Jul 14, 2020
VA Governor Northam COVID-19 Press Conference July 14
VA Governor Ralph Northam gave a press conference on July 14. He updated the public about COVID-19 and announced stronger enforcement of statewide mask requirements. Read the full transcript here.
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Governor Ralph Northam: (07:15)
Well, good afternoon, and it’s good to be with all of you again, and thanks for viewing and listening this afternoon. We’re here to update Virginians on where we are with the coronavirus and what we expect to happen next. First, let’s review again where we’ve been. Since early March, when Virginia had its first COVID case, we have urged Virginians to do everything possible to stay safe and healthy. I issued a stay at home order. We put restrictions on businesses and gatherings, and in May I issued an order to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. We urged physical distancing, telework, and emphasized the importance of being careful and responsible.
Governor Ralph Northam: (08:03)
And I’m proud to say that thanks to the efforts of all of us, all of you, these strategies have worked. We have kept our cases count relatively low. We have not seen the spikes that some other states are now seeing, but we’re seeing some troubling numbers and an increase in cases largely out of the Hampton Roads area. I know we all hoped that this virus would go away, but that’s clearly not the case. And until we have a vaccination, it will impact everything that we plan. Weddings, school openings, the November election. We are in this for the long haul, so we all need to be clear eyed about what our health situation is and how we can continue to keep our numbers low, and our people healthy. As a doctor, I believe that numbers tell a story. So I want to show you some data slides so you can see where we are right now, where we are today. As you can see, our case numbers are increasing overall statewide, as in this seven day trend. And it also should be noted that we’re testing more today. As you all saw, we reported over 17, 000 PCR tests. These are the statewide numbers, but things look a little bit different when we break out the numbers on a regional basis, and I’ll show you that in just a moment. In this graph, you will see that the percent positivity is inching up recently, from a low of about 5.9% to now about 6.8%. And that’s still a good number. We’re well below the 10% positivity rate. We want to keep it that way. VDH continues to hire additional contact tracers, and we are doing an average of 10,000 tests a day statewide.
Governor Ralph Northam: (10:16)
Now let’s look at the numbers by each of our health regions. This is very telling. You’ve seen this data broken out for Northern Virginia before. Northern Virginia has two-thirds of our population, but I’m pleased to see that cases there are dramatically down. The percent positivity in the Northern region is 6.7%. Our Southwest region is seeing a small uptick in cases. The percent positivity there is still low. It’s at 4.8%. The Northwest region is also holding relatively steady. The percent positivity there is 5.9%. We’re seeing a small increase in cases in the Central region. The percent positivity there is 6.6%.
Governor Ralph Northam: (11:17)
And finally, here’s the Eastern region. You can see that the situation here is much different. This is a large increase in cases. The Eastern region’s moving seven day average of new cases was around 60 in early June. Today that average is 346. Simply put, a large portion of the increase in cases that we’re seeing in our state numbers are coming from the Tidewater region. The percent positivity here is 10.1% and it’s been rising for a number of days. There’s clearly substantial community spread. A lot of that increase is driven by people socializing without wearing masks, especially young people. As a matter of fact, the increase in the age group of 20 through 29 year olds from here compared to early June is up 250%. 250% in individuals age 20 through 29. And this should, to all of us, and it is very concerning.
Governor Ralph Northam: (12:43)
So I want to reassure Virginians, we are not seeing spikes like Florida or Texas. Florida had more than 15,000 new cases in one day. We had fewer than 1,000, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We border five other states and the District of Columbia. Hampton Roads is a big tourist hub for the east coast. If we don’t take this seriously now, we could see bigger increases across our Commonwealth.
Governor Ralph Northam: (13:16)
That’s why we’re taking action today to head this off. I’ve asked the local health team in Hampton Roads for their recommendations, and I’m reviewing them, but it’s clear that step one is stronger enforcement of the existing regulations, because, quite frankly, of the noncompliance. Our Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, today is sending a letter to the health district directors, reminding them of their authority to enforce face covering rules and regulations on physical distancing in restaurants and places where people gather.
Governor Ralph Northam: (13:55)
I’m also directing teams made up of members from the health departments, the Virginia ABC, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and other licensing agencies to conduct unannounced visits to establishments as needed. The Virginia Department of Health is deploying 100 people to ramp up enforcement, and this will happen across the state, but it will be especially focused in the Hampton Roads area. If you own a restaurant or a business, and you’re not following the regulations, your license will be on the line, and we will not hesitate to take action if needed.
Governor Ralph Northam: (14:41)
I’m also calling on businesses to step up their own enforcement. If a patron of your establishment is violating the rules, you have the ability to say no. It’s just like the signs in so many store windows that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Now it should be, “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” Remember that you don’t have to serve a patron who’s not wearing a face covering. You can tell them to leave, and if they don’t, they’re trespassing and you can in turn call the police.
Governor Ralph Northam: (15:22)
Third, I’m writing to the mayors of our beach communities asking for a full update on the beach access plans that they put forth in May. Those were detailed plans involving a number of sanitation and mitigation measures, and I want to be sure those mayors are following through on their promises. And I’ve directed Virginia ABC to develop a plan to impose an earlier cutoff for alcohol sales at restaurants. We will announce more details on that soon.
Governor Ralph Northam: (15:56)
I want to be clear, this is not the end of the actions we may take, but the beginning. I am considering other actions.
Governor Ralph Northam: (16:03)
… may take, but the beginning. I am considering other actions as needed, such as reduction in the size of gatherings. I want to make it clear that these enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules, you are being selfish and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing to help us all beat this virus. I want to be clear, it’s going to take everyone, everyone working together to do this. This is not political. This is about our health and wellbeing, and it’s also about our economy. It’s going to take all of us to move forward safely.
Governor Ralph Northam: (16:43)
Now I want to also provide an update on PPE. We continue to get shipments in and we’re distributing those to regional healthcare coalitions, local jurisdictions, assisted living facilities, state agencies, and health districts as needed. We have distributed a total of 49 shipments since yesterday. Our hospitals are not reporting unmet needs for PPE supply. Other healthcare settings, which go first to the private market to buy PPE before they turn to us, are reporting that the private market is not always predictable, but overall, we feel like the supply of PPE statewide is stable.
Governor Ralph Northam: (17:28)
As we continue to move forward, there are many other policy decisions to be made. One of the biggest areas on everyone’s mind is how and when to send our children back to school or to colleges and universities for the fall semester. I know these are not easy decisions. They’re not easy choices for our parents, our families, teachers, our school administrators, as they all work to balance what’s best for students education with what’s best for the health of students, teachers, faculty, staff and families. We all want to be comfortable sending their children back to school and we also want teachers and support staff to feel safe going back to work.
Governor Ralph Northam: (18:19)
Our Department of Education has set out guidelines and local school boards will make the final decisions. In this case, one size does not fit all. Physical distancing will be a critical component and a school’s ability to accommodate that may vary in different regions of our state. In much of rural Virginia where schools have fewer students, this may mean four or five days a week. It may mean something different in other settings, but local school boards will decide. Some have already acted and many others will be finalizing their plans in the next couple of weeks.
Governor Ralph Northam: (18:59)
Similarly, Chev is reviewing reopening plans from our colleges and universities. Again, one size does not fit all and these are complicated and difficult decisions to make. Schools from K through 12 through higher education must be aware of the health data in their locality and be prepared to shift their plans as needed. Our increasing and improving ability to test, trace and isolate cases will be an important component as we move forward.
Governor Ralph Northam: (19:35)
I’d like to turn now to an update on our rent and mortgage relief program. At the end of last month, we announced $50 million in CARES Act funding to help people who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage if they’ve lost their job or income due to this pandemic. That program has been running for nine business days. So far, it has served more than 900 households, about 100 each day, or one household’s rent or mortgage paid every six minutes. So far, 310 households rent or mortgage have been processed and another 591 households have been approved and are awaiting required documentation.
Governor Ralph Northam: (20:23)
Since June the 29th, 2-1-1 Virginia has [inaudible 00:20:29] more than 1300 calls for rent or mortgage help. Most people need rent relief since there are other protections for their mortgages. Our goal is to help people remain in their homes. By supporting renters and homeowners, we’re also helping their landlords and mortgage companies pay their own bills.
Governor Ralph Northam: (20:50)
I also want to talk about unemployment numbers. Since March the 15th, 938,559, let me repeat that, 938,559 Virginians have applied for unemployment benefits, and 91% of eligible claims are paid within 14 days. The Virginia Employment Commission has increased its staff by 550% and is getting more than 60,000 calls per week. With the economy reopening, many Virginians are going back to work. Still, thousands of Virginians do not have a job to go back to. The VEC and Virginia Career Works will have a virtual hiring event on July the 28th, so stay tuned for that.
Governor Ralph Northam: (21:47)
Also this week, we expect the Department of Labor and Industry, DOLI, and the Safety and Health Coach Board to finalize the new labor standards to protect workers during the pandemic. Virginia is the first state in the nation to create such standards in this crisis. We know that our workers are our greatest asset, and we want to make sure that they can return to work safely. Those standards will be enforced as soon as they are completed.
Governor Ralph Northam: (22:17)
Now I’d like to give an update on our DMV operations. I hear a lot of folks talk about this across the Commonwealth. Our DMV locations have been slowly reopening with increased physical distancing and other measures in place. We now have 41 DMV locations open for people to get services that must be done in person. Those are by appointment only. And DMV reports that 533,000, 533,000 appointments have been scheduled. Locations have extended hours to help accommodate people. Overall, the DMV locations are serving 7, 000 appointments per day. Last month, just to remind folks, we gave a 90-day extension for licenses, registration or other credentials that are expiring through the end of October. Remember, if you can do your DMV transaction online, please do so.
Governor Ralph Northam: (23:22)
Throughout this pandemic, our Virginia National Guard has been a critical partner helping move supplies and especially helping provide manpower and logistics for testing events. I know you’ve seen them all over the Commonwealth. Earlier this year, the federal government authorized Title 32 status for the Guard, which meant the federal government is helping pay for this assistance. That status will end soon and I’ve asked the federal government to extend it through the end of this calendar year.
Governor Ralph Northam: (23:53)
And finally, we continue to plan for a special session next month. We’ve been in touch with legislative leaders and we’ll announce a date very soon. In closing, I want to remind Virginians that we have come a long, long way together since March. Thanks to sacrifices made by everyone, we’ve flattened the curve and kept our hospitals from being overwhelmed. When you look at the data I showed you and you compare Virginia’s numbers to other states, we’re doing well. And I’m grateful to every one of you for making that happen, for putting your community first and working to keep yourself and your neighbors safe, but we can’t let down our guard. We can’t act like the virus has gone away because as we can see from the numbers in Hampton Roads, it clearly has not gone away. We have to remain vigilant and continue doing the things we know work, physical distancing, wearing a face covering in indoor spaces, washing our hands and staying at home if we feel sick.
Governor Ralph Northam: (25:09)
If we want our kids to go back to school this fall, if we want to return to something like normal life, what we used to have, then we all have to do the right thing. We all have a responsibility to take these actions, staying away from others, wearing a face covering to reduce the spread of this virus. We are all in this together. So now I appreciate your attention. And I’d like to ask Dr. Norm Oliver to give a health update. And then I’ll be glad to take your question. Thank you Dr. Oliver.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (25:45)
Thank you, governor. As you all know, the numbers can be easily seen at our web page vdh.virginia.gov. I’m not going to go over that now. I want to just really underscore something the governor said in his remarks, which is that the overwhelming majority of people in the Commonwealth have been doing the right thing, that’s how come we’ve been as successful as we’ve been in stopping the spread of COVID-19. And I think that’s true in the Tidewater region as well. However, there is a number of people who have in fact been not following the guidelines. And as the governor says, we are going to get much stricter in enforcing those guidelines. I’ve instructed the health directors in the Tidewater area to ensure that their environmental health specialists who do the restaurant bar inspections are looking for people who are egregious violators. So the guidelines will be working in conjunction with our colleagues in ABC and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and violators will find that their permits and licenses will be suspended.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (27:02)
We’ll be dispatching these teams today. We have about 500 such inspectors across the Commonwealth. We will augment that workforce over the next several weeks, adding another 100 or so inspectors so that we can ensure that we do our best to prevent the spread of this disease in our communities. The fact that it’s been happening mainly among the younger age group should not make us feel complacent. While it’s true that the younger you are, the less deadly the virus is, one, that’s not true for all people in that age group, many can face long-term morbidity and some will die. And so you should avoid these behaviors for that reason.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (27:59)
And as the governor said, you should also do it in order to protect the community, your relatives, your community members who are at greater risk of being vulnerable to this virus can get this from you if you are not carrying out the preventive behaviors that we know stops the spread of the virus. The data that you saw the governor present on the various regions is now available on our website. We will be posting that regularly. So you can also follow what’s happening in all the various health regions around the state. Thank you, governor. Appreciate it.
Governor Ralph Northam: (28:39)
Safe to say this is your warning shot to the people of Virginia that things need to change, that we don’t end up like California or Arizona or Florida?
Governor Ralph Northam: (28:54)
Henry, overall, I really think Virginia has done a great job. If you look at where we started and our intentions were to flatten that curve, I think Virginia’s really complied. As I had said earlier, and as Dr. Oliver said, most people in Virginia are doing the right thing, but there is an issue with non-compliance. And I hear reports not just from Hampton Roads, but across the Commonwealth. And I’m here today to update folks, one, but also to make sure that Virginians realize that we can’t go back, we just can’t do it where we started. And we don’t have to.
Governor Ralph Northam: (29:38)
The message is that let’s all be part of this solution, let’s all continue to do the right thing. I speak on behalf of certainly our administration, but also Virginians, that we want to get this health crisis behind us, we want to get into our economic recovery. We want to be strong again where we were before COVID-19. But if everybody doesn’t cooperate, we’re not going to get there. And if they don’t, and we’re watching, as I’ve stated, then there are going to be consequences.
Speaker 2: (30:18)
Hi, governor, good afternoon? I have a series of questions. One of two, your administration set a goal of testing every nursing home resident and staff by tomorrow, is that going to be met? And then The White House has also recommended that there be weekly ongoing testing of staff members, is that something the state is going to try and do? And then finally, we continue to hear from Virginian’s who cannot reach anyone at the Unemployment Commission for help with their claims, is the state doing enough, have they hired enough workers to address this demand? Why is this problem persistent so many months later?
Governor Ralph Northam: (31:07)
Yeah. Thank you, Alan, for your number of questions. We’re going to address each one of them. Laura, do you want to talk about the testing and then [inaudible 00:15:15].
Hi, thanks for the question. The question was about I think the nursing home testing that we’ve committed to do. So the point prevalence or baseline survey tests. So to date, for nursing homes, over 200 of the… I think it’s around 280 total nursing homes, 204 have either received a baseline test or in the process of testing or specimen collection, an additional 58 have been scheduled and another 15 are in the process of being scheduled. So I’d say probably within the next 10 days. So I think around July 23rd, we’ll complete that last push. I think that was the first question, but I’m forgetting the second question.
It was whether or not The White House has recommended there being weekly-
Speaker 3: (32:02)
… whether or not. The White House was recommended there be weekly ongoing testing of nursing home employees.
Speaker 3: (32:08)
Is that something Virginia is going to try and do?
Yeah. So, around, I think, mid June, we published recommendations and guidance for nursing home reopening, which did include recommendations for phased reopening and serial or weekly testing of both staff and residents in the circumstance where there are positive cases. When you reach a point where there are no new nursing home onset cases, then you can cease that testing. And there are some other recommendations that we suggest be met before relaxing restrictions, say, on things like communal dining or visitation. So, that weekly testing recommendation is indeed in our recommendations. And the governor has previously spoken about a funding package that’s helping to support those nursing facilities in meeting that charge.
Dr. Megan Healy: (33:08)
So, the last question was around unemployment, that some Virginian’s are still having a hard time getting through our call center. What the governor mentioned today is that we’ve increased our staff 550% in April, currently, with our call center staff and our merit staff. So, the VEC actually had to hire every individual. That was released later that we realized we needed to hire third party call centers. And so, we’ve had two contracts with third party call centers. And now, we’ve taken around 60,000 calls a week. Three weeks ago, it was around 28,000. And so, we are working that. Also, a reminder we have had about 75% of people get through their benefits. We think around 20% aren’t eligible. And so, a lot of people that are calling, we’re trying to get them through the appeals process, adjudication process, and trying to find ways that we can award benefits.
Governor Ralph Northam: (33:55)
Thank you, ma’am.
Speaker 4: (33:57)
To that, Dr. Healy, we have gotten several people then saying that they have been getting…. their appeal process is going to take months. Is there anything being done to speed that up? And then, a question for Governor Northam regarding the ETS from the Safety and health Codes Board. One of the meetings that they have held, it passed, as they’re currently written, that businesses, if they can show their compliance with the CDC guidelines, wouldn’t have to necessarily follow whatever these eventual ETS standards is. If you have a stance on allowing that or not.
Governor Ralph Northam: (34:33)
You may want to address that.
Dr. Megan Healy: (34:35)
Okay. So, I can talk really about the appeals process. So, we have about 80,000 people in the appeals process that have been denied benefits. And they have to work with our deputy. We have hired 35 new deputies in Hampton that are specifically working on this process. It’s around six to eight weeks. And that is the backup.
Dr. Megan Healy: (34:54)
We’ve moved around 10,000 people out of the appeals process. We’re looking through their data, seeing where the hangups are, and trying to fix their problems to move to benefits. The others, that could be separation issues that they might have quit their job or were fired. And we’ve talked to the employer. And so, it’s on an individual case basis. We take it very, very seriously, those people. But there’s lots of different, with our accounts, issues that we have to research on and backup. But we are working on that to hire more people.
Dr. Megan Healy: (35:19)
With emergency temporary standards from Department of Labor and Industry, they are working hard. The Safety and Health Codes Board, it’s about half labor, half business working through. The CDC language has been in quite debate with the labor community as well as the business. Because there’s so many regulations around workplace safety, we want to make sure Virginia, by law, the Safety and Health Codes Board has to make sure that we have the best, the strongest standards for workers. And so, they will be meeting tomorrow. And I think this is still up for debate.
Governor Ralph Northam: (35:50)
Yeah. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (35:51)
Point of clarification with that, currently the standards go into effect July 15th. They’re still meeting on that. Are they going to push back the effective date of those standards if they pass them?
Dr. Megan Healy: (36:03)
They will talk about that tomorrow, because the date, they haven’t moved that yet. But we finish tomorrow. Thank you for the question.
Governor Ralph Northam: (36:09)
Thank you, Megan.
Speaker 6: (36:11)
I have [inaudible 00:36:11] with the Roanoke Times.
Speaker 7: (36:15)
Good afternoon, governor. Could you explain a little bit more about how the masking mandate will be enforced? Are you prepared to start citing individuals for not wearing masks? And I know the Health Department can go into places that it licensed and take actions, but what about like retail stores?
Governor Ralph Northam: (36:40)
We’ve discussed all this, the question about how we enforce the masking. And certainly, there are several avenues as far as individuals. If there are individuals that are not wearing masks in a restaurant or another retail area, if that’s brought to the attention of the Department of Health, that can be investigated. They can be given a citation for that. As we’ve said before, it’s a class one misdemeanor. We’re looking at options how to make that a civil penalty. We obviously, again, I’ve said before, we’re not looking to arrest people. We’re not looking to put people in jail.
Governor Ralph Northam: (37:23)
But none of this would be necessary if people would just do the right thing. All we’re asking is the social distancing and wearing of a facial covering. And, as I said earlier, we have rules in place for businesses. If you don’t wear a shirt, if you don’t wear shoes, you don’t get served. And you can be asked to leave that place of business. And, if you don’t leave, then you’re trespassing. It’s that simple. We’re going to add masks to shoes and shirts. And again, as a society, as someone, hopefully, that wants to be part of the solution, just follow these guidelines and it will help all of us move forward in this pandemic.
Speaker 6: (38:11)
Speaker 8: (38:11)
Governor, two questions related to Hampton Roads. First, it sounds like you’re pushing for more enforcement and putting the onus kind of on restaurant owners to make sure that they are telling people to wear face coverings. But have you considered, or would you consider in the future maybe issuing another stay at home order for the Hampton Roads area or closing down beaches so that the onus is more on the people patroning, not just the restaurants, but the retail spots and other places where the Health Department maybe isn’t going to come in? And secondly, are you looking at any-
Governor Ralph Northam: (38:40)
Can we do one question at a time? I would appreciate that. Let’s talk about your first question. And what we’re basing our decisions on, and I mentioned noncompliance earlier, we talked to the individuals that are doing the tracing and have a fairly good idea of where these numbers are coming from. And they’re occurring when people are gathering, especially in areas around a bar. And, while there are some restaurants and bars that are doing just fine, there are others that aren’t. And we’re watching those. And, as I said, and as Dr. Oliver said, if people don’t abide by the guidelines, then there’s going to be consequences for that.
Governor Ralph Northam: (39:26)
The other area, quite frankly, that we’re watching are parties, social gatherings, some at homes. And we have a limit now of 250 people. If this continues unabated and we need to make decisions, a decision maybe to change from 250 to 50 so that could be easier to track those numbers and also enforce them.
Governor Ralph Northam: (39:51)
There are a lot of other things that we’re considering. And what I plan to do, and I think a question that perhaps would come up is, what measures are you looking for that will guide your decisions? And it’s the same things that we’ve been following, the percent positivity, the number of new cases, our hospital capacity, and also our ability in these areas, when we talk about enforcement, to do more testing and tracing where there are hotspots. And it’s in Hampton Roads right now. It could be somewhere else next week.
Governor Ralph Northam: (40:24)
So, when we started this process, we kind of had what I would call blanket guidance plans. Now, we’re kind of more surgically going in these areas where there are hotspots and that’s the way we will move in the future. And you had another question.
Speaker 8: (40:44)
Kind of thinking out of my mouth, but in terms of the benchmarks, is there a timeline where you want to say, in two weeks, we want to see X, Y, Z percent positivity?
Governor Ralph Northam: (40:53)
Well, there’s a lot of metrics that we’re following. And really one of the most important things, and we’ve been in contact with the hospitals this morning in Hampton Roads. And, while we have the capacity that we need, as we speak today, if our trends continue and our capacity becomes more and more limited, then obviously we’re going to make other decisions. So, that’s certainly one area. But the other numbers that we showed you, the percent positive and new cases, all these things that were being followed, unfortunately the death rate in areas as well.
Speaker 6: (41:29)
Mm-hmm ( affirmative). Tim Barber, WJLA.
Tim Barber: (41:36)
Hey, governor. Obviously, the beaches opened up and the Eastern Shore opened up long before Northern Virginia reopened. And so, is the surge down there concerning to you, that the same thing is going to happen up in Northern Virginia, which is the most populated part of the Commonwealth? And what metrics would you use to decide if Virginia goes back to a phase two? And would you consider doing that before the surge happens?
Governor Ralph Northam: (41:57)
We’re considering all of our options. But I’m just going to clarify your question. You said the Eastern Shore, which is where I’m from. And, as you know, we did have an outbreak primarily in a couple of our nursing homes and our meat processing plants there. They did very well on the Eastern Shore and our numbers are very low right now.
Governor Ralph Northam: (42:18)
I think your question was kind of comparing the Hampton Roads area to Northern Virginia. And I showed you the data. I’m data-driven and we follow that every day. And, right now, Northern Virginia’s numbers look very good. We’re watching, not only what is happening in Northern Virginia, but also what’s happening in the District of Columbia, also in Maryland, and our other neighboring states. So, a lot is being taken into consideration. And, as I’ve said, things change. It’s very fluid. It can change daily. And we’re watching it closely. And I’ll make adjustments as we need to.
Speaker 6: (42:52)
Speaker 9: (42:55)
Hey. So, I’m wondering, since we’re currently seeing this spike regionally, for the most part, in the eastern region, if you were to roll back for surges, would you also consider doing that regionally? And I have one more.
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:09)
Let me answer that question. Yes. That I would do it regionally, if we make that decision. Again, that’s why I tried to explain this a little bit earlier. When all this started, we made guidelines statewide. That was to flatten the curve. Now, it’s about mitigation. And, depending on where that’s needed, we’ll direct those changes.
Speaker 9: (43:32)
Okay. And my next question would be, obviously, phase three still has restrictions. And I know that we’re seeing this uptick. So, I’m assuming you are not looking at doing a phase four or something beyond that. But, to Virginians may be wondering what the next steps would be, have you given any thought to what life might look like after phase three and when Virginians should even expect that to happen? Or should we just expect to be in phase three for a while?
Governor Ralph Northam: (43:54)
It’s a great question. And I don’t want to be too long winded here, but this is something that I think about every day. And that’s why I tried to articulate a little bit earlier that I along, I think, with all Virginians, when this started, and as we’ve gone through this process, I have been hopeful that this will go away. We’re hopeful that a vaccination comes out as soon as possible. There was talk, as you know, and this is a cold virus. So, I think a lot of us were perhaps wishfully thinking that, with the heat and humidity, that that would help dampen down the virus. But, I mean, look at what’s going on in the Southern part of our country right now. So, obviously, it’s not affecting it.
Governor Ralph Northam: (44:38)
So, I think the bottom line is, I don’t think, unless someone else tells me differently, there is nothing to slow this down other than us right now, until we get a vaccination. And so, you asked the question, do I plan to move to a phase four or whatever? Not right now, because we flattened the curve, it came down some, and now it’s kind of plateaued. And, until that goes down to the point where we can open things up, then I don’t think that’d be the correct thing to do.
Speaker 6: (45:12)
This is sort of bringing together some of the other questions that have already been asked. But are you looking at the metrics in terms of the standards you used a while back in judging whether to roll back from phase three back to phase two? So, the number of 14 days of decline, well, now if you see 14 days of increase in percent positivity, would you roll it back? You also mentioned that you’re thinking more in terms of doing it regionally than statewide. Did I hear that correctly? And how would that impact schools? That seems like that would leave a patchwork around the state for schools and universities.
Governor Ralph Northam: (45:47)
Yeah. It’s a great question, Greg. And, as I said, let’s talk about the schools, and our colleges, and universities. I’m like everybody else. I want our children to be back in our schools. I want our scholars to be back on campuses. But we need to do it safely and responsibly. And there are just a lot of different factors that are involved in that. And one size doesn’t fit all. I mean, obviously, we talk about social distancing. Well, that’s a lot easier to accomplish in the Southwest where the numbers are smaller, where there’s less individuals in classrooms. So, everything is different.
Governor Ralph Northam: (46:26)
But I will tell you, as I’ve had discussions with a number of educators, a number of families around Virginia, it’s not just about our children. It’s not just about their families. It’s also about our teachers, our staff that works at these schools. Everybody has to feel safe. And so, that’s why we have to be so careful as we move forward.
Governor Ralph Northam: (46:49)
And again, just to reiterate, every district, every school district in Virginia is different. Colleges and universities have different situations. Some of them are large, as you know. And some of them are very small. So, that’s why we have allowed the school districts to submit their guidelines as we have with our colleges and universities. And they have followed our guidelines. And, while we don’t necessarily approve them or disapprove them, we certify them. And that’s the means that we’re using as we move forward.
And, as far as the specific metrics, are there particular-
Governor Ralph Northam: (47:25)
They’re the same that I’ve been following all along.
Speaker 6: (47:27)
Now, this is Tracy Agnew with The Suffolk News Herald.
Tracey Agnew: (47:34)
Thank you. Just individually, we’re hearing that a lot of the spread that’s not within family members is happening in workplaces, not only people who actually work there, but also people who are coming into that workplace for one reason or another. So, along with encouraging teleworking, do you have any other recommendations you’re thinking about that could help reduce spread within the workplace?
Governor Ralph Northam: (47:56)
Just I think the question is, what guidelines are we providing in the workplace? And they’re the same ones that we-
Governor Ralph Northam: (48:03)
…what guidelines are we providing in the workplace and they’re the same ones that we have been all along. The social distancing, the wearing a face protection, the frequent hygiene, cleaning, contact areas. All of those things are important.
[inaudible 00:48:22] health departments we’re hearing are still refusing to release detailed information about COVID-19 outbreaks in areas like poultry plants, businesses, educational settings, and most recently two outbreaks that caused a big surge of cases in Westmoreland County. So two questions along those lines, I’m wondering how the state can expect to avoid new transmissions if it’s not transparent about where outbreaks are occurring. And then I’m wondering if you think it’s time to ease some of those restrictions in the interest of public health like you did with nursing home data.
Governor Ralph Northam: (48:56)
Kate, we’ve talked about before, transparency is important. I’m going to let Dr. Oliver answer as well. But some of the, I think, clarification will need to be done legislatively. And so that’s certainly something that we’re looking at, if we need to change the law, the code. That’s something that needs to be discussed, vetted and approved by the legislature. Do you want to make any comments?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (49:25)
Thank you, Kate, for that question. The release of detailed information about outbreaks is really motivated by, as you indicated in your question, a public health need. Restaurant or some setting where there’s a communicable disease, and we can’t track everyone down. So maybe release information in order to further that investigation. In the cases of meat processing plants, other facilities that are not congregate settings, the release of information doesn’t really advance our public health investigation. And that’s the only reason that we would want to do that. In fact, withholding that information right now, doesn’t adversely impact public health at all.
Well, just two perfections, I mean, you didn’t require a legislative permission to release information on nursing homes. So, I mean, it’s clearly doable, and I’m wondering how you can argue that information that an outbreak is linked to a restaurant would not benefit public health when we’re seeing an increase of cases linked to noncompliance and people not following safer at home orders and choosing to stay inside.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (50:50)
I was actually stating the opposite. That in fact, with, say, the restaurant example, that might be an example where releasing information could advance the public health investigation. You take a situation like a poultry plant where everyone is known, we can identify all the cases, we can identify all the contacts, releasing information about that particular outbreak doesn’t advance that investigation. We released information around nursing homes because as we stated, the extended outbreak had gotten quite expansive. There was release of information that was required by CMS. And we were concerned about the discrepancy between that information and what we knew in terms of our data. And then we felt that for the public interest that needed to happen.
And do think that you need legislative permission to release data in other settings, or is that a step you can take as the health commissioner?
Governor Ralph Northam: (51:57)
I’ll answer that, Kate. There are a lot of things I think we’ve learned from COVID-19 and this pandemic that probably need clarification. And that’s what we’ll address.
Speaker 10: (52:11)
Speaker 11: (52:20)
Yes. We know that COVID-19 is just proportionately impacting the Latino community. has the state hired more bilingual contact tracers and what are other strategies that are being taken to mitigate the impact on the Latino community?
Governor Ralph Northam: (52:36)
That’s a great question. I’ll let Dr. Oliver talk about the tracers. But we were up in Northern Virginia when we did our press conference up there. We did it bilingually in English and Spanish. Certainly the interpretations, the guidance that we’re putting out is also in Spanish. So we understand that there… and it’s not just folks that speak Spanish, a lot of other languages that are spoken in Virginia as well. So we’re working on that, doing our best to make sure that everybody can receive updated and accurate information. As far as the tracers, Norm.
Dr. Norm Oliver: (53:16)
Thank you for that question. We have made a concerted effort to hire bilingual contact tracers. As the governor said, we’re concerned obviously about Spanish. The Spanish speaking population in the state is higher than some other non English speaking populations. But in certain areas such as in Northern Virginia, Chinese, Vietnamese, for example, would be two other languages that we’re looking to hire. We haven’t hired nearly as many as we like. And one other solution that we are implementing is to establish virtual contact centers that will provide some backup. It’ll be easier to get people who are fluent in those languages, in those centers who can back up contact tracers in areas that need that kind of capability.
Speaker 12: (54:21)
Governor, in general, have you had the numbers related to the increase of bilingual contact tracers that are being employed?
Dr. Norm Oliver: (54:27)
I don’t have those numbers right on me, but I can have our communications folks get in touch with you and provide you with the numbers that we have at present.
Governor Ralph Northam: (54:37)
First, for business owners who are seeking guidance in terms of their employers or employees who are traveling to maybe hot zone places or beaches and then they come back to work, is there a standard for how they should handle that in terms of maybe getting these employees tested or having them automatically sit out for a couple of weeks? Just for those businesses who are seeking guidance for the employees.
Governor Ralph Northam: (55:09)
Yeah and that’s a great question, Andre. And I don’t think we have any particular guidelines in place other than, excuse me, if an individual has gone to an area in the country that is a hot spot, or even an area of Virginia that’s a hot spot. And if they suspect that they were around other folks, they’re going to need to make a decision to; one, quarantine and also to be tested. But as far as any specific guidelines that are in place, I don’t know of any that we have for that.
On that question, how far down or how large is the reach of the CARES Act? Because there are people who say they’re struggling in terms of trying to find childcare as school systems get back to normal or close to normal. And then even simple situations where folks are living in units and don’t have act conditioning. They don’t have transportation as some of these service groups are struggling with funding. So they can’t really kick in. So how far reaching is the CARES Act?
Governor Ralph Northam: (56:16)
Yeah. That’s a good question. Aubrey, do you want to just kind of touch on that? And while Secretary Layne is coming up, we’re hopeful that the federal government at Washington will have more relief force. And one of the things that we’ve asked for is more flexibility because it is fairly specific and the resources have to be used for COVID-19. But Aubrey, if you want to just touch on that a little bit. I appreciate it.
Aubrey Layne: (56:45)
Yes, sir. Thank you, governor. Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Finance. Andre, the CARES Act has to be used specifically for direct impacts of the COVID-19. Some of the things that you talked about would be direct impact. Some of the programs the governor has approved for that money, including evictions. He’s talked with the health department about limiting cutoffs. I know voluntary utility cutoffs or non cutoffs are still in place. But those monies can be used directly to help those people in those programs and that’s what the money’s being used for. So it is as long as specifically related to the COVID-19 outbreak, those monies would be eligible in CARES Act.
And how would they even be able to tap in to get those funds?
Aubrey Layne: (57:33)
Couple of ways. There are the state institutions that are already in place. I know for instance, the community housing has put in programs working with our main street program for some of the programs for the homelessness and the evictions. But I would, first of all, have them go to either the health department where they can ask for guidance in terms of they’ve got a health condition or the other community services that are there, and they would be coordinated with the state.
Governor Ralph Northam: (58:03)
Thank you Aubrey. And Andre, you’ve mentioned childcare. That’s certainly something that we put a significant amount of funding in through the CARES Act. And then the last thing and I’ll leave you all on this note is something I’ve talked about a lot. This pandemic has, I think, brought into better focus a lot of challenges that we have, whether they be around equity, our people’s places of work or whatever. But one of the things that has really been brought into better focus is a need for universal broadband in Virginia. And we’ve talked about that, the importance of broadband for business opportunities, the need for broadband for our healthcare. Our office, for example in Hampton roads, our medical office, the great majority of what they’re doing is through telehealth now, which that sounds good. But if you don’t have access to the internet, that’s a real challenge.
Governor Ralph Northam: (59:04)
And then finally education. And Secretary Carney and Superintendent Layne are here, Peter [inaudible 00:59:15] all the different options. And one of the options is virtual learning. And that sounds good if people have access to broadband. If they have, Andre, the means for someone to stay at home with the children. So while we’ve heard a lot of talk and unfortunate, I think a lot of it is political that all of our children should be back in [inaudible 00:59:45] very proud of our staff for all of the work that they’re doing. And we want to ensure Virginians that your children are going to be educated this fall, but it might not always be in school. And so we’re working through all of those plans.
Governor Ralph Northam: (01:00:02)
And I appreciate the school districts in the different localities in Virginia and also the colleges and universities. So much work has gone into [inaudible 01:00:16] this virus is going to be with us. It’s going to be here in September and so we’ll continue to make sure that we do everything to make sure all of our children have access to what we hope is a world class education. So thank you all again. I don’t have a planned press conference, but there are a lot of things happening. This is changing rapidly. And so I anticipate being back with you all [inaudible 01:00:43] this virus and it’s very simple, you. We are [inaudible 01:00:53] the social distance, the wearing of facial protection, the not getting in large gatherings and just be part of the solution.
Governor Ralph Northam: (01:01:02)
So it’s good to be back with you. I appreciate again, as always, the press being here to continue to get updated and accurate information out to Virginians and we’ll keep working through this together. So stay safe and stay healthy. And we’ll see you soon. Thank you all.