May 26, 2020

Ralph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 26

Ralph Northam Virginia Press Conference Transcript May 26
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsRalph Northam Virginia COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 26

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a coronavirus press conference on May 26. Northam said face coverings are required in public in Virginia starting Friday.


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Governor Ralph Northam: (00:00)
… by addressing my visit to the oceanfront on Saturday. On Friday, the beach was allowed to open, only after demonstrating to our team that the city had a plan and could execute that plan to comply with social distancing guidelines on the beach and the boardwalk. They made commitments for extensive cleaning, for educating people about the safety measures and for deploying teams of ambassadors to promote physical distancing. On Saturday, I visited the oceanfront with the intention of speaking to the mayor, thanking first responders and ambassadors and seeing how the reopening plan was working. I also plan to take a few questions from the press. On my way to talk with the reporters, some well-wishers came up to me and asked to take pictures. I was not prepared because my mask was in the car. I take full responsibility for that. People held me accountable, and I appreciate that. In the future when I’m out in the public, I will be better prepared. We’re all forming new habits and routines, and we’re all adjusting to this new normal.

Governor Ralph Northam: (01:21)
I am pleased to report that Virginia Beach performed well this weekend. The city kept its commitments, and most people did the right thing. Virginia Beach did not see large crowds over the weekend like in other parts of our country. While I was at the beach, I saw that people were social distancing on the beach. They were following the rules. I’m convinced that Virginia Beach can be a model for the rest of our country, a model for how to open the right way and how to operate a beach safely even while the pandemic remains with us. We are working with other beach cities, such as Norfolk and Hampton, as they make preparations to open their beaches this weekend. If they show us a plan that can work as Virginia Beach’s plan worked, they may be able to move forward.

Governor Ralph Northam: (02:18)
We’ll talk more about masks in a moment, but now let’s talk about the trends and our health metrics. Since Friday, the numbers have continued to be directionally correct. While one death is too many, the numbers over the weekend continued to show that our percent positivity is trending downward. Our hospital capacity remains sufficient. Our testing is increasing, and hospitalizations of people with a positive or pending COVID test are trending slightly downward. The virus clearly is still here, but overall, these numbers are trending in the right direction. That is the assessment of our state team, and it is the assessment of the Health District Directors across Northern Virginia. You will recall that they wrote two weeks ago asking to delay entering phase one. On Sunday, they sent another letter to Commissioner Oliver and to the Chief Administrative Offices of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria.

Governor Ralph Northam: (03:32)
They wrote that Northern Virginia has met four of the six April the 24th metrics for moving into phase one at this time. They are seeing 14 days of declines in the percentage of positive test and in hospitalizations of people with a positive or pending test. They are seeing increased testing capacity and adequate hospital bed capacity. I’ve also been in communication with the chief elected officials in Accomack County, telling me they believe Accomack is also ready to move in to phase one. And my administration continues to have conversations with the mayor of Richmond on the city joining all other Virginia localities in phase one. We’ll have more information on that tomorrow. We all understand that businesses need clarity and time to prepare. I want to emphasize that while phase one loosened some restrictions, it does not require any business or place of worship to open until they are comfortable that they can do so safely. Just because you can open doesn’t mean that you have to open. As these localities enter phase one, I encourage local officials to work closely with their communities on the safest ways to move forward. Phase one looks the same for everyone, the same standards for social distancing, staying at home, limiting crowds, outdoor seating at restaurants and everything else that we laid out 11 days ago. But one thing will be different. Everyone will need to wear a face covering when you’re inside at a public place starting this Friday. That’s at a store, a barber shop, a restaurant, on public transportation, at a government building or anywhere where people can congregate in groups. I am taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings. There will be a few exceptions: if you’re eating or drinking at a restaurant, if you’re exercising, if you have a health condition that keeps you from wearing a face covering or children under the age of 10. Let me speak to you as a doctor, I strongly recommend any child who is three years old or older should wear a face covering to the extent possible. I want to be clear. This is about protecting those around us, especially our workers, and I’ll speak more to that in just a minute.

Governor Ralph Northam: (06:32)
Protecting the people around us means face coverings. As I said on Friday, they don’t need to be medical grade. Our health care providers need those. You can make your own. You can find a plan on the internet, and all you need is a piece of cloth and some rubber bands. You can even grab a bandana. I know that even these steps are going to be difficult for some of our most vulnerable populations. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen community groups step up to help out, and I hope that can be the case here. If you’re a group that can help provide face coverings to people who don’t have them, please consider ways to do that. My administration is working to provide masks to target at-risk populations, but every bit helps. This is a matter of public health, and as a result, any enforcement that is needed will be done by our health officials. This is not a criminal matter. And our law enforcement, our police and our sheriffs, will not have a role in enforcing this.

Governor Ralph Northam: (07:44)
I’m not looking for people to get in trouble by not wearing a mask, but I am looking for people to please do the right thing. I’m asking people to respect one another. As I said, wearing face coverings is an important step to protect others, especially our workers. As more businesses open to the public, the people who work there are put in a vulnerable position when other people come in without a mask. Science shows us that mass can help stop the spread of the virus. That’s why Executive Order 61 requires workers in most settings to wear masks to keep customers safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but we also want to make sure workers are safe as they interact with customers. Protecting workers is critical as Virginia moves forward. That’s why the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will draft new regulations around COVID-19. These new workplace safety standards will apply to employers and should include use of personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents and hazard communication. I’m asking Virginians to remember that their actions have consequences. Everything we do affects someone else. I’m asking us all to remember the golden rule, that we should treat each other the way that we want people to treat us.

Governor Ralph Northam: (09:21)
And I’m really optimistic because I’ve seen Virginians do the right thing time and again over these many weeks. It has not been easy for anyone, but this experience is bringing out the best in most people. Folks are looking out for each other. They’re staying home, checking in on their neighbors and recognizing that the future will not look like the past, at least for a while. So now I’ll ask Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, to update us on the health numbers, and then we’ll be glad to take your questions. Thank you. Dr. Oliver.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (09:58)
Governor. So just quickly on the numbers regarding the cases and today’s update of the website, we note that there are now 39,342 cases in total across the Commonwealth cumulatively, new cases representing 1,615. The total deaths to date are 1,236. New deaths in the last reporting period is 28. We, as the governor has said, have increased our testing over the last several weeks. We now have total number of tests of 298,270. In the last reporting period, we recorded another 8,366 PCR tests. Regarding the demographic breakdown, total cases in the African American community stands at 5,643. Total…

Dr. Alan: (11:03)
At 5,643 total deaths at 253. Among Latinos, the cases number 12,354, and the deaths stand at 106. The proportions continue to be about the same as I’ve reported previously. Just want to underscore what the Governor said about wearing masks. It’s very important and it’s about protecting each other. I wear a mask to protect you, you wear a mask to protect me. We wear masks, all of us, in order to protect the entire commonwealth. Thank you.

Governor Ralph Northam: (11:37)
Thank you for that Dr. [Alan 00:00:37].

Speaker 1: (11:37)

Henry: (11:44)
I guess for those who might say you don’t have the moral authority to have people wear mask inside, what would you say to those people at this point in time?

Governor Ralph Northam: (11:53)
That I don’t have the moral authority?

Henry: (11:55)
[inaudible 00:11:55] people say, “You didn’t wear one this weekend, so why should I wear one now?” How do you get that message across?

Governor Ralph Northam: (12:02)
Yeah. That’s a good question, Henry. I went to Virginia Beach, as I just explained, with a couple of intentions. One was to talk to the Mayor, see how the plan was going and to also thank him and his staff, which I did. I also went to thank our first responders, which I did. I then wanted to speak and thank the ambassadors. I had a very nice conversation with two of them. All of this in open air, continuing the social distance that we talk about every day. I then headed down the boardwalk to talk to the press.

Governor Ralph Northam: (12:43)
Some well-wishers that were on the side recognized me, approached me, wanted to take pictures. I’ve always tried to accommodate people that want to take pictures, and I was unprepared. That, I take as my responsibility. I wasn’t intending to be involved with the public. I merely was there with the intentions of doing what I just said. Again, I was unprepared when I encountered the public. The next time I’m out in the public, I will be better prepared. And again, I take that as my responsibility. But, this is not just about me. This is about all Virginians and it’s about their public safety. I will continue to offer guidelines as to what’s in everybody’s best interest.

Julie: (13:30)
[inaudible 00:13:30] Virginia elected leaders and businesses were expecting to hear you say today that you were going to green light phase one for Northern Virginia on Friday. Now I hear you saying that you’ll talk about details tomorrow, but can you confirm that you will give Northern Virginia the green light for Friday? And the second question, [crosstalk 00:13:58]-

Governor Ralph Northam: (13:58)
Hold on.

Julie: (13:59)
… phase one-

Governor Ralph Northam: (14:00)
Just let me answer-

Julie: (14:01)
… phase one for the … Okay.

Governor Ralph Northam: (14:03)
Let me answer one [crosstalk 00:14:04] question at a time, Julie. The question was, in talks with Northern Virginia leaders, are we planning to give them the opportunity to enter phase one on Friday? And yes, that’s our plan. Next question?

Julie: (14:19)
And we know that phase one for the rest of Virginia is to last at least two weeks. So what is your sense about whether the rest of Virginia might be able to move into phase two as soon as Friday?

Governor Ralph Northam: (14:31)
Thank you, Julie. The other question was, what about moving the rest of Virginia into phase two? If you do the math, we’ve only been in phase one for a little bit over a week. The incubation period of this virus is lengthy enough that we really just don’t have the data, we don’t have the trends that we’re comfortable with, both from our health commissioner and their epidemiologists, as well as just my watching the numbers in Virginia.

Governor Ralph Northam: (15:03)
We will be in phase two through this Friday. We’ll look at the evidence as we move closer and then determine if we can move into phase two. I think I might’ve said phase one … We’ll be in phase one through Friday, but after the next few days, we will determine as soon as we can when we’re entering phase two. But at this stage, Julie, everybody in Virginia will be in phase one, at least through this Friday.

Speaker 1: (15:31)

Kate: (15:32)
Yeah. I was hoping you could clarify the enforcement of the new mask guidance.

Governor Ralph Northam: (15:36)

Kate: (15:36)
I mean, is it a guideline or is it a mandate? Will law enforcement be able to step in if there are businesses that are not requiring masks? Can you explain that to us?

Governor Ralph Northam: (15:47)
Yes. The enforcement … The question is about enforcing this. And again, this is about people’s health. It’s not about locking people up in jail and giving them large fines. It will be done through the Virginia Department of Health. And one of the things that we’ve taken into consideration, Kate, is that in order to … If we were to enforce this through law enforcement, the only authority we have at this time is through a class one misdemeanor, which actually can carry jail time and a large fine.

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:18)
And that’s not what we’re trying to do here. I will have discussion with the general assembly. As you know, they’re going to probably come back either in July or August. And if they will look at the option and certainly something that we can discuss as having a civil fine, for example, that gets us away from a class one misdemeanor, then we’ll have that discussion. But at this time, we’re going to enforce this through the Virginia Department of Health.

Kate: (16:45)
What [inaudible 00:16:46] with VDH? What enforcement authority does VDH have?

Governor Ralph Northam: (16:50)
Do you want to comment on that at all or … I’m not sure that we need to get into the specifics of what authority, but at this stage, I think to answer your question, we need to … We’re going to enforce it through the Virginia Department of Health, rather than through law enforcement, sheriffs, police officers, that type of thing. I think that’s the message that really needs to go forward.

Kate: (17:11)
[inaudible 00:17:11] restaurants has all of its patrons without masks and their excuse is, “I forgot.” What enforcement arm will … What enforcement will take place? How will the state implement that guidance?

Governor Ralph Northam: (17:23)
Yes. Obviously, they would contact the Virginia Department of Health and then they would take it from there.

Speaker 2: (17:29)
And to that point, what if the business is not following through with your mandate, not requiring their customers and not kicking them out if they don’t have a mask on? Would that [crosstalk 00:06:38]-

Governor Ralph Northam: (17:40)
Cam, it gets into a lot of the legalities of this and can get complicated in a hurry. I think for the general public right now, and we can talk about this more offline, talk with lawyers, whoever you want to talk with, but it will be enforced through the Virginia Department of Health at this stage.

Speaker 1: (18:00)
Alan Suderman with the Associated Press.

Alan Suderman: (18:05)
Yeah. Hi, good afternoon. I’m not sure if I’m following up or repeating a question that was just asked, but what tools does the Department of Health have to enforce these?

Clark Mercer: (18:21)
This is Clark Mercer, Governor’s Chief of Staff. And thank you, Alan, for the question. The question is about tools for enforcing the facial covering requirement. I think the Governor was quite clear that the criminal code is not the place that you want this enforced. There are tremendous equity issues with enforcing this that we’re cognizant of. And there’s also very practical issues of our police and sheriffs having to enforce this, so we have taken that off the table. And like the Governor said, there’s likely to be a special session within 60 days, later this summer. I think this should be a topic that the general assembly discusses at that general assembly to afford either the Governor or pass legislation when you’re in a pandemic like this to give the civil code, to be a tool in the toolbox, to give a fine.

Clark Mercer: (19:09)
VDH, the Virginia Department of Health, just like they inspect restaurants now and have enforceability around restaurants, they would have the ability … And look, this is for grossly negligent actors. We’re not talking about if someone forgets to wear their mask, you obviously will have a warning, and someone will remember to wear it the next time. This is for businesses that would be grossly negligent and refusing to adopt this policy. And VDH, the restaurants and businesses that they oversee, they’ll be able to enforce this.

Clark Mercer: (19:40)
DOLI, the Department of Labor and Industry, like the Governor said, they will be working on emergency regulations for private businesses, so businesses that aren’t open to the public. And DOLI would have the ability to enforce the regulations that they come up with pursuant to the businesses that they oversee. For businesses that are grossly negligent, if a manager of a restaurant is not adopting this policy, you could certainly go in and VDH and talk to them and give them a warning. But you can seek intervention by the courts and ample their operating license, as DOLI can if you have a private company that’s blatantly ignoring this as well. That would be the enforcement mechanism. Thanks.

Jackie: (20:24)
I think some people that are opposed or concerned about a mask mandate are worried about once you start it, when does it end? Do you have a sense of the timeline of this at this point? And then also, have you given any thought to the potential to mandate masks in schools, especially given that we’ve now seen two cases of this inflammatory disease in Virginia among children?

Governor Ralph Northam: (20:44)
Great question. The first question Jackie asked was the timeline. And you’ve heard me say this enough, but this is a novel virus. We are hopeful that if our numbers continue to trend in the direction that they’re trending, that we’ll be able to move into phase two, then phase three. And hopefully, there’ll be a vaccination at some point and we can kind of put all this behind us. But until it’s safe, Jackie, especially for our workers who are the most vulnerable out there. I mean, they don’t have the choice. A patron that comes into a place of business, they can decide whether or not … Or make that decision.

Governor Ralph Northam: (21:22)
Again, that’s why we’re making this mandatory so that we protect those that have to be at work every day, to keep them as healthy as we can. I don’t have a given timeline, but as soon as it’s safe to lift this guideline, we will. The second question, which I think is a really important question is what about our schools, colleges, universities. And as you know, we have the task group that we put in place to address a lot of issues. But certainly that issue that you just brought up, what about face protection for our schools? That’s being addressed now and we haven’t made a decision yet. Obviously, the group continues to meet and I would like to have our students back in schools this fall. But again-

Governor Ralph Northam: (22:03)
I would like to have our students back in schools this fall. But, again, we’ll just have to see what this virus does. But if we are in our schools and on our colleges and university campuses, we will certainly make a decision regarding using facial protection for both the students and the staff.

Announcer: (22:17)
Bruce Potter with InsideNoVa.

Bruce Potter: (22:23)
Good afternoon, Governor. Two questions around … or a question, sorry, around the two metrics in the letter from northern Virginia, where the health officials indicated they need state assistance. One is obtaining a sustainable long-term supply of PPE, not just for hospitals, but also for long-term care facilities, first responders, et cetera, and the other is around contact tracing and the ability to hire enough contact tracers for the region. Can you explain specifically your strategy for prioritizing those two initiatives specifically focused on northern Virginia, which has 60% of the cases?

Governor Ralph Northam: (23:04)
Yeah. So the question is about our supply of PPE in northern Virginia and also contact tracing. We’ve talked about this a lot at the press conferences. We’re continuing to ramp up our supply of PPE. Continues to improve every day, and that’s one of the things that’s very important as we move forward not only for northern Virginia, but all of Virginia, is that we have the PPE necessary for our first responders, our hospital workers, all of these individuals.

Governor Ralph Northam: (23:34)
So we will continue to monitor that, but that continues to improve, and the same goes with the contact tracing. As you’ve heard our commissioner, we are in the process of looking at resumes, ramping up the number of tracers, the number of individuals that can do this. We want to hire over 1200 individuals and perhaps more, if needed. That process is moving forward nicely as well.

Governor Ralph Northam: (24:01)
So all of these things together, whether it be the PPE, the tracing, the hospital capacity, the percent positivities, all of these things are taken into account as we move forward, and we are encouraged by the numbers that we see. But we’ll take the opportunity, if we need to, to change direction, depending on the trends that we’re seeing. We will certainly do that again to make sure that we’re keeping Virginians safe.

Cam: (24:29)
Governor, I know you mentioned Accomack County in northern Virginia going into Phase One Friday, but what’s going on with Richmond? I know that the mayor announced this morning they’re asking for a modified Phase One, keeping the restrictions for hair salons, barber shops, and churches or places of worship.

Governor Ralph Northam: (24:45)
Yeah. Yes. The question is about northern Virginia moving into Phase One on Friday, Accomack County moving into Phase One on Friday, and where are we with Richmond? I received a letter from the mayor this morning. We have been in communication today. We’re working through the details, but hopefully we will be able to make an announcement, I would hope, Cam, in the next day or so. Again, people need to plan a few days ahead. So those conversations are ongoing as we speak, and we’ll hopefully be able to make that announcement as soon as we can.

Cam: (25:16)
Are you supportive of his request for the modifications for Phase One?

Governor Ralph Northam: (25:20)
Well, we’re in discussions right now. It’s a little bit more complicated than just saying am I in support or not, so a lot of moving parts there.

Announcer: (25:30)
Megan Shinn with WVEC in Norfolk.

Megan Shinn: (25:36)
Hi, Governor. So, over the weekend, I understand the VDH had a discrepancy over the data with confirmed COVID-19 cases because of maintenance. Can you go into a little bit more detail about what happened? So were Sundays numbers accurate? There’s a little bit of confusion around that.

Governor Ralph Northam: (25:55)
Yes. Thank you.

Dr. Oliver: (25:59)
Thank you for that question, which is regarding a big jump in numbers and tests over the weekend. The servers that we have underwent maintenance. In fact, we improved the servers with new memory and new storage. While the server was down, we weren’t processing things, and when the server came back up, we had two days worth of material to process. So it wasn’t a discrepancy. It was just two days worth of data.

Mel: (26:35)
Yeah. Over here. Are you being tested regularly for COVID-19? I know people who saw you interacting with people pretty closely over the weekend wondered whether you exposed yourself. Are you regularly being tested, and have you received an antibody test?

Governor Ralph Northam: (26:52)
Yeah. So the question is am I being regularly tested? I assume you … You mentioned antibody, but with the nasal swab as well, and to date, I haven’t been, but the message that I wanted to put forward today is that we have a lot of great community testing sites out there. I look forward to going to one of those sites in the near future, Mel, being tested, and also demonstrating to the rest of Virginians how easy this test is to do and encourage more Virginians to be tested.

Announcer: (27:26)
David McGee with the Bristol Harold Courier.

David McGee: (27:29)
Thank you, Governor. Wanted to ask, you all said, [inaudible 00:05:31], that you do track the recoveries of COVID patients. I was just wondering if there’s any intent to put that information on the state dashboard and if not, why not?

Speaker 3: (27:51)
So the question was really referring, I think, to a Friday question around keeping track of those that have recovered. We decided on Friday that the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, on their public-facing website, and, again, we share data back and forth, that that was readily accessible. Also, that only has to do with those that have been admitted to hospital and then discharged from the hospital, not having passed away. Of course, we have the number of those that have tested positive and are cases, and the vast majority of those don’t get admitted to the hospital. They recover. So, for that reason, we have not thought it needed to put that number on the website, though it is readily available in the public domain. That is accurately produced in terms of discharge from the hospital by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. From our perspective, that is sufficient to make sure that that information is readily available.

Andre: (29:08)
Governor, there is … Well, let me back up. About five weeks ago, I asked you if you would consider maybe making it an order whereby the labs would make sure all the data concerning people of color and African Americans would be included. Here we are, five, six weeks later. We still don’t have all of the data for black folks and people of color affected by COVID-19 and death from COVID-19. So would you make that an order?

Andre: (29:38)
Then, on the sidebar, there are still a number of people who are working in kind of big box factories and places of businesses, and they have began to call us, asking what are some of their rights? I think Clark kind of touched it a little bit, but if someone has to go to work and there has been maybe an outbreak, what do they do? Do they call the Health Department? Do they reach your department? [crosstalk 00:30:02]?

Governor Ralph Northam: (30:02)
Andre, the two questions … Megan, I’m going to maybe let Dr. Oliver, as far as the collection of data and …

Dr. Oliver: (30:14)
Sure. So thinking, Andre, I believe the first question is regarding the missing data on race and ethnicity that we have on some lab reports. It’s something that I don’t believe can necessarily just be magically dealt with by an order. It has to do with what the person ordering the tests places on the order. The labs have been very good about giving us all the information that they get with the test specimen. So if the information is on there, as a general rule, we get that from the labs when they report that data. So we need to work on and have worked on educating clinicians who make these lab orders to encourage them to include the race and ethnicity data, and over this same five-week period that you mentioned, we’ve seen really great improvement on that. You may recall that initially, we were missing … More than half of the records that we had were missing that data. It’s now well below about 20% or so in terms of African Americans and even less with respect to the Hispanic category.

Dr. Oliver: (31:38)
So we’ve made a lot of improvement on that, and we will continue to work on that. We have a team that’s really looking at a number of different ways that we can look at this data and really understand how it’s impacting the black and brown communities of the commonwealth. We consider that a very important thing to understand and not just some sort of academic point of view, but our health equity work group and the entire whole of government response to this pandemic, because we’re committed to protecting those who are most vulnerable, which includes these communities. So understanding what’s happening there is in fact very critical to us, and we’re dedicated to finding out that information.

Andre: (32:28)
[inaudible 00:32:28] this, Doctor, with all respect, the governor in all of his power saying, “Hey, we want this data, because it sends a broad message to people of color in Virginia”?

Dr. Oliver: (32:40)
I think we’ve gotten a good response just through the clinician letters and encouraging clinicians and hospital providers and others to give us that information. We’re making good progress on that.

Governor Ralph Northam: (32:52)
Andre, your second question was for those that are going back to work or are already working and they’re not comfortable in their current situation. What avenue did they take to-

Governor Ralph Northam: (33:02)
… current situation, what avenue do they take to remedy that situation?

Speaker 4: (33:11)
Great. So the current practice is, if someone feels unsafe at work, that they work with their employer and talk about ways to make a healthier and safer environment. If that has not worked out, then they can file a complaint through and then OSHA sends those complaints to our regional offices, through the Department of Labor and Industry.

Speaker 4: (33:32)
What the governor mentioned today is that he’s requested the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry for emergency temporary standards. And again, the only thing that Department of Labor and Industry can enforce are particular standards that are in code. With these standards, they would have to go to the Safety and Health Codes Board, and when they’re approved, then that’s when they can be implemented and enforced. And so that’s what he’s asking Department of Labor to start writing to send to the board.

Speaker 5: (34:00)
How long does that process take before the emergency standards may be in place that can be enforced?

Governor Ralph Northam: (34:06)
The board makes recommendations, and so hopefully they’re going to be meeting soon. There’s two avenues. One is that the board, the standards, they can post in the media and I think the standard’s usually The Richmond Times Dispatch, and then they can be enforced for six months. If these are particular standards that we want to codify and code around certain situations, then it goes, they send it to the Governor’s office as well as the office of the Attorney General to approve. And then those actually can be standards for 18 months, or until the legislators come back in town and codify it in the Virginia code.

Speaker 6: (34:41)
Tracy Agnew with a Suffolk News Herald.

Tracy Agnew: (34:45)
Thank you. I was just wondering for the localities that are seeing a very high per capita death rate, I was wondering if Dr. Oliver can share any information on what they’re seeing across the state as far as why there are so many deaths in certain localities. Then on a related note, whether the BDH could start reporting the number of deaths that had underlying health conditions.

Dr. Oliver: (35:12)
Do you know any more on that?

Dr. Forlano: (35:14)
Maybe on the second half [inaudible 00:35:16].

Dr. Oliver: (35:16)
Okay. I may ask Dr. Forlano to address the second question regarding underlying conditions and whether or not we can report that on our website. The first question has to do with looking at localities and jurisdictions that have particularly high case fatality rates, as I understood the question, and whether or not we could look into the reasons why that is the case. Unified Command, which is our whole of government response toward dealing with this pandemic has, as we’ve talked about previously, a health equity work group. The Health Equity Work Group utilizes some computer software to take particular note of communities that are at high risk looking at prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, that sort of thing. Looking at employment rates and poverty and a number of other factors. And we’ve utilized that to really target communities that would benefit from extra attention and more intervention to protect that community from COVID-19.

Dr. Oliver: (36:40)
The Health Equity Work Group has worked along with local health departments to Virginia National Guard and others to address this through community testing sites, distribution of tens of thousands of masks in those communities, working with faith leaders and other community leaders there to get out the message about COVID-19 and other intervention. So that’s being done. The health department itself has had something, for quite some time, that we call the Health Opportunity Index, which very much like this other software, can get right down to a community of just a few thousand people and look at some of these same factors. We’re doing a lot of things to try to identify those communities that are having these particularly high incidence rates, mortality rates from COVID-19 and other diseases, but in terms of the pandemic, obviously focused on COVID-19, and then designing ways to reach out to those communities and provide them with interventions to protect them from that disease.

Dr. Forlano: (37:53)
Hi. And on the second half of your question, I think you asked about, among our deaths specifically, is it possible to report what proportion of those deaths are in individuals that have underlying health conditions? I think it’s an excellent question. There’s different methods that could be used to do that and it depends on the data sets available to us. You can look at medical records. It does depend a bit on how a healthcare provider reports the death to us and whether or not those underlying conditions are on a death certificate, or if we could match records to other data collected either in our case system or other health data that’s available to us. I think I’ll need to talk to the surveillance and epidemiology team to see what we can think about there, and we can get back to you at a future briefing.

Speaker 6: (38:41)
Laura [inaudible 00:38:42].

Laura: (38:42)
Governor, I know you’ve been trying to coordinate with Maryland and DC with a lot of your actions. With Northern Virginia about to move ahead, and I think the other jurisdictions are, does that complicate things? Is it getting harder to be on the same page with those jurisdictions?

Governor Ralph Northam: (39:03)
The question is, is communications with Maryland and Washington DC, and we continue to have daily conversations with them. As a matter of fact, you may know this, yesterday was Governor Huggin’s birthday, so we communicated about that, but Washington, I believe, will make a decision tomorrow, I think, as far as when they’re entering phase one. So I don’t want to speak on behalf of Washington or Maryland, but we are in almost daily, I won’t say constant, communication, but again, each area obviously has their own challenges, but where it encompasses the southern part of the Maryland, which is right on the northern part of the Potomac River, Washington DC, and Virginia, as best we can, we want to be consistent. And that’s what we’ve done in the past and we will continue to try to do that as we move forward.

Laura: (40:00)
Thank you.

Governor Ralph Northam: (40:02)
Thank you all so much for being with us, again, as we have tried to articulate and communicate with all of you, this is about the health and wellbeing of Virginians. It’s about the health and wellbeing of our workers. And as I said on Friday, our homework is to start looking at, if you don’t have a protective facial covering to, please make arrangements. And this requirement, as we’ve said, will go into effect on Friday. So today’s Tuesday, so you have a few days to get ready.

Governor Ralph Northam: (40:37)
But again, I’ll reiterate, too, what I said earlier and what our Chief of Staff said, this is not about punishing people. It’s not about certainly putting people in jail, charging them large fines. That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to promote safety. And as I have said, from the beginning, we are all in this together and I encourage all of you to cooperate as best you can and to be part of the solution. And as soon as we can all continue to work together and get this health crisis in our rear view mirror, we’ll be able to return to that near normal. So keep up the good work. We’re all proud to be Virginians, we can get through this together, and I will look forward to seeing you all on Thursday. Thank you very much. (silence).

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