Mar 24, 2020

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Briefing Transcript

Virginia Governor Coronavirus transcript March 24
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsVirginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Briefing Transcript

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gave an update on COVID-19 for the state today. Read the full transcript of his press conference speech here.

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Ralph Northam: (00:22)
Well good afternoon. And again, thank you all for joining us today. I want to start by repeating what I said yesterday. First of all, Virginia’s K through 12 schools will close for the remainder of this school year. And starting at midnight tonight, we’re putting additional restrictions on establishments that serve the public.

Ralph Northam: (00:46)
Restaurants can remain open for carry out, curbside, and delivery service only. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. All recreation and entertainment services must close. Personal care services that cannot adhere to social distancing must also close. Non-essential retail establishments can only remain open if they allow 10 or fewer patrons and adhere to social distancing and increase sanitizing procedures. Essential services like groceries, health services, and businesses in our supply chain will remain open. But they also must adhere to social distancing and increased sanitizing procedures.

Ralph Northam: (01:37)
Our businesses have a lot of questions about these new restrictions. We understand that. Those questions can be emailed to business@virginia.gov, business@virginia.gov. These measures will be in effect statewide for at least 30 days. These are not easy decisions because they will be painful for many people. But every decision we make is based on science and data. And as your governor, I take full responsibility.

Ralph Northam: (02:18)
The feedback I’m hearing from Virginians is supportive. You understand that while these changes are difficult, they are necessary. You understand that we are fighting a biological war. And to have economic recovery, we must get through this health crisis first. That doesn’t make these sacrifices any less painful. We have students who miss their classmates and teachers, teachers who miss their students, and high school seniors who are facing their last semester of school with no prom, no graduation ceremony, none of the rights of passage that should mark these big changes. And we have workers and business owners who don’t know how they’ll pay their bills.

Ralph Northam: (03:12)
We’re working to help at the state level by encouraging those workers to file for unemployment and have taken steps to allow businesses to apply for small business loans. But I know that this is hard and it won’t be enough to make up for the economic losses.

Ralph Northam: (03:30)
We also need to acknowledge the emotional losses, for the workers whose financial lives are now unstable, the business owners who don’t know when or if they can reopen, the students whose education is upended. And for all of us, the world has no doubt changed. This will be our new normal for a while, as I’ve said, months, not weeks. And we need to understand that. But it won’t be forever. We will get through this.

Ralph Northam: (04:07)
We are working every day to ensure that our hospitals and medical professionals have the equipment they need to do their jobs. I am a physician and our Sector of Health and Human Resources, Dr. Dan Carey, comes from a large health system. We are in frequent contact with our medical providers to talk about their needs and how we can all work together to meet them.

Ralph Northam: (04:35)
We have received the first shipment of PPE, such as masks, gowns and gloves from the national stockpile. And we have distributed that to health departments and other providers. We expect our second distribution next week. We know it will not be enough and this is an issue nationwide. We have the best economic development team in the country and they have excellent contacts with private companies. We’re using that network for leads to reach out to private companies to purchase more PPE. We have ordered one shipment from an overseas company. Some companies have stepped up and donated supplies. And on behalf of our Commonwealth, I thank you.

Ralph Northam: (05:25)
We’re also reaching out to other industries to see who is willing to make their supply of PPE available. For example, we’re talking to dentists, to people in the tech industry, the coal industry and tobacco companies. And we have some very promising leads from Virginia manufacturers about turning their production lines into producing PPE. Obviously, we have to verify that it is medical grade and we’ll keep working on that.

Ralph Northam: (05:54)
Our public and private sectors are being creative. As an example, a couple of distilleries in Virginia are working on making hand sanitizer. Our Department of Corrections is making sneeze guard masks. And just yesterday they made 25,000 mask and expect to do another 25,000 today. We know our hospitals also expect to need more ventilators. That’s a complicated piece of equipment, so it’s not so easy to quickly change an assembly line to make them. But we are working to source more ventilators. And as different places may experience a medical surge at different times, ventilators can be moved to where they’re most needed.

Ralph Northam: (06:41)
I spoke with Maryland Governor Hogan and DC Mayor Bowser yesterday, and we all agreed that we could share excess capacity. We will continue to keep working on all of these avenues to ensure that our medical professionals have the equipment they need to keep us safe. Again, we are living in an unprecedented time and we are all working together to make sure that Virginia is as prepared and as healthy as possible.

Ralph Northam: (07:10)
Stay home. Please stay home, unless necessary, and continue to practice the social distancing if you must go out. Be part of the solution to keep all of us safe, especially our vulnerable populations like the elderly and our essential personnel. I want to again thank Virginians for their efforts to comply with the additional restrictions we’ve put in place for our public health. Now I’ll turn it over to Dr Laurie Forlano, our Deputy Commissioner for Public Population Health for an update. And then we’ll take your questions. Thank you. Dr. Forlano.

Dr. Laurie Forlano: (07:50)
Hi, good afternoon. Our update for today is that we have confirmed 290 cases, 290, and 7 deaths statewide. The highest number of cases are seen in Arlington Health District, Fairfax Health District and Peninsula Health District. We did receive information from the Virginia Beach Health Department regarding a death in Virginia Beach, sadly. That was their first reported death in a hospitalized patient who had tested positive for COVID-19. It was a man in his 70s that did have previous underlying health conditions. And this was the 18th positive case of COVID-19 in Virginia Beach. And that death is reflected in our numbers on our website today. Thanks.

Ralph Northam: (08:42)
Thank you Dr. Forlano. I’ll be glad to take questions.

Speaker 3: (08:48)
Governor Northam, regarding the businesses starting at midnight, that will have to remain either essential or the nonessential where they can practice social distance. We’ve gotten, for example, complaints from someone who says they work in a 500-person call center. I know last week you said, “Talk to your boss first, OSHA next.” What is your recommendation to those workers who feel like they are being put in a position to work in a situation that isn’t practicing social distance? What can they do?

Ralph Northam: (09:14)
Yes. The question is workers that may feel uncomfortable in their current working environment. And I would just answer it the same way I did the last time, to have those discussions with their supervisors, with their employers. And if that’s not sufficient, to take it to another level. And most people would deal with OSHA for that.

Speaker 3: (09:35)
Can they call local law enforcement though? Because you said that local law enforcement will have the power to enforce your executive order, can they call police and have a misdemeanor against their bosses. Is that an option?

Ralph Northam: (09:49)
I think it would be better to do as I just reviewed.

Kate: (09:53)
Yeah. I was wondering, do you know how many positive cases are among healthcare workers in Virginia?

Ralph Northam: (09:59)
Yeah, thank you.

Dr. Laurie Forlano: (10:03)
Hi, thanks Kate. The question is about the proportion of cases in healthcare workers. So we are analyzing that data in aggregate. It’s not complete yet. As the numbers increase, we hope to be able to provide that breakdown. But as of right now, today, we don’t have that available right now.

Speaker 5: (10:21)
Yeah. The President just said that he wants to open up the country by Easter. That’s in 19 days. Do you think that’s realistic for Virginia?

Ralph Northam: (10:30)
The question was the President says he wants to ease restrictions in 19 days. And I guess you said open up the country. I think it’s fair to say that we all want our lives to return to normal as fast as possible. But I think we have to use science, we have to use data, we have to use consultation with folks like I have behind me, and really do what’s in the best interest, in our case, of Virginians. And as I’ve said, while it would be nice to say that this will be behind us in two weeks, that’s really not what the data tells us. The data tells us that this will be with us for at least two to three months and perhaps even longer. So again, while our intentions are to get back to normal, I think we have to be realistic.

Ralph Northam: (11:20)
And I think it’s very important that Virginians, that Americans do not receive mixed messages. And our message is to continue to do the things that we have offered as guidelines. The social distancing, the changes in our employment, the stay in at home if at all possible. And if we can do that, we will put this health crisis behind us. And as I said yesterday, we’re fighting a health crisis right now and we’re fighting an economic crisis. But the sooner we can get our health crisis behind us, the sooner our economy will recover. And so our main focus right now is to put this health crisis behind us.

Henry: (12:07)
Do the number of COVID cases in the Commonwealth to date tell us that what we’re doing with social distancing and so forth are working? And at what threshold, I mean, do you have to take more severe measures at a certain point if we’re not getting that message?

Ralph Northam: (12:23)
Yeah. The question is, are our measures working? And Henry, we have taken aggressive steps to keep Virginia and safe. And I wouldn’t say so much as the numbers tell us that it’s working, but science, science and experience dealing with infections, dealing with pandemics tell us that these are the things that we need to do. And if we comply with them, they will work. And so I encourage Virginians to continue to abide by these. Our numbers, for a couple of reasons, are going to keep going up. Our deaths, unfortunately, are going to keep going up.

Ralph Northam: (12:59)
We have nowhere come close to hitting that peak of the curve. But if we continue to do what we’re recommending, we will hopefully flatten that curve as much as we can. And again, that’s to protect our capacity of our healthcare industry to make sure that if and when Virginia come in and they need hospitalization, that we have the beds available, especially ICU beds, that we have the staff available, and that we have the equipment that we need. And so again, we’re looking at science, we’re looking at data from other countries, from other states. And we’re looking at several months.

Speaker 7: (13:36)
Yeah. Governor, those who are running barber shops and salons have talked about having the opportunity to maybe see clients per appointment, versus having a shop full of people. What did you say to them? And then on the sidebar, when the President says he’s talking to governors all throughout the United States, are you in communication with the White House?

Ralph Northam: (13:59)
The second part of your question, are we in communication with the White House, and either I or my staff is in communication and takes part in the calls when Governors are invited to be on the line. Your question is great about barbershops and if this lasts for a couple months, several months, obviously we are going to need to continue to get our haircut. And so we’re going to have to work with our barbers, our hair salons and be creative and find ways that we can do that safely. And it’s something that I’m aware of and we will continue to work on that and how to make that possible.

Speaker 8: (14:45)
Governor, can you say more about the overseas shipment, is that masks? And this was the first time when you referred to other industries, I heard tobacco. So I was wondering, is that masks as well?

Ralph Northam: (14:57)
Yes. I’m going to let Dr. Carey, can address that. Thanks doctor.

Dr. Dan Carey: (15:04)
Thank you, Governor. The question was really about what orders we’ve put out. And that was in addition to try to source things locally and develop new supply chains and production here in Virginia. We are also using the traditional leads to obtain the necessary personal protective equipment that Virginia caregivers, first responders, all the folks who use personal protective equipment need. So there’s an order that we have for approximately 1 million surgical masks in 500,000 N95 ordered. And the agreement was a 10-day delivery time. And again in this environment, we’ll understand it and appreciate it when it shows up. So we are vetting different suppliers. And when the procurement team gets an adequate signal that this is a reputable source, then we are using our emergency resources to try to get that equipment to Virginians. So that’s just an example.

Dr. Dan Carey: (16:14)
And as the governor indicated, the vest logistics team is vetting all leads. And Brian Ball, the Commerce and Trade Secretariat, among others, as well as those in finance are following all the business leads that they have. And we’re pursuing those. So when there’s equipment that we need that would include face shields, masks, gowns, in addition to face masks, we are acting on that. They’re going to be in short supply and we need to get our supplies in as quickly as possible. And I think we’ve mentioned in the past, we really need a national leadership to contribute to the excellent efforts that we’re doing here in Virginia.

Speaker 10: (17:04)
Just really quick, to follow up from what you just said. You mentioned you need national leadership. What specifically would you like to see the federal government do? I’ve heard some Governors talk about the need to put the Defense Production Act and put that into operation in the fullest extent. So can you just elaborate on what you want to see from the national government?

Dr. Dan Carey: (17:22)
What I was referring to is that exactly really what you mentioned that all the providers we talked to around the Commonwealth and frankly, talking today with folks at a health system in Massachusetts, they too are looking at weeks of supplies in their supply chain. So if we do not replenish that, we will be in a very severe situation. Our number one priority as we care for patients is to keep our caregivers and our first responders safe.

Dr. Dan Carey: (17:55)
So one of the options is to organize at the national level production readily accessible to all states. Otherwise each state is left … and we’re doing it. We’re doing it aggressively under the Governor’s direction to get things as best we can. And that’s important. And we’re not going to stop doing that. The question though is with a country the size of ours and the industrial capability, if that could be directed in an intentional way from the national government. So I think the Governor has mentioned earlier, that type of direction and coordination at the national level would help every state and every territory. But it doesn’t mean we’re waiting. It doesn’t mean we’re not taking advantage of every opportunity.

Speaker 11: (18:40)
I have about two more [inaudible 00:18:44], yeah clarification as well. The order of a million surgical masks and 500,000 N95 respirator masks, that is the overseas order? And then also, piggybacking off the Defense Production Act, is there a way that we could do that at the state level and require manufacturers in Virginia to start producing those materials?

Dr. Dan Carey: (19:05)
I’ll have to get back to you on whether that’s the order I was aware of that went out yesterday, whether that was foreign sourced or not. We can get information on that for you in. Terms of the capability of directing that, Governor, … I think our first goal is that we’re getting lots of collaboration with our state industries to see how they can help. So right now, I think we’re getting excellent cooperation and exploring ways that Virginia businesses can help Virginia and this region.

Speaker 12: (19:38)
And a two part here, Governor Northam, I know you mentioned this a few days ago, some reports of hospitals canceling elective surgeries. We’ve gotten tips that some aren’t doing that at the moment. If you could address that issue as well. I know you talked about flattening the curve and having the capacity as the case numbers rose. Do we know what that is right now? What is our capacity? Is there a number you can give us?

Ralph Northam: (20:04)
Sure. I’m going to let Dr. Carey. But the question is, as far as our direction to our hospitals to cancel elective surgeries. If you want to …

Dr. Dan Carey: (20:15)
Thank you Governor. A guidance went out nationally, last Thursday, concerning a classification of urgent and emergent and elective surgery. And we’ve talked to health systems around the Commonwealth and by and large they are adhering to that, talking to a large health system nearby that they have reduced beyond 90% elective surgeries. And that includes elective cardiac catheterizations and other procedures that consume personal protective equipment and other hospitals supplies.

Dr. Dan Carey: (20:51)
So secondly, MSV, for example, put out today’s Tuesday, so on Monday, a very strong directive to their membership and physicians around the Commonwealth. This is critically important. Do not do elective procedures until we’re able to replenish our PPE supplies. So that’s very important. And we’re assessing, along with the Virginia emergency support team has a work group that includes the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, MSV and other providers, assessing how their members are responding. Most are responding very well. But the governor also has options along to get together with the Commissioner of Health if those measures and those directives from the national level and membership societies, if these aren’t adequately addressing the issue, then the Governor has other options.

Speaker 13: (21:51)
Thank you.

Ralph Northam: (21:52)
Thank you.

Speaker 14: (21:54)
And then regarding then our capacities [inaudible 00:21:54] health cases.

Ralph Northam: (21:57)
Did you want to address capacity?

Dr. Dan Carey: (22:02)
Yeah. So thank you. That’s the question of what is the capacity of our system. I think at the Unified Command and the Virginia Emergency Support Team, getting data, and we’re in the midst of putting lots of data together from our health systems, understanding all of their supplies and supply needs. Not just ventilators, but PPE and capacity issues, and what they’re able to surge towards. So that is, we’re in the middle of that, of getting that data to be available beyond very aggregate data. So we plan in the days ahead, we’ll be in a position to know exactly what our capacity is and how we’re able to flex to meet the needs of Virginia.

Speaker 13: (22:50)
Thank you.

Ralph Northam: (22:51)
Just a final announcement. And the capacity, we want our capacity to be as high as it can. But our hope and our desire is that we don’t have to use our capacity. And the way to prevent using it is for Virginians to follow the guidelines that we have outlined and can continue to do the things like the social distancing, washing hands and doing everything that we can to keep the spread of this virus from occurring. So thank you for the question.

Ralph Northam: (23:23)
Thank you all again for being here. We will be here tomorrow at two o’clock. We have made a command decision. And unless someone feels differently, that after tomorrow, we will go to every other day. We will do this on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at two o’clock unless there is some new information that needs to be shared. So thank you all.