Mar 30, 2020

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 30

Ralph Northam Coronavirus Update Virginia March 30
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsVirginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Briefing Transcript March 30

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia held a coronavirus update briefing on March 30. Read the full transcript of his press conference here.

 

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Ralph Northam: (00:00)
…trying to make sure that our hospitals are ready. That’s why we’re working with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify sites for temporary hospital facilities. The Corps has been assessing potential sites and I expect the recommendations will be to me in the next few days and that’s why our hospital systems are also preparing for temporary bed capacity. I’ll give you three great examples. Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg has established a field hospital on its campus. VCU has identified a student dormitory on campus that was originally built as a hospital and they’ll use that to treat COVID-19 patients who need to be in a hospital but don’t need to be in the ICU.

Ralph Northam: (00:52)
In Southwest Virginia, Ballad Health System has designated Lonesome Pine Hospital in Wise County as a COVID-19 treatment and quarantine facility for acute care patients. Last week I directed our hospitals and medical facilities to postpone all elective surgeries to save PPE for emergencies and COVID response. Again, the number of cases and the need for hospital care can be reduced if everyone stays at home. Now I’d like to update you on a few other issues. Last week we applied for Title 32 status for our Virginia National Guard and that was approved Friday night. That means the federal government will pay for National Guard activities supporting our efforts right here in Virginia.

Ralph Northam: (01:46)
Today we will submit to our requests for Virginia to receive federal major disaster status. If we receive it, we’ll be able to provide more disaster related unemployment support, legal services, food assistance, transitional shelter and assistance and more. Our Port of Virginia remains open, which ensures that shipments of critical supplies are getting in. The port is prioritizing those shipments of personal protective equipment. We have also received USDA approval for our statewide household disaster feeding program. This means our entire Virginia food bank network can offer emergency food assistance to anyone in need of food, not just those who meet income guidelines. This is an important change because it means our food banks can serve approximately 200,000 Virginians who need help.

Ralph Northam: (02:44)
Our food distribution sites have seen a 20 to 50% increase in visits during this outbreak. Visit vafoodbanks.org, I’ll repeat that, vafoodbanks.org for more information on food bank services. If you need help getting food or other social services, call 211. I also want to remind Virginians that our domestic violence services are still available to those who need them. Call the statewide family violence hotline at +1 800-838-8238. As I have said for the last few weeks and as I am explicitly stating today in this executive order, I ask Virginians to stay at home. We understand that you may need to leave to get groceries or to seek medical attention. However, you should stay home to the greatest extent possible.

Ralph Northam: (03:50)
Paired with adequate social distancing, staying at home is an important way to combat this virus. The key here is education. This is a community wide effort and I am dependent on all of you to comply. As I have said before, we are at the beginning of a period of sacrifice. This is an unprecedented and difficult time and it will be hard for people I understand that. But I have faith in you as Virginians, we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly and we will get through this together. Now we’re hearing a health update from Dr. Laura Forlano, our deputy commissioner for population health, and then we’ll take your questions. [inaudible 00:04:40].

Dr. Laura Forlano: (04:40)
Thanks. Hi, good afternoon. Today we’re reporting 1020 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 1020, 136 hospitalizations, and 25 deaths. Over 12,000 individuals have been tested, those are the lab reports that we’ve received and all that data is available every morning at 9:00 AM on our website. Thanks.

Ralph Northam: (05:10)
Thank you, Laura. Be glad to take questions.

Speaker 2: (05:11)
Hey. Could you clarify how the order will apply to offices of non-essential businesses and whether those will be forced to close, and then also will there be accompanying fines or misdemeanor citations for breaking this order?

Ralph Northam: (05:28)
Yes. The question was how will this apply to offices? The executive order is obviously public and everybody will be privy to that. A lot of businesses, especially small businesses, have already closed across Virginia. We are continuing to encourage businesses to maintain the 10 or less rule. If they’re unable to do that, then they will by necessity be closed. The second part of your question was what about fines and penalties? How do we enforce this? And this is not a time, Kate, when we are looking to put people in jail, but it’s a time when I expect all Virginians to comply. We will continue to enforce the 10 or less rule if we see people gathered in any place throughout Virginia, especially in our beaches, in our parks, in non-essential businesses, then that will be enforced.

Ralph Northam: (06:31)
And there’s a difference between the way we can enforce things criminally. We have the ability to do that, we don’t have the ability to do it civilly. So it will go back to if there’s 10 or less to me, excuse me, more than 10 people that are gathering or congregating, then they can be subject to a class one misdemeanor.

Speaker 3: (06:52)
Now, I just wanted to understand, so since on Friday you felt like there was no distinction between a stay at home order and what you’ve already been encouraging Virginians to do, I’m curious about over the weekend, did you have a change of heart? Was there anything that prompted you to make this decision?

Ralph Northam: (07:11)
The question is, what has changed since Friday? And we have suggested through our guidelines to Virginians to comply and to stay at home. And I want to remind Virginians that the majority of people have done that. But I will tell you, I guess it can get a bit personal sometimes, [inaudible 00:07:34], I know what it’s like to be in mass casualty exercises. I know what it’s like to be in the hospital, in the emergency rooms, on the front line. And I have seen heroes literally across Virginia over the past couple of weeks. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, you could go right down the list. They are sacrificing their time, they’re sacrificing perhaps their health, the health of-

Gov. Ralph Northam: (08:03)
… they’re sacrificing perhaps their health, the health of their families and I commend them for all that they’re doing. I see that, Mel, but I also see people congregating on the beach that are completely ignoring what we’re doing and I will remind those folks, you are being very, very selfish because you are putting all of us, especially our healthcare providers, at risk. To date this has been a suggestion to Virginians; today, it’s an order.

Speaker 4: (08:32)
[inaudible 00:00:34].

Speaker 5: (08:35)
Governor, I know you talked about FEMA’s scenarios and outcomes. [inaudible 00:08:40] What are the projections [inaudible 00:08:42]?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (08:44)
Yes. Would you or Dr. Kerry like to-

Speaker 6: (08:46)
You start, I’ll finish.

Dr. Laurie Forlano: (08:48)
Yeah. Sure.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (08:48)
Yeah, please. Thank you.

Dr. Laurie Forlano: (08:49)
Sure. Sure.

Dr. Laurie Forlano: (08:50)
Hi. The questions about the FEMA models and projections. I think what I’d say about that is there are a few models that are being contemplated and looked at right now, both from health systems that have developed or are developing models, academic partners. We’ve assembled a team of people within our unified command to look, a lot of brains looking at the projections, at the numbers and we anticipate now we have enough data to put into those models here, Virginia-specific data, so that will help us. I don’t have specifics today, but hopefully by the end of the week we’ll have information.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (09:27)
Yeah.

Speaker 6: (09:30)
I’ll simply add to what Dr. [Forlano 00:09:32] had mentioned that there are active, excuse me, there are academic models out there with projections. I was looking at the University of Washington model that projects each state based on state’s data. It pushes out our peak a certain number of weeks. Models are great, they help you plan, but models also have a fair amount of uncertainty. As Dr. Falano mentioned, we’re focusing now, we don’t want to have the numbers that we have in Virginia but we do and we can help use that real data to land on a model that we feel comfortable predicting and planning on, so that’s where we are.

Greg: (10:13)
Just to be clear on the stay-at-home order, …

Gov. Ralph Northam: (10:16)
Yes?

Greg: (10:16)
Maryland’s order appears to carry some specific misdemeanor and fine, a penalty. Is there no such specific penalty attached to this order?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (10:26)
The question is: Is there any misdemeanor penalty attached with this order? The penalty continues to be the same, Greg, as I mentioned earlier, for gatherings of more than 10 individuals. I will add that I was just on the phone with the governor from Maryland, who is also the director of our National Governors Association, and also with the mayor of Washington, Mayor Bowser. We are working closely together. We also have been in correspondence with North Carolina and we have directed or formed our executive directives and orders to really be as consistent as we can with each other. I think if you look at the executive order, you will see that the details of it are very similar to our surrounding, neighboring states.

Speaker 4: (11:19)
Yeah.

Speaker 7: (11:19)
Governor, could you clarify what this means for restaurants and other nonessential brick-and-mortar stores that have been allowed to say open with a 25 person or less rule for this point.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (11:33)
Yes. Thank you. Angela, would you like to? Thank you.

Angela Navarro: (11:38)
Angela Navarro, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade. Your question was: What does this executive order mean in terms of limitations on restaurants and other non-essential brick-and-mortar retail operations? The language provided in Executive Order of 53, which the governor announced last week, still stands. Restaurants are still only allowed to be open for takeout or delivery and non-essential retail, brick-and-mortar retail is still allowed to be open as long as they maintain 10 patrons or less and provide adequate social distancing. The language in the previous executive order remains. Thank you.

Speaker 4: (12:16)
Yes, [inaudible 00:12:17]

Speaker 8: (12:18)
Governor, did you consult with the mayors and the city managers of the cities in which there are beaches located? I’m thinking Hampton Roads area. The second part is, what would you say to those tourists who might still be here on vacation and are enjoying the beach and those hotel managers and operators?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:35)
Yeah. The first part of your question: Did I consult with the mayors in Hampton Roads. I have been on the phone with them this morning and they realized that there were people in Hampton Roads that were not complying with our guidelines and so we agreed that this was the most efficient step to take to really keep, again, people can go to the beaches. We have closed the beaches to everybody except those that want to exercise or fish. You had a second part to your question?

Speaker 8: (13:09)
Just what would you say to both the tourists that might still be here enjoying the beaches and the hoteliers and the hotel operators that might be holding those people?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (13:19)
Yeah. The question is: What would we say to those that are visiting from other states? We would say that they need to comply with our guidelines just like Virginians are abiding by them.

Speaker 4: (13:29)
Okay. We have time for one more and then we’re go to the phone. I want to just make sure, has anyone not gotten a question in the room? [inaudible 00:13:36]

Speaker 9: (13:36)
I have one that’s not directly on the executive order, but I know we’ve talked about this before. What do you tell people, those essential businesses still having to go to work feeling like they are unsafe conditions and don’t feel confident or comfortable going to their workers? We’re talking factory workers, home healthcare nurses. And then what is state actively doing to ensure that employers are following the social distancing, these safety guidelines?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (14:04)
Great question. Dr. Healey?

Megan Healey: (14:10)
I’m Megan Healey, Chief Workforce Development Advisor. The question is around workplace safety. The federal government, specifically the OSHA office, Office of Safety and Health Administration has set standards. We’re waiting for standards to come down to the state and then our Department of Labor and Industry are going to accept those standards. Then when we have those standards in place around COVID-19 that’s when we can actually take a little bit more action. Again, we’re going back to if you have a problem in your work to make sure you address it with your manager or a lot of offices have safety officers that have to be OSHA compliant, and then if not, then you want to go through our regional offices so then you can make a complaint. We’re taking every complaint very, very seriously and following up with the businesses.

Speaker 4: (14:58)
We’re going to go to the phone. All right. First question is from Mallory, [Nopin 00:00:15:00]. Mallory?

Mallory Nopin: (15:02)
Hi. How does this impact travel between two private residences?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (15:12)
The question is: How does this apply to travel between two residences? I would just go back to what we’ve been saying all along that if your travel to anywhere is essential, than it’s allowed. If it’s not essential, then one needs to stay at home.

Speaker 4: (15:30)
Dave McGee?

Dave McGee: (15:34)
Yeah. I want to move forward just a little bit, Governor. In just over a month, localities across Virginia are going to be having elections, and I know there’s been an emphasis on absentee voting, but I wonder if there’s been any consideration for imposing any other guidelines on voters or possibly postponing those elections?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (15:51)
It’s a great question. The question is: What about the May elections for the localities? We are having active discussions with our board of elections and also our secretary of administration-

Speaker 10: (16:03)
Board of elections and also our sector of administration. Kiana Connor is… Kiana, she’s not here, I don’t believe, today. But anyway, we realize that the elections will be upon us in May, and we will have some further guidelines I would say in the next few days. So stay tuned.

Melissa: (16:21)
The next question is from Max Thornberry with the Northern Virginia Daily.

Max Thornberry: (16:27)
Hi governor. I’ve got a question about testing. Obviously Virginia has ramped up its testing capability in recent weeks. Is the state at a place where it can test anyone that it needs to? And if we’re not there yet, what is the holdup on having full testing capabilities?

Speaker 10: (16:48)
That’s a good question. I’m going to let Dr. Toni start with that and if we need anybody else we will. But Dr. Toni. Thank you.

Dr. Toni: (16:57)
Thank you. So the question was whether the state had ramped up capabilities to be able to test everyone. And the answer to that question is no. What the holdup is with respect to being able to expand is a couple fold. One, we are still experiencing supply chain shortages throughout the nation, not only in Virginia, and this is not only impacting the ability of the state laboratory to provide and to increase its laboratory testing capabilities, but it is impacting hospital laboratories and private commercial laboratories, and preventing them from being able to fully expand because of the difficulty in getting the needed kits, supplies and other consumables necessary to be able to provide widespread testing.

Melissa: (17:55)
All right. Roger Watson with the Farmville Herald.

Speaker 10: (17:57)
Melissa, we just want a little bit more follow up.

Speaker 11: (18:00)
A little bit more follow up.

Roger Watson: (18:04)
Rural areas and in different parts of state. Do you ever foresee in the future treating different areas, different regions differently with stipulations in the rules?

Speaker 10: (18:15)
I’m sorry, Melissa, I didn’t understand that last part. I know it was referring to rural areas and do we see treating them any differently?

Melissa: (18:23)
Roger, can you repeat your question?

Roger Watson: (18:27)
Yes. The rate of infection seems to be different in Metro areas, obviously where there’s more people, than in rural areas such as Lunenburg and Charlotte County where we have no infections. In the future, if that model stays, do you see areas being treated differently when it comes to stay at home and different rules and regulations?

Speaker 10: (18:50)
Yes. The question is there some areas of Virginia that are being more affected than others, and are we going to treat those areas of Virginia any differently? And the reality here is that this virus does not recognize county lines, state lines. It is a very contagious pathogen. And the guidelines that we are putting in place today and that we have had in place will continue for all of Virginia.

Melissa: (19:24)
All right. Bill Atkinson with the Progress Index.

Bill Atkinson: (19:28)
Thank you very much. Governor, my question is pertaining to the colleges and universities across Virginia. As you know, they’ve all been closed up, online education, dorms closed. One of the questions we’re hearing from a lot of people in our area is a possibility of partial or total refunds to the students and their families and from some of the fees, maybe not so much the tuition, but maybe some of the related student fees such as housing. I know that’s basically done on a college by college basis, but is there anything that the state could do to possibly help push that process along?

Speaker 10: (20:04)
Yeah. The question is, is the state going to do anything to assist with refunds for room and board, tuition, et cetera? And that is a college level or it applies to each college individually, and those are the individuals that are making that policy. I will tell you that we’re looking at the federal response, the amount of resources that are coming into Virginia, we’re still working through that, and what that means to our healthcare industry, small businesses, et cetera. And if it gets to a point where we have that dialogue with our colleges and universities and the funding is there, then we can certainly address that. But to date, I haven’t addressed that on a state level.

Melissa: (20:50)
Greg Hambrick with Inside Nova.

Greg Hambrick: (20:54)
Yes. We’ve seen golf courses in the region take differing decisions on whether to stay open or closed. And those that are staying open seem to be becoming destination places for golfers looking to exercise, I guess. Does the stay at home order impact golf courses in any way? Are they still allowed to stay open under the new rules?

Speaker 10: (21:18)
The question is what about golf courses? And I think it’s fairly straightforward. One can go to the golf course and play golf, but the clubhouses are closed. And again, we will enforce the if there are more than 11 individuals that are gathered in one place, and certainly we will enforce that, but people can still go to the golf course and play golf.

Melissa: (21:42)
Sherry Hamilton with the Gazette Journal.

Sherry Hamilton: (21:45)
Thank you. Governor, some localities had to postpone the budget process because of the health emergency, and they feel a sense of urgency as they try to determine how to comply with FOIA guidelines for public participation meetings and also follow social distancing guidelines to keep residents safe. And this is really difficult for rural localities that don’t have adequate broadband access, and they’re making these efforts to scrapple together ways to hold their public budget hearings. Do you have any guidelines for them?

Speaker 10: (22:15)
Yes. The question is what about rural areas and meetings of boards and commissions. And attorney general Heron has been very helpful in helping with those guidelines. And I would address any questions to the office of the attorney general.

Melissa: (22:34)
Great. And the last question is from Tracy Agnew with the Suffolk News Herald.

Tracy Agnew: (22:39)
Thank you, governor. I think a lot of Virginians are looking for some encouraging news. So my question is when and how Virginia’s Department Of Health will start reporting the number of patients who have recovered statewide and what criteria a patient will have to meet before being deemed recovered?

Speaker 10: (22:56)
Do you want to address that Dan? Oh, that’s great. Thank you.

Laurie Farlano: (23:02)
Hi, Laurie Farlano, Virginia Department Of Health. The question is about whether we track case patients to the point of recovery. And I think there was a second question about when they are released from, what I’d describe as released from isolation. So the first part of the question about tracking cases to recovery, I’d say that varies a little bit on the capacity of the local health department. The case volumes that we’re seeing wouldn’t make that possible in all situations, but we do try to do that to the greatest extent possible. Regarding release from isolation, there are pretty specific guidelines from CDC, both for home-based isolation and for hospital-based isolation, and there are testing pathways for release and non-testing pathways for release. And those are pretty specific and online. I believe for home isolation, it’s seven days asymptomatic and 72 hours fever free. And there are also some-

Speaker 12: (24:03)
Symptomatic and 72 hours fever free and there are also some specifics around testing which are available online.

Speaker 13: (24:10)
And then [Pete 00:00:10], we’re going to take [inaudible 00:24:11] because you haven’t had a question yet and then we’re going to have to wrap it up.

Speaker 14: (24:16)
Your administration had directed the parole board to expedite reviews of vulnerable prisoners who might be eligible for release. Do you have an update on that? We haven’t been able to get any numbers from the parole board, how many expedited reviews have been conducted and how many people have been released per that process today?

Ralph Northam: (24:32)
Yes. The question is about paroles and numbers that are on parole and I’m going to let Secretary Moran address that sector of public safety.

Brian Moran: (24:40)
Thank you governor. Yes. With respect to the parole and the direction that the governor has provided the parole board. And again, this was something that governor has directed the parole board from day one of his administration, is to review these with great diligence and providing individuals with second chances. So that has been going on throughout this administration. With the onset of this crisis, we have reiterated that direction and they are doing a great deal with respect to review. There are a number of challenges, because by the code, we have no parole in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996. So you have a limited population by which can even be reviewed.

Brian Moran: (25:33)
Additionally by constitution, the victims need to be notified and you have to provide victims time to weigh in on their decision. And that is an ongoing process as well. And we’ve heard from a lot of victims. Every time questions are asked or reports are written with respect to releasing people, you’re generating a lot of interest from a lot of individuals. And so I can tell you two steps have already been taken. That is good news. The parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals. What that will do is not introduce those into the criminal justice system. We’re waiving the warrants so they don’t have to get arrested. They don’t have to go to the local court for hearing. Secondly, they have expedited release of parole for those who are already been released, so they go … what that does is eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.

Brian Moran: (26:40)
And so again, both of those efforts and decisions have eliminated additional interaction, which of course is what we’re ultimately trying to do with self distancing. So the expeditious review is ongoing with those, that limited population by which is even to us for early release. And I will say, I know a lot of concern is among any advocacy groups, and we all share that concern. And I can tell you I’m just so proud of Harold Clarke at the Department of Corrections, what he has been doing to ensure the safety of his correctional staff, but then also of the residents at our over 41 facilities. Extraordinary steps have been taken. We’ve essentially locked down the prisons to outsiders, which could introduce the virus into a contained setting. So parole board has their direction, they’re working overtime. And again, our Department of Corrections is doing everything they can to prevent the introduction of this disease.

Speaker 14: (27:48)
Are there any specific numbers though that you could … that would sort of give us a sense of what kind of is happening?

Brian Moran: (27:51)
Well, the specific numbers are those that are even eligible for, right? So that is a limited basis and then you have to determine whether or not there is a home health plan for those individuals. And so we’re looking at those who are closest to release and so I’d be happy to give you numbers and I’ll get those numbers. We’re not … I’d be happy to share specifically if you want how many inmates, but it’s a matter of trying to determine the eligibility. That is somewhat … it’s difficult. But again, they’re working 24/7 to accomplish it and we’re going to do everything we can. But we’re not going to release somebody unless they have a home health plan. It would be inhumane to them, and frankly they’re getting a lot of health care in these facilities. We are doing our very best not to have the virus introduced, and they’re currently receiving care. Everyone who’s coming in is getting a temperature taken, the forehead temperature device. And so again, we’re doing everything we can not to allow that virus in the first place to be introduced. And thanks.

Ralph Northam: (29:04)
Thank you all again for listening and watching today. The message today, as I said, is very clear. Stay home. We know that social distancing, we know that frequent hand washing will help minimize the spread of this virus. You have heard us talk every day about flattening that curve. As you go through your day to day activities and make decisions, what’s essential and what’s not essential, think of those health care providers. Watch those pictures, what these individuals are going through every day to take care of our sick folks across this country. And I ask you just to do the right thing. Thank you all.