can do to make sure that they have not only the equipment they need, but when you talk about equipment and PPE and testing, they also need staffing, if certain amount of the staff gets sick. So we’ve been working in all of those areas. Again, if someone needs help out there, Kate, send them to us, but we’re doing everything that we can to take care of our nursing homes.
Kate : (49:38)
We’ll do one more on the phone and then we’ll come back for the last one.
Speaker 9: (49:41)
Yeah. Roger Watson with The Farmville Herald.
Roger Watson: (49:47)
Thank you. When looking at the data on new cases per day, does the health department think about cases largely contained and outbreaks in prisons and nursing homes differently than they do cases that are considered to be community spread?
Ralph Northam: (50:08)
Do you want to address that? Do you view them differently?
Dr. Remley: (50:08)
Ralph Northam: (50:14)
[inaudible 00:50:14]. I appreciate it.
Speaker 6: (50:15)
Thank you governor. The question is, does the health department view cases and congregate settings like prisons and other congregate settings differently than we do cases in community settings? I would say that the approach to trying to contain the spread of disease in the congregate setting is different, precisely because of the nature of that setting. A nursing home or in a correctional facility, trying to cohort patients and isolate them from others is a different challenge than you have in a community setting. But other than that, we approach all these cases as an unfortunate human being who’s contracted this virus that is very contagious, and we will do everything we can to protect them, those around them, and the staff taking care of them. Take one last question. Cam, you’ve been quiet, Laura?
Speaker 10: (51:18)
If I could just ask for a follow up on that question. I’ve talked to people who work in nursing homes.
Ralph Northam: (51:24)
I was calling on Cam and Lara, but please.
Speaker 10: (51:29)
Who have been told that they have to wear the same mask, essentially until the elastics break, three weeks and more. Do you find that acceptable? Would you consider that facility adequately supplied?
Ralph Northam: (51:41)
Absolutely it’s not acceptable. And I think you answered your own question. If someone’s PPE elastic is no longer in intact then it’s not acceptable. And I would just repeat what I said. Nursing homes are a top priority and if they need more PPE, we have the PPE, and hopefully they will know the proper channels to go through and we’ll be able to deliver through them. We’ve come so far. I mean, remember this, two months ago, we had no PPE. We had no test and capable abilities and every day is better. But the answer to your question, were you at the warehouse a couple of days ago when we took … Yeah. But anyway, we have a great stock of PPE. We have more coming in and if there are individuals, businesses, nursing homes, penitentiaries, whatever that need PPE, if they request it, we have a supply chain and a means to get that PPE to them.
Speaker 10: (52:39)
What’s the barrier? Why am I hearing [inaudible 00:52:42] even this week, like they’re saying, “Yes, we were told we have to wear it indefinitely until it breaks when it’s supposed to be disposable.” Like why are these facilities [inaudible 00:52:51]?
Ralph Northam: (52:50)
I don’t know who you’re talking to or why you’re hearing that. But I would just, when they call you again, him that you heard from the governor today, and that we have PPE and please request it and we will do our best to get their supply to them.
Speaker 9: (53:04)
Ralph Northam: (53:04)
Thank you all. We look forward to seeing you all on Wednesday afternoon at two. Thank you.