Governor Ralph S. Northam: (00:14)
Well, good afternoon, and thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. It is good to be back with you. I want to start by saying thank you for all the well-wishes and prayers that Pam and I received as we have recovered from COVID. Those kind words mean a lot to us, and we are very grateful, so we sincerely thank everybody, not only from here in Virginia, but across this country. We know that we have been very fortunate that our experience with this disease was mild. Many other people have not been so lucky, and our hearts continue to be with those who have lost their loved ones. Pam and I are now several days since our last symptoms, and we have been cleared by health officials to leave isolation and go back to work.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (01:06)
If you are watching online or on television, I want to describe for you how we are following health guidelines in this particular room. We are in a large room, meant to hold far more people than we have in here. It sometimes functions as an auditorium and the Virginia Senate met in this actual auditorium during the capital renovation several years ago. We’re all spaced out about 10 feet apart so that no one is too close to anyone else. And we are all wearing masks, except for our hearing interpreters, and those speaking into this microphone. From the moment we received our positive diagnoses, we adhered to the public health guidance that you’ve all heard from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. We isolated ourselves, for me, 18 days, having no contact with other people. We had a thermometer and we were able to get a blood oximeter to measure our blood oxygen levels. The staff at the mansion and in the Governor’s office were all tested, and some 65 staff were told to quarantine for two weeks.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (02:28)
To my knowledge, those 65 staff members all tested negative, no one tested positive. And I truly believe that is a testament to wearing these masks. We wear our mask in the office, my press secretary, and official photographer, and security detail traveled with me for several hours at a time the week that Pam and I were diagnosed, and we wear our masks in the car, or on the plane, and thankfully none of them got sick. So I would remind every Virginian, masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease, plain and simple. So please wear them.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (03:18)
I also want to thank the Richmond City Health Department and its director, Dr. Danny Avula for their work. They contact traced everyone Pam and I had been in contact with. They helped arrange testing for the staff and follow up testing for close contacts a few days later. I’d like to ask Dr. Avula to come up and talk a little bit about how important contact tracing is and how the process to be cleared to leave isolation works. Dr. Avula? Thank you, sir.
Dr. Avula: (03:54)
Thank you, Governor Northam. Good afternoon, everybody. So I’ve talked to many of you along this process about our role in contact tracing, what the role of the local health department in every new case of COVID-19 that we have in the Richmond-Enrico health districts, we follow up that case and we identify when was their onset of symptoms or when was the date of their positive test? We will then go back a 48 hour period from that onset of symptoms or that date of testing, and then we will interview that case to figure out where they were, who were they around, who did they travel with? And we determine who actually met the definition of a close contact. So having spent 15 minutes or greater within six feet of somebody is the epidemiologic definition of a close contact. For those individuals who meet that definition, they are now considered exposed and have to go into what’s called a quarantine period.
Dr. Avula: (04:53)
The quarantine period is set at 14 days and that’s because once you were exposed to illness, the potential for infection, the virus has to incubate in your body. That incubation period can be as quick as two days, but it can last as long as 14 days. So our team interviewed the Governor and the First Lady, we interviewed their staff. We looked at their schedules. We looked at their travel logs. We looked at attendance at their meetings, and had a much more comprehensive list than we normally have in our case investigations, and we were able to track down all of those potential contacts, determine who met that definition of a close contact, and ask them to quarantine. That number, all told, was approximately 65 individuals between the Governor and the First Lady’s travels. And these spanned around seven different health districts based on where they had visited during that potential infectious period.
Dr. Avula: (05:46)
Thankfully, all of those individuals have now cleared their isolation or quarantine period as the case may be. And any of those close contacts have all tested negative, or been cleared through a 14 day quarantine period without symptoms. So really good news. Again, I couldn’t agree more with the Governor. It’s a testament to both following protocols, maintaining distance, rigorous mask wearing, and I really just appreciate the efforts of our epidemiologists who have done a phenomenal job in and being thorough and tracking down those cases.
Dr. Avula: (06:21)
We also have received questions about when do people get tested, why should they get tested, and how do we clear folks off of a quarantine or isolation period? And let me clarify: a quarantine period, that 14 day period that I referenced, is when you are exposed, but haven’t yet been infected or diagnosed. An isolation period is when you do have a positive test, you do have a diagnosis. We know that when you test positive, that you cannot spread the disease after 10 days post isolation. And we define that period based on, again, either the date of onset of symptoms, or if you’re asymptomatic, the date of your test. And so those who test positive for COVID have cleared isolation period, they do not need to be tested.
Dr. Avula: (07:09)
This is a point of confusion for many, because earlier on the CDC guidelines really asked us to test people and ensure that they were negative before they were cleared. What we realize is that the virus can live in an inactive form or dead virus can be found in your body for sometimes weeks after your initial infection. You’re no longer infectious, but you may still test positive. And so we have shifted to what’s called non-testing criteria. When people meet three criteria, one, at least 10 days from the time of diagnosis, two, greater than 24 hours without a fever, and three, resolution of your symptoms, you are considered cleared and don’t need to be tested for that clearance. And so that’s what we follow with every investigation, that’s what we followed in this particular case. And again, just a tremendous effort by many epidemiologists throughout VDH across the state. Thank you.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (08:09)
So I want to thank Dr. Avula. As you may know, Dr. Avula and I are both pediatricians and it was good to have a pediatrician overseeing my care when I was the patient. So Danny, thank you for that. Now I’d like to turn to an update on our health numbers. Our numbers have been doing pretty well and Virginia’s percent positivity has been trending downward, it’s now below 5%, and that’s really a good thing. As always, it is entirely up to you, my fellow Virginians, you are making smart choices, wearing masks, physical distancing, washing your hands. And on behalf of Virginia, I say thank you. The Department of Health has continuously worked to refine its data systems and visualizations to better explain to the public what is happening with the disease in our communities. Recently, they unveiled a pandemics dashboard to help local officials better understand what’s going on in each community.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (09:13)
I’m especially proud of Virginia’s numbers as we’re seeing many other states, as you all have heard, that are seeing their case counts starting to rise, but now is not a time to get complacent. We’re heading into the colder months and all of the outdoor socializing we’ve been able to do is getting harder. People are going to be less likely to want to meet up outside when it’s 40 degrees or below. And in a few weeks, the time will change, meaning it will get darker earlier. All of this means more people closer together indoors. It’s going to feel hard to keep doing the right things, but I know that we can stay strong and get through this winter, continuing to make the right choices.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (10:04)
Now that I’m back in the office this morning, I immediately got to work signing into law bills that the general assembly had passed in its special session. We signed six such bills this morning. I want to highlight two key measures of those bills. Today, I was proud to sign legislation that makes Juneteenth a permanent statewide holiday, and I’m also proud that that legislation passed unanimously. Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrate it by all of us.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (10:51)
This morning, I also signed legislation providing immunity from civil liability for home health workers, hospice workers, and others who are treating COVID patients. This provides an important protection for these workers, but it doesn’t negate our existing standards for gross negligence. Essentially, if you are a nurse, this provides protection, but if you’re a patient, you’re still protected as well. I’d like to turn now to how we’re using our Federal CARES Act dollars to help Virginians and our communities. Last week, we announced more than $220 million in CARES funding for K through 12 schools to help them with COVID preparedness and response. We also announced $30 million in CARES funding to fast track local broadband projects, and another $12 million to expand the rent and mortgage relief program. In the coming days, we’ll be announcing at least $50 million for hazard pay for our home health workers in addition to funding for the vaccination program and-
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (12:03)
… in addition to funding for the vaccination program and for childcare providers. These are all priorities that the general assembly has identified, and we’re working to get that money out the door. We’re also working to expand eligibility for the Rebuild Virginia program, which is targeted at helping small businesses impacted by the pandemic. We’ll have more information about that next week.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (12:27)
Now I’d like to move to another topic on everyone’s mind, and that is elections. Today is the deadline to register to vote. This morning, a Verizon fiber in Chesterfield County was inadvertently cut during a roadside utilities project that interrupted internet access for much of Virginia government, including our department of elections technicians are working to get this back up and running. We have been exploring all of our options to extend the voter registration deadline. That deadline is set in our code, and it does not appear that I have the authority to change it. That is up to the courts, and I would support a court-ordered extension of the deadline.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (13:19)
If you’re eligible to vote but are not registered, please consider registering. Democracy works when everyone participates. It’s important. If you know someone who isn’t registered, please talk to them. Send them the link to the election website when it’s back up and running, and if you’re not sure if you’re registered, go online and double-check. It matters.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (13:45)
You can vote absentee in person. Locations aren’t the same as election day polling places, but they’re often at the registrar’s office and your local registrar can give you more information. You can vote absentee by mail by contacting your local registrar and request in a ballot or doing so on the elections website. And you can vote in person on election day, just like you usually do.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (14:14)
Earlier this year, I worked with the general assembly to pass legislation that would open up early voting and allow any voter to vote early for 45 days before the election, without giving a reason why. I’m proud that we did that because it is working extremely well. As of yesterday, more than 550,000 Virginians have voted early in person. That’s equal to one fourth of the total voter turnout in 2016, and represents one six of total registered voters. More than one million Virginia voters have requested absentee ballots by mail, and more 450, 000 of those have been returned. Virginia, if you haven’t voted yet, go out there and get it done. It’s easy, it’s safe, and it’s very important.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (15:15)
I know there are a number of questions concerning the ongoing threat investigation related to Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, and today’s testimony in which my name was mentioned in court by an FBI agent. Because that is an ongoing criminal investigation being handled by the FBI, I will not take questions or make any additional comments related to it. However, I do want to emphasize that the First Lady and I are safe, thanks to the measures taken by the executive protection unit, which is staffed by an extensively trained team of Virginia State Police personnel and the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (16:05)
Capitol Police and State Police work closely with our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local level when it comes to sharing information about threats related to my office, our family, our capital square. All threats are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated by those law enforcement agencies.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (16:28)
Fortunately, in regards to today’s developments, there is no imminent danger to me or my family, and I’m continuing my work for the Commonwealth as I would any other day. And finally, I just want to close by again thanking everyone for their well-wishes. When that test comes back positive, it is frightening. This is a dangerous virus. It is very contagious and it is very stubborn. It’s too easy to think, “Oh, this will never happen to me,” but it can. For me and Pam, it did. And that’s why it is disheartening to see people being cavalier about it. Please take this virus seriously. Please continue to abide by public health guidance, washing hands, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And I know everyone is frustrated, but we’re not out of the woods. We are in this together. And that means we must act to protect not just ourselves, but each other.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (17:45)
Now I’d like to ask our Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, to give a more detailed update on our health data, and then we will be glad to take your questions. Dr. Oliver, thank you.
Dr. Norman Oliver: (17:56)
So very briefly on the numbers of … regarding the cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, new cases reported in the last 24 hour reporting period or 1,235 cases, there were 11 new deaths reported. We now stand at a total number of cases of 160,805 cases across the Commonwealth, and deaths at 3,372. Our testing continues to go really well, with more than 15,000 tests on average per day. We stand at 2,468,715 PCR tests. In the last reporting period, we clocked another 20,720 PCR tests, and the antigen tests were 554, and antibody tests were at 383. Thank you, governor.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (19:06)
Thanks, Dr. Oliver.
[crosstalk 00:19:06] So Governor, thank you for …
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (19:14)
Yes, thank you, Henry.
I did want to talk about the investigation itself. Can you talk big picture about rhetoric that you’ve seen [inaudible 00:19:25] about what is happening that [inaudible 00:19:26] about you?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (19:26)
Well Henry, it’s unfortunate, and I will let you know and let all of Virginia know, I will not work under a cloud of intimidation. That’s not who I am. I was elected to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s what I plan to do. And there have been threats. I know you all are well aware of some of them that happened back in January. And as I said, we take those very seriously.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (19:51)
Henry, I have been in harm’s way. As you know, I served in the United States army for eight years. I was involved in a conflict against Iraq. We knew who the enemy was. We knew it was dangerous. We knew we were in harm’s way, but I wasn’t intimidated by that. And I was proud to fight for my country. What is different now, which is concerning to me, is that the people that are making comments and the rhetoric about our elected officials … not just me, it’s not about me, the governor of Michigan … these threats are not coming in, this rhetoric is not coming from another country. It’s coming from Washington, and that I regret, and it needs to stop
Speaker 1: (20:51)
Luanne Rife at the Roanoke Times.
Luanne Rife: (20:55)
Good afternoon, Governor and welcome back. I was hoping that you could walk us through your thought processes when you learned that you were exposed to the virus and touch upon the concerns you had about your own health and the people you had been in contact with. Did you have any regrets about any of these events or meetings that you attended and would you have done anything differently?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (21:17)
Absolutely. That’s a great question. That’s a loaded question now. Let me see if I can answer just a couple aspects of the question. Number one, it is frightening when one is notified. I’ve been a doctor for over 30 years and I’ve had to give people some fairly devastating news, but to be on the receiving end of it, when I heard, and even more importantly, when I heard that Pam, my wife of … she doesn’t like me to tell how many years, but a lot of years … so yes, it is very impactful. I commend the department of health … the way this kind of all happened, I’ll kind of go through it just briefly, is that on Wednesday, I believe that was the 24th of September, we were notified that one of the workers in the mansion that we had very close contact with had had symptoms and had tested positive, and it was recommended that that Pam and I and the rest of our staff be tested. And so we were tested the following day at 2:00, and at about 7:30 that night, we were notified that we were positive. And fortunately, we’ve had mild symptoms. It’s interesting. Pam had some symptoms, cold-like symptoms, early on. And her isolation, as Dr. Avula has reviewed, was 10 days from the beginning of her isolation. My symptoms, which were also very mild, they were cold-like symptoms. No fever, no cough, no shortness of breath, came about eight days into my diagnosis.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (23:05)
And so following the CDC guidelines, my time of isolation actually restarted on that Friday. And thus I was in isolation for a total of 18 days, the last day of that was yesterday. So I’m glad to be back at the office. We continue to work. I think a lot of you saw that I was in daily contact with our legislators. We’ve been working with police reform, criminal justice reform, voting laws, and the budget, and that is moving along quite nicely.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (23:38)
So just to kind of sum things up, Pam and I were very fortunate that we had mild symptoms. There have been in the ballpark of 215,000 people that have died in this country from COVID-19. And that is a lot of people, and every one of those deaths has had an impact on their family. So …
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (24:03)
… has had an impact on their family. That bothers me. The second part of it is that anybody that tests positive or has been in contact with someone goes into isolation or quarantine, and imagine the impact that has on individuals and families, whether they have children at home, whether they need to be at work and can’t work via virtual work, and so it impacts families. But looking at the big picture, what this really has emphasized and put into perspective, think of what this pandemic is doing to us as a society. People that have lost their business, that have lost their jobs, that don’t have a roof over their head, that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, that are worried about their children not being in school. That’s why we as a Commonwealth, as a society need to take this virus seriously.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (25:03)
As I said earlier, it is very contagious, it is very dangerous. A lot of people too, by the way, that recover have long-term sequelae from this virus, so let’s all realize that and do what we know works, and that is, wear our masks, keep our distancing, wash our hands, keep the numbers down so that we can get our children back into school, so that we can get our business back up and running. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to move forward. So that’s a long winded answer to your question but it help put things in perspective. [Alan 00:00:25:38]?
Does the state have any sort of redundancy on this cable that was cut? This seems like a pretty scary possibility on election day if a road crew can disable [inaudible 00:25:54] entire system. Do you know why there wasn’t some sort of secondary cable or backup plan?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (25:58)
Well, I can’t answer that specifically, Alan, but I think it’s just assurance that… It reaffirms why we need backups to a lot of our systems. And Secretary Conner or Secretary of Administration has done a good job updating our technology. Obviously we still have a lot of work to do, but this particular cable was vital to us. There was not a backup to that particular cable. It’s being worked on as we speak and we’re going to get things up and running as soon as we can. And as I said earlier, we’re working with the courts, looking at all our options to extend the deadline for registration so that if there’s time that people have lost they’ll be able to accommodate that. I mean, I’d called you doctor. I’m not sure that’s a promotion. But anyway, Secretary Connor, welcome.
Keyanna Conner: (26:50)
Thank you, Governor. Keyanna Conner, Secretary of Administration. And this is to address the redundancy question with the cable. To clarify, the cut occurred on the Commonwealth’s 10 gigabytes circuit that we just actually recently installed this spring to enable us to handle the increased workload due to COVID-19 and our shift to remote work. While we do have backup circuits, those circuits are not as large. We have shifted some of that workload, but because of the high demand, it is causing a lot of our web applications to slow. We do have a resiliency plan already in place where we will be upgrading our backup circuits in addition to the main circuit. Later today, we hopefully will have a temporary solution in place by 4:00 PM that will bring our services back online while Verizon continues to work on a permanent full repair of the circuit. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (27:45)
Speaker 3: (27:52)
Hi. I’d like to ask the governor, are you aware of any specific efforts to extend the voter registration deadline? And if so, can you elaborate on what you’re planning to do to push those efforts along?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (28:08)
The question was what are we doing to extend the deadline? And we’re looking at all our options. As I said during my opening comments, as governor, I don’t have the authority to change that. It’s in the code. So it’s probably most likely going to be done through working with the courts. And so I look forward to them assisting us and making sure that we can extend that deadline.
Speaker 4: (28:34)
So in response to your office’s statement earlier about this alleged kidnapping plot, the White House sent a statement basically condemning the alleged kidnapping, but also blaming you and Governor Whitmer for making these outlandish allegations about… what they would call outlandish allegations about the president being the one encouraging violence. So how do you respond to that? And what specific examples do you see of the president encouraging violence against you?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (29:04)
Let me answer the second part of your question. Back in, I believe it was April, the months tend to run together, the CDC offered guidelines on how to combat the spread of COVID-19. And in those outlines, were wearing facial masks, social distancing, and hand washing. Things that we had already been advocating for. And two days later, the president said to liberate Virginia. So that’s an example of mixed messages coming out of Washington which we’ve been seeing since the beginning of this pandemic. But words have meaning to people, and so when our leaders make statements like this, and that’s just one example of many. I know you all are well aware of other things that have been said, but again, when we’re listening to the people, which is what I’ve done as governor, I work with our legislature, they responded to the previous election as well. And I realized I’ve been in this long enough that not everything we do is agreeable to all Virginians, but when language is used such as “to liberate Virginia,” people, they find meaning in those words and thus these things happen, and that’s regrettable.
Speaker 2: (30:35)
David McGee with the Bristol Herald Courier.
David McGee: (30:39)
Yes. Thank you. And, Governor, welcome back. I wanted to ask you if the personal experience of the perspective of having COVID-19, how that’s going to affect some of your decision-making going forward in terms of easing restrictions or imposing restrictions and things like that on the rest of the state.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (30:58)
That’s a great question. And I’ll give you a much briefer answer. This is not about me. It’s not about my wife, my family. This is about Virginia. And so we’re going to continue to do everything that we’ve done. It’s working. Our numbers, as I said, our positivity right now is below 5%. So we’re going to keep doing the things that we know work in Virginia.
Speaker 2: (31:20)
[inaudible 00:31:20] below 5% positivity, are you in developing whatever, [inaudible 00:31:25] past phase three when we may see a further ease in the restrictions? Any idea when we might get to the next step or phase?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (31:32)
Yeah, that’s a great question, Cam. And I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward at the appropriate time when we can do it safely and responsibly. But again, I’m not telling you or the viewers anything that they don’t already know. Numbers are going up in a number of states across this country, so we’re not out of the woods. We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods. And so until we can see a trend going down, we’re not going to make any changes. We obviously continue to have an open dialogue with our school districts. I know as a parent, and I’ve talked to a number of teachers, a number of families, we want to get our children back in school, but we need to get those numbers down in the communities in order to be able to do that safely and responsibly. So I don’t have any particular number I’m looking at, but it certainly has to be a trend not only in Virginia, but throughout this country, and we’re not there yet.
Speaker 2: (32:30)
[ inaudible 00:08:29].
Speaker 5: (32:34)
Hi, Governor Northam. Is your administration given any consideration to expanding the capacity limits for football stadiums or even to open bars, allow seating at the bars?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (32:45)
The question, I didn’t catch the second part. I heard football stadiums, but-
Speaker 2: (32:49)
Bar [crosstalk 00:32:50].
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (32:50)
At bars, uh-huh (affirmative). If we’re looking at expanding capacity, and I haven’t yet, again, and to answer to Cam’s question, our numbers are better but we still have a lot of room for improvement. And we know. I mean, I have watched what has happened not only in other states but also in different areas of Virginia. When people gather together, this is when the virus spreads. When people gather together and don’t wear a mask and don’t keep their social distancing, this is when the virus spreads. And I want to take this opportunity to contrast what happened in Virginia with our positive diagnosis. As Dr. Avula said, 65 people in close contact, when I say close contact, I’m talking about a foot or two feet apart riding in a car together, riding in an airplane together, sitting and having a meeting together, 65 close contacts and none of them tested positive.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (33:54)
So we know that the measures that we’re taking work. Compare that to what happened in the Rose Garden in Washington, just over a week ago, a gathering where people cavalierly sat together, stood together, hugged each other, you saw it, just like I saw it, no masks, no social distancing, and look at the number of people that tested positive. We talk about science. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. What we’re doing, what we’re asking you to do, the guidelines that we’re following in Virginia, they work. And when we don’t follow those guidelines, we have outbreaks like you saw in Washington.
Speaker 2: (34:42)
I don’t know if you’re willing to talk about any of the potential options for extending the election deadline. Could you ask the AG to file something with the courts, or what would the mechanism even be?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (34:58)
Rita, my counsel is here, Laura. So, Rita, thank you.
Rita Davis: (35:07)
Thank you, Governor. Rita Davis, Counsel to the Governor. As the governor has mentioned, the statute sets the deadline for registration, and it does not appear that the governor has the authority to change that nor does elect. But this hasn’t happened… I mean, this has happened before. As you know, in 2016, a very similar occurrence happened. There was a complaint filed with the court, actually the Eastern District and the Eastern District issued an order to elect to extend the deadline. And it was the governor said, he would be fully supportive of a similar order in this matter. Thank you.
Speaker 6: (35:44)
[inaudible 00:35:44] from your office?
Rita Davis: (35:48)
Rita Davis: (35:53)
Could I file a complaint on behalf of the governor-
[inaudible 00:35:55] governor’s office file [inaudible 00:11:56]. Why wait for an outside group to file a complaint and not do it yourself?
Rita Davis: (36:02)
Well, this delves into-
Rita Davis: (36:03)
Well, this delves into probably a lot of legal standing issues that you’re not interested in. But, there’s a little complication about whether or not it would be proper for the agency to seek some sort of relief from the court as opposed to a plaintiff seeking the relief from the court. And so, I think the Office of the Attorney General is on top of this and waiting for any potential relief that’s been petitioned or asked for. So, we’re going to stand by and make sure that we don’t lose sight of this and that the appropriate methods are being taken to preserve Virginia’s ability to continue to be registered.
Rita Davis: (36:37)
Any questions? Thank you.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (36:40)
Thank you, Rita.
We have one more. Bill Atkinson with The Progress-Index.
Bill Atkinson: (36:47)
Yes. Governor Northam, welcome back. It’s nice to see you back with us. Quick question, are you happy with the level of transparency that we’ve been seeing in the reporting, the numbers of COVID positive testing across the state? Would you like to see that transparency increased even more when it comes to the school division reports to include whether or not the affected person or people who have tested positive were teachers, administrators, staff members or students?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (37:22)
The question is about transparency. I may let, if Dr. Oliver or Dr. Avula wants to touch on this as well. Obviously, transparency is important to all of us. I think you’ve all seen when there are positive cases at schools, it’s being reported, parents know, et cetera. But if you want to have more details, Dr. Oliver, thank you.
Dr. Norman Oliver: (37:45)
Thank you for that question. We are preparing a dashboard that will present the number of cases and outbreaks in K through 12 schools and institutes of higher learning that will be on our public-facing website. The only thing we’ll restrict there is when we have very small numbers of cases in order to protect the anonymity of those patients and their families. We don’t report that data. And so, it will be very similar to what we’ve already done with the nursing homes.
Hi, governor. I don’t know if you or maybe somebody else from the administration could tell us a little bit more about this plot. Maybe tell us when the administration was notified and what steps were taken to make sure that you are safe.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (38:41)
Without going into any detail, Mel, what I said earlier, we were notified of the threat. These threats are not new. Unfortunately, we have been dealing with those over the months. As you know, as I said, we had threats prior to January. I’ll just tell you that we take the threat seriously. We work very closely. When I say we, the state police, the Capitol Police worked very closely with our local police departments and also with our federal agents. That’s what we’ll continue to do.
You said earlier today that you weren’t notified at first when the FBI communicated the threat to the administration. Can you talk about why that was?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (39:25)
I’m sorry, repeat. I wasn’t notified when?
When the FBI notified the state of the threat, do you know why that was and can anyone speak to that?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (39:36)
Again, Mel, I don’t need to get into those details. I think the important thing is that these threats are taken seriously. They’re investigated. I’m here to tell you that I’m very thankful to our law enforcement agencies, especially our state police that worked very closely with Pam and me and our family. They’ve done a wonderful job keeping us safe. We feel safe. As I said earlier, we don’t work under a cloud of intimidation and I’ll continue to serve Virginia.
Governor, would you consider asking your inspector general to release the full report concerning those cases of misconduct that he discovered? And then on sidebar, you talked about the importance of recognizing indigenous people there. Can you talk about your work to help that community who are struggling with COVID-19?
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (40:26)
Yeah. The second part of your question, yesterday was officially Columbus Day, but we’ve signed a proclamation to make it Indigenous People of this Country’s Day. That is to really make sure that we’re inclusive of everybody, Andre. Again, we are in Virginia at least. I’d say this as a country as well. We are diverse. We’re inclusive and we want to include everybody. And so, that’s what we’ve done. As far as reaching out to these individuals and making sure that their needs are taken care of, we have really worked hard through our sector of health and the department of health with our Health Equity Commission that’s overseen by Dr. Janice Underwood to get into these different communities and make sure that everybody’s needs are being met.
Inspector general and the report.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (41:27)
I’ll let Secretary Moran handle that. Thank you, secretary.
Secretary Moran: (41:33)
Governor, thank you. Good afternoon, Andre. The question with respect to the Office of State Inspector General’s report and administrative investigation of the Virginia Parole Board, is that correct?
Secretary Moran: (41:45)
Yes. As you know, this has been an ongoing investigation since March, when the Parole Board aggressively reviewed a number of cases at the onset of this pandemic. In light of that, there were, admittedly, some deficiencies in some of the notices. OSIG has been investigating that. We have received the report. We have responded. I responded in a lengthy letter along with the Virginia Parole Board. They’re eight-page letter in terms of actions that have been taken since March with a new Parole Board Chair, Tonya Chapman, along with possibilities of correcting some ambiguities in the code during the 2021 session. We’re going to prepare some legislation.
Secretary Moran: (42:32)
But, the report itself is property of the OSIG. It is their authority, obligation, responsibility to determine whether or not that gets released. By code, it contains information that is not FOIAble. So, they have not released it. But, that is a determination by FOIA. If you recall, some of the complaints that are being lodged now at the lack of release, the initial report regarding Mr. Martin was provided to a select number of legislators. Those legislators immediately released the report. So, I don’t want to speak for Mr. Westfall, but I suggest that is his reluctance to release that, again, to those legislators for fear they will publish it publicly, which is forbidden by the code section. So, he has provided a summary. But, long and the short of it is, Andre, Parole Board is working diligently to make sure that all the notices, all the appropriate policies and procedures for victim notification, as well as prosecutors, are adhered to and followed. We’re well aware of the complaints and the deficiencies, and we’re correcting them.
Why don’t release the report on your own?
Secretary Moran: (44:01)
The follow-up question is why not release the report. Kate, as I’ve mentioned, it’s an OSIG report. It’s up to OSIG to provide that report and not ours. If they release it to me and I release it, that will chill any further communication between OSIG and me. That is not my report to release. It’s forbidden by code and I follow the code.
But, the governor has oversight over that department. So, can’t the governor make sure or ask that that report be released?
Secretary Moran: (44:37)
Again, another followup with respect to the release of the report. Much like what Counsel Davis mentioned, in the code, it has a registration date. The governor can’t just ignore the date for registration. That is in the code. It is very similar analogy to releasing OSIG report. It’s in the code. Some of that information, I’ll tell you, I’m sure you’re aware, some of the information that’s in these reports is personal and it presents some potential safety risks for those who were in those reports. And so, I think legislature was appropriate in their actions previously to make sure that is protected information. And so, OSIG is following the law and what’s in code. Certainly, that is our position as well.
Governor Ralph S. Northam: (45:35)
Thank you, secretary. Well, thank you all for being here. As I said at the beginning of my comments, Pam and I sincerely appreciate all the well-wishes and the prayers. It really did a lot in keeping our spirits up. We continue to work from home, but we’re glad to be back in the office. We look forward to being back on the road, to governing the Commonwealth of Virginia. In the meantime, I just ask all of you to continue to do what you’re doing, stay strong, take care of yourselves, your family, your loved ones, your friends, wear your mask, keep your distance in and wash your hands. As I said already, we’re coming into the fall months. It’s going to get colder. There are going to be more challenges. I encourage all of you that are able to do so to get a flu shot. I think that’ll help a lot with some of the things that we’ll be dealing with this fall, but stay safe and until we meet again. Thank you all so much. Appreciate it.