Mar 20, 2020

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Update March 20

Virginia governor Ralph Northam gave a March 20 COVID-19
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsVirginia Governor Ralph Northam Coronavirus Update March 20

Virginia governor Ralph Northam gave a March 20 COVID-19 news briefing for the state of Virginia. Read the transcript here.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (00:00)
… businesses being noncompliant. Our localities have the authority to enforce the 10-person limit at restaurants, fitness centers and theaters, and I fully expect them to use it when needed. But many businesses and many people are doing the responsible thing, and for that I say thank you. Restaurants that can do so are offering takeout and delivery options. I’ve also directed Virginia ABC to allow those restaurants to sell beer and wine for takeout and delivery as well. People are working remotely. I know Virginians want to do the right thing so that we can get through this situation together.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (00:51)
We also understand this virus, this pandemic is affecting everyone’s lives. It is forcing changes in people’s routines and for many people it is affecting their jobs and their income. We are doing everything that we can to help people. Later in this briefing, I’ll have our chief workforce advisor, Megan Healy, to talk more about how people who are affected can apply for unemployment. But I know that this is hard on people’s morale. It is very, very stressful. It is scary. We are all experiencing big, unwanted changes and we don’t know how long this will all last.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (01:43)
Putting on my doctor’s hat for just a bit, for many people, this increased stress can exacerbate underlying health conditions. It can bring increased depression and anxiety and the risk of domestic violence. People may deal with this by abusing alcohol or drugs. If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. I’ll repeat that 1-800-273-TALK. The federal substance abuse and mental health administration also has a disaster distress helpline 24/7 that provides crisis counseling and support. That number is 1-800-985-5990 I’ll repeat that one. 1-800-985-5990. For everyone, as we have said, please check on each other. I know many people are using virtual meetings to spend time together, are sitting six feet apart in a friend’s yard and these are good things. Social distancing means physical distancing, but it is critical in a time of such upheaval that we maintain our social ties and our social contract.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (03:21)
Now we will hear the latest numbers from our state health commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (03:26)
Right behind you, sir.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (03:27)
Thank you.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (03:31)
Thank you, Governor. The United States as a whole now has more than 13,000 cases of COVID-19 and some 196 deaths. Here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, our current count is 114 cases. We have about another 35 tests that will be in process during the day today, so the case count will go up. That’s 10 more cases that have been counted through our state lab and there will be others that will probably be added from the private labs, LabCorp and Quest. Among the cases reported is a case in Southwest Virginia, so now every region of the commonwealth has at least one case of COVID-19. We have 19 hospitalizations from COVID-19 to date and two deaths.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (04:33)
As far as our testing capacity goes, we have ability to test more than 1000 tests. Currently, we got a new re-agents in the other day, which increased our capacity.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (04:51)
I want to underscore something the governor said in his opening remarks, we do not have a Madison for COVID-19. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19. The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing, so we need to all do that. Thank you.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (05:13)
Thank you Dr. Oliver.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (05:17)
As I said, we know that this situation is causing businesses to close and people to lose their jobs and their income. We are working to help Virginia workers and businesses that are affected. I will now ask Dr. Megan Healy to tell you more.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (05:34)
Dr Healy, thank you.

Dr. Megan Healy: (05:39)
Thank you so much, Governor. We know that the major concern is this health crisis, but we want to make sure that people aren’t scared that they can’t feed their families when they’re at home. I’m going to go over a couple of the unemployment claim numbers today and then talk about what we are doing to make sure that people can get unemployment.

Dr. Megan Healy: (05:57)
As of this week, so Monday through Thursday, our total claim number was around 14,000. Yesterday, alone, our claims came in at 16,357, so it’s almost the same number that we’ve seen Monday through Wednesday. We are increasing capacity at our employment commission. They’re doing a fantastic job. We want all online claims and applications to go through our online portal, and that’s at www.vec.virginia.gov. We’ve increased server capacity to speed up that website. We also have a call center, and we’re expanding our call centers. We’ve actually taken over some of the DMV call center in South Boston so we can answer calls for folks that are trying to sign up for unemployment.

Dr. Megan Healy: (06:42)
The governor has waived to the waiting week and the work search requirements. If somebody applies for unemployment insurance after they fill out that process and they have direct deposit, hopefully they can start getting money within the next week. We send those deposits out on a weekly basis.

Dr. Megan Healy: (07:00)
Then also if you think at all that you can get unemployment, we want everyone to apply. The rules change daily, maybe hourly of who can get unemployment insurance. If you are denied, we’re going to keep that data and so if the rules change from the Department of Labor, then we can also start going back and issuing folks checks. Thank you.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (07:20)
Thank you, Dr. Healy.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (07:27)
Finally, this situation has hit just as a US census was ramping up. I encourage all Virginians to fill out their census form online or by mail. This is the first year people can do their census form by phone, mail or by using the internet. The US census is sending out mail forms to 140 million households across the United States. While we are focused on COVID-19, it is critical that we still fill out our census forms so that Virginia can receive its portion of the more than $675 billion in federal funding allocated to states.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (08:11)
I want to thank all the people on the front lines; our doctors, our nurses, our health providers, our labs, our public health professionals and our emergency responders. I also want to thank all the scientists racing to develop more testing capability. Just yesterday, the University of Virginia announced that UVA health has developed a test for use in the UVA health system, which is great news. I was just on a video conference with VCU, right here in Richmond. They’re doing excellent and some of the same work. I also want to thank all the workers in places like our grocery stores. They’re stocking as fast as they can and we appreciate their work. I’m heartened by all the businesses that I see being creative about how to abide by the restrictions and maintain health and safety advice while they continue to serve customers’ needs.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (09:11)
It is so important that everyone continues to practice social distancing and avoid gatherings of people. We are working with our hospitals to ensure they have the equipment they need to take care of people. We’re doing everything that we can to help our hospitals and our healthcare systems, but we need every Virginian to help them as well. When you use good sense, stay home, wash your hands and avoid spreading this virus, you are helping our hospitals and our medical professionals. The more we can slow this down, the better the chances that our hospitals can meet the needs of every patient. I have thanked a lot of people and I will continue to thank people. I would also like to thank our interpreter here for helping those that are hearing impaired, so thank you for being with us as well.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (10:03)
I’d be glad to take questions.

Henry: (10:05)
Governor, it’s a nice day today. [inaudible 00:10:08] What’s your message to people who might want to socialize? Then, also, we’re hearing the parks are getting crowded, how are you guys addressing [inaudible 00:00:10:17]?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (10:18)
Sure. Henry, thank you for the question. It is a beautiful day. It is Friday and we encourage people to get outside and get fresh air, get exercise, stay healthy, keep the morale up, their self esteem, but we do encourage them to keep their distance. Again, the social distancing that we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, it’s just so important. What we’re really trying to prevent, Henry, is people in clusters, especially in confined spaces where the droplets could be shared with each other. I encourage people to get out, but to use the common sense and really use the basic medical practices and guidelines that we’ve been outlined.

Speaker 6: (11:02)
Hey. Yeah, this is for you, Governor. Given the importance of social distancing, when do you expect that your emergency order will be extended to other businesses such as shopping malls and barber shops, other places where spread can continue? Then, two-parter, will the state consider taking the lead on enforcement such as sending in the National Guard to businesses that don’t comply?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (11:23)
Yeah. As far as places of business, we’ve talked a lot about essential versus non-essential. Businesses literally that take care of individuals’ needs on a day-to-day basis need to stay open to provide their services. Again, we’re sounding kind of like a broken record here, but we continue to talk about less than 10 people in an establishment, keeping the social distancing, those things will continue until we get this under complete control. As we’ve said all along, the whole purpose of all this is to flatten that curve as much as we can to slow down the spread of the virus so that we don’t overburden our capacity to take care of sick individuals at our hospitals.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:10)
Regarding the National Guard, and I appreciate the question and I think there has been some misinformation out there perhaps, but as you know, we have declared a state of emergency in Virginia. When we do that, a lot of different terms are used, but I would describe the National Guard as being on standby right now. They’ve been activated, which is what happens in any state of emergency, but I have not made a decision to deploy them or mobilize them. Hopefully that clarifies some things.

Speaker 7: (12:45)
Just to clarify.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:45)
Yes.

Speaker 7: (12:45)
When you say that they’ve been activated, has that been the case since you declared the state of emergency or is that something new?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:47)
Repeat your question.

Speaker 7: (12:52)
On the National Guard, …

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:53)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 7: (12:53)
When you say they’ve been activated, has that been the case since you’ve declared the state of emergency or is that new?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (12:58)
No, that happens anytime I declare a state of emergency.

Speaker 7: (13:00)
Okay.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (13:01)
For example, in the fall when a hurricane is off our coast, if I declare a state of emergency, they’re on call to do whatever we would ask them to do. I will tell you that’s a wonderful group of people. I am very proud of our National Guard. While we haven’t mobilized them, they are standing ready to help in any way that they can.

Speaker 8: (13:21)
Yeah. Over here.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (13:22)
Hi ma’am.

Speaker 8: (13:24)
Do you have any sense of whether the social distancing that’s already been going on is helping, like you said, flatten that curve? Also do you have any sense of when in Virginia we might see that peak period that everyone’s talking about?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (13:36)
I think those are all great questions. Just the first part of your question, will the social distancing help? I mean, yeah, it helps. I’ll just tell you that as a doctor. Anything that we can do when these viruses are spread by contact, by droplet, the farther apart we are, for example, again, we’ve talked about sneeze and coughing, we know that when we do that, that these droplets are spread out for feeding, so people need to keep their distance. Yes, that works, and I believe it’s working in this case. While we’re seeing an increased number of tests, positive tests, we’re doing everything that we can, I believe, to keep that curve as flat as we can.

Speaker 9: (14:22)
Yeah, Tim?

Tim: (14:26)
Regarding the testing, now that it sounds like we a stockpile of 1,000 test kits, is it now more of a matter of what is our physical ability to process these tests at the state level? How many can we actually get through a day?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (14:41)
Would you like to address that, Dr. Tony?

Dr. Denice Tony: (14:42)
[inaudible 00:14:43].

Gov. Ralph Northam: (14:43)
Welcome.

Dr. Denice Tony: (14:44)
Thank you.

Dr. Denice Tony: (14:46)
Good morning. I’m Dr. Denice Tony. I’m the director of the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services.

Dr. Denice Tony: (14:55)
With respect to capacity to do testing, the state lab since the beginning of the pan-, or the beginning of the outbreak, has been actively training our work force and additional individuals within our workforce to perform the test that needs to be done in order to expand our capability and capacity to ramp up and perform more tests. At the present time, I do not feel that staffing or laboratory personnel is a rate-limiting factor for our ability to respond to the testing that’s approved by the Virginia Department of Health for us to provide support for.

Tim: (15:37)
There’s no backlog at the moment?

Dr. Denice Tony: (15:40)
We do not have a backlog at this time.

Speaker 9: (15:43)
Laura?

Laura: (15:43)
Are there any shortages of other medical supplies? Masks or anything like that?

Dr. Denice Tony: (15:53)
The question was, is there any backlog on supplies or other medical supplies? What I’m hearing from colleagues across the nation is that there are still continuing to be shortages of supplies such as the collection swabs that are used to collect specimens that are used for laboratory testing. There are backlogs in the viral transport media and that there are still backlogs in some states being able to obtain testing re-agents.

Dr. Denice Tony: (16:24)
I think Virginia has been very proactive in getting our orders placed as timely and as quickly as we can so that we have been able to maintain the capacity we need to respond to all the testing requests that have been approved by the Virginia Department of Health.

Laura: (16:44)
You’re saying no shortages in Virginia? Obviously, elsewhere in the country there are.

Dr. Denice Tony: (16:50)
I can only speak for the shortages at the state laboratory. We have adequate supplies to respond to the testing that we need to, and that is for today. What I can’t say is in a couple of days that we might also have, again, be in a position where we are finding ourselves having difficulties in providing or getting re-agents. It is changing daily. As these supplies are being distributed across the nation, it can change.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (17:29)
Thank you, Doctor.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (17:30)
I’m going to have Dr. Oliver also address the equipment, the PPEs, et cetera.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (17:35)
Thank you, Doctor.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (17:39)
I believe part of your question may have been addressed, to the issue of masks and other personal protective equipment that is particularly needed in the hospital settings by private clinicians and others who are doing the testing, or getting the test specimens, rather, to send to the lab.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (18:00)
The Virginia Department of Health just the other day received close to 200,000 N95 respirators. We also received a stock of a surgical masks, gowns, gloves, and those sorts of materials. Using the protocol that we’ve set up through the unified command at our emergency operations center here, we are distributing those materials first to the first responders, the emergency medical service people who need these materials, and to the hospitals. We’ll do that until those materials are all distributed.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (18:41)
We have further orders in to our federal partners at the strategic national stockpile and we hope to get more from them at a later date. As you might imagine, the national stockpile has received requests from more than 50 States and, I mean all 50 States, and many territories. They are trying to parse this out in an equitable fashion, but they have been responsive and sending materials.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (19:17)
We are also looking at other possibilities for obtaining PPE, looking at other vendors, looking at the possibility of whether or not we could redistribute the existing N95 respirators that are used, for example, in other industries in healthcare. Other people use respirators because of the kind of work that they have. We’re looking at a lot of different possibilities to expand the personal protective equipment.

Speaker 9: (19:46)
Yeah?

Speaker 13: (19:48)
Yeah, so you had mentioned at the beginning, Governor, that you’ve been getting reports that says, or just reports from across the state that some have not been following what you guys are advising. First of all, are you guys actually keeping track of that stuff? Do you have any sense of how many reports that you’ve gotten, or a sort of database? Then, also, I think you touched on this yesterday, but I wasn’t here, is there any recourse for employees who feel like they’re unsafe in their workplace because their employer is not following social distancing protocols or other sanitation guidelines?

Gov. Ralph Northam: (20:22)
Yeah. The first part of your question, we keep track of everything we do here. The number of businesses, if it be a restaurant or a bar, that are not complying is a minority. As I said earlier, most businesses, most people across Virginia, and I’m very pleased with what I see, are complying with our guidelines and recommendations.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (20:45)
The second part of your question is if there are employees that have concerns. As an employer myself, I would encourage them to have a discussion with their supervisors at their place of work and talk about it at that level and make suggestions on how we can make it better. If that is not sufficient for an employee, then we have OSHA that monitors what we do in our places of business and I would encourage them to contact OSHA to discuss their concerns.

Speaker 9: (21:23)
[inaudible 00:21:23], Mel?

Mel: (21:26)
If you could very quickly just expand on the order to ABC regarding carry-out of all [inaudible 00:21:32] from restaurants.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (21:34)
Yeah. I will do as best I can, Mel. If someone were to come and order a meal, they could also have the option of ordering a beer and or wine for either takeout or delivery.

Speaker 9: (21:49)
[inaudible 00:21:51].

Speaker 15: (21:52)
Yeah. I was wondering, will the VDH ever expand its testing criteria and is it pursuing other strategies such as distributing tests for random sampling to get a better sense of how the virus is spreading?

Dr. Norm Oliver: (22:08)
You asked whether or not the Virginia Department of Health would consider expanding our testing criteria and whether or not we would consider on a sort of random basis or really like pilot-testing basis check out whether, just to get an idea of what the actual prevalence of the disease is in the commonwealth.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (22:29)
On the first question, we are actively considering and probably will put out today some new criteria around testing. It’s very clear that our most vulnerable populations, as we’ve said, are the elderly and particularly elderly people who are in nursing homes and other longterm-care facilities, assisted-living facilities and so on. We’d always had as part of our testing criteria allowing for increased testing in those facilities, but we’re thinking about changing it so that it’s even less restrictive. That will probably happen today.

Dr. Norm Oliver: (23:13)
While we’re quite happy that we have more than a 1,000 tests, that’s still not enough tests for us to do a massive screening. We have to have some criteria to screen patients before testing, otherwise those 1,000 tests will be used up quite rapidly. We’re not doing pilot-testing at this point.

Speaker 16: (23:36)
To that, will those new guidelines be released on the website at some point? [inaudible 00:23:43] How’s that going to go?

Dr. Norm Oliver: (23:46)
Yes. The question is whether those new guidelines would be released on our website. They will be.

Gov. Ralph Northam: (23:52)
Thank you, Dr. Oliver. To all of our fellow Virginians who are watching, thank you all so much for helping all of us get through this. To our media and press, again, I want to thank you all for being here. You are our means of getting accurate and updated information to Virginians. I know it’s Friday and I hope everybody has a safe and peaceful weekend, but we will be here tomorrow at 11:00, so I would encourage all of you to listen and, also, to the media to be here as well. Thank you all and have a good weekend.

Speaker 17: (24:27)
[crosstalk 00:24:42].

Speaker 18: (24:27)
[crosstalk 00:25:08].