Mar 25, 2020

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam COVID-19 Update March 25

Virginia Coronavirus Press Conference
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsVirginia Governor Ralph Northam COVID-19 Update March 25

Virginia governor Ralph Northam provided a press briefing on March 25 for coronavirus in the state. Read the transcript of his speech here.

Ralph Northam: (00:30)
Last night, the US Senate reached agreement on a relief package. We’re still working through the details, but I’d like to ask our secretary of finance, Aubrey Lane, to give you an update on what this may mean for us in Virginia. Secretary Lane, thank you.

Aubrey : (00:46)
Thank you governor, and good afternoon. Let me first start by thanking our federal and congressional leaders for reaching a deal on this much needed $2 trillion stimulus package, and I would encourage them to pass this legislation properly in order to get the money flowing. Now this fiscal action, along with the extraordinary monetary measures taken by the federal reserve, offer assurances to individuals and businesses in the Commonwealth and across our country that they will be able to cope with the negative economic impact from this virus. Now, we still have not seen all the details. In fact, I was trying to read up on the roughly 1000 pages that were sent to us, but I’m very encouraged by the comprehensive nature of the stimulus. So I’m going to go through a few of the broad categories, and this is not intended to be all inclusive.

Aubrey : (01:39)
From the very start, the governor and I have advocated for direct payments to individuals, and I’m pleased to say that there’s $250 billion in direct payments to individuals, $1,200 individually, up to 2,400 for a married couple for those who qualify, and that’s based on income levels. There’s an additional $250 billion in enhanced unemployment benefits. This allows the state to offer what it would normally do, unemployment benefits, plus $600 per week per individual for up to four months, and this will also include what’s called gig employees or those independent contractors that are typically not paid by a payroll withholding or a W2. There is $130 billion for aid to hospitals to help, what you just heard the governor mentioned, the type of resources that are needed to protect our first line responders that are attending to all those individuals who have become sick by this virus. There’s $350 billion for loans and aid to small businesses and a lot of those provisions allow those loans to be converted to grants if they meet special conditions.

Aubrey : (02:53)
There’s $500 billion for loans to large businesses, those that have been impacted significantly, those industries that had been impacted by the virus. And the key to that is there’s key oversight provisions to make sure that those monies are used for keeping people employee. Most directly to the state of Virginia, there’s 150 billion in state and local government aid, and there’s a provision in there that says at a minimum, even a small state would receive $1.5 billion and hopefully Virginia will get much more than that as we go through and see how it is divided up. And that will certainly help us mitigate their reduction in revenues that we’re expecting because of the slowdown and in some cases, stoppage of business in our Commonwealth. Now there’s also a host of other resources in there that deal with transportation, agriculture, our food supply, housing, student loan relief among many other things.

Aubrey : (03:51)
And as we get those details and it’s passed, we’ll be sure to make sure that we’re utilizing them efficiently for the citizens here in the Commonwealth. Now, Governor Northam has stated repeatedly that this is not only a health crisis, but it’s also an economic crisis. But the way to fix the economy is to deal with this health crisis, and this stimulus package affords us the ability to do so. So I would encourage all our citizens to heed the advice of the medical authorities and base their decisions on their public health based on facts and advice from their medical resources and authorities, not some arbitrary deadlines, because we want to make sure that these resources that are put out there to help us weather this storm are used wisely, and a way to do that is for everybody to heed the advice of the medical authorities. Thank you.

Ralph Northam: (04:47)
I appreciate, Secretary Lane.

Ralph Northam: (04:53)
I have a heard the press reports that Liberty University is inviting and welcoming students back to their campus in Lynchburg. We have heard too many mixed messages around the country about CoVID-19 and this is yet another example. Our message has been clear and it will continue to be clear: Stay home unless you have to leave for essential reasons. We appreciate our colleges and universities making accommodation for students with special cases, but that is very different from inviting students to leave their homes and come back to campus. As we are told in first Corinthians, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Proving faithful means providing clear and consistent guidance, and it means respecting the duty that Liberty University has to its students, its staff, the Lynchburg community in which it is located, and our Commonwealth. I would suggest that President Falwell look to the actions of the leaders of Virginia’s flagship universities for how to set a strong example in this health crisis, and to please reconsider his message that invites and encourages students to return to campus. Thank you. I’ll be glad to take questions.

Speaker 4: (06:38)
Yeah. You mentioned directing the… I believe it was the Norfolk district Army Corps of engineers to evaluate existing facilities as temporary hospital sites.

Ralph Northam: (06:48)
Yes.

Speaker 4: (06:48)
When exactly was that request made and why the need to expand the capacity of hospital sites in Virginia?

Ralph Northam: (06:55)
That’s a great question. The question is, when was the decision made to look at alternative sites and when that will be necessary. To date it has not been necessary, but preparation is everything here, and if one looks at the curves of the hospitalizations that we’re seeing, of the increased cases that we’re seeing, not only here in Virginia but in other areas of the country, we anticipate overburdening the capacity of our current healthcare system. And so, we see that coming, we want to prepare for that, and so with the help of our Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Carlos Hopkins, we have been in touch and communication with the Corps of engineers and we are actively looking at sites in different regions around Virginia so that we can increase the capacity for bed space if we need to. And I would also say that when we increase capacity for bed space, we also need increased capacity for equipment, which I outlined, and also for staff. And so we’re working on all of that together.

Speaker 4: (08:01)
Governor, can you talk about the spike in cases. Is that because of increased testing? And if so, can you talk about how testing has increased and public versus private lab testing?

Ralph Northam: (08:11)
Yes, Greg. The question was, we’re seeing a spike in the number of cases and why is that? It’s really two fold. It’s one, that we’re able to do more testing. That’s clear and we’ve seen that across the country, and it’s also clear Greg, we’ve got community spread now. That is quite obvious and so because of those two reasons, the numbers are increased. And I will ask Dr. Peak actually to comment on the availability of tests and as we are today.

Dr. Peak: (08:44)
So as the governor said, we are seeing an increase because of both increased testing and increased cases, and at this point, more of the cases that are getting reported to us are from private labs than the state lab.

Speaker 4: (09:03)
Do they have a different pace of testing then the public labs do?

Dr. Peak: (09:10)
So your question is do the private labs have a different pace of testing than the state lab does? And do you mean the turnaround time to receive the test? Yes, typically for most of the private labs, it is taking them longer to provide the test results back to the provider.

Ralph Northam: (09:29)
Dr. Kerry, please.

Dr. Kerry: (09:33)
Just to add on what Dr. Peak has said, the commercial labs, Labcore and Quest are generally in the four to six day turnaround time, but in addition to the state lab, we also have the rise in capability and capacity in health system and university laboratories, so UVA as well as VCU and other health systems are developing their own labs, and UVA has been on online for a number of days, and their turnaround times are similar to what we have at the state lab, in the eight to 12 and certainly 24 hour range. So the benefit of testing will be both capacity but also the type of testing. As you can imagine, if there’s someone with a clinical syndrome like CoVID-19, the governor’s outlined just how intensive the use of PPE can be. But if we’re able to rule out CoVID-19 and influenza, then often the intensive protection equipment can be downgraded to another level. So being specific about whether a patient has or does not have a CoVID-19 in a rapid period of time is an important tool.

Speaker 4: (10:52)
Yeah, the governor of New York today estimated the peak for their state would be April 15th. Do we have an idea of what Virginia’s peak looks like? And then also I want to circle back on holes.

Ralph Northam: (11:04)
Yes.

Speaker 4: (11:04)
But one at a time.

Ralph Northam: (11:05)
Great. So first, Dr. Peak, I will ask you to address the peak of this if you can.

Dr. Peak: (11:13)
We don’t have data at this time to estimate what that peak might be, but we have heard from different entities who are working on modeling and we are working with them and hope to have more information soon.

Ralph Northam: (11:31)
Secretary Valentine will address your transportation question. Thank you, [Sandra 00:11:37].

Secretary Valentine: (11:37)
Of course. Would you mind sharing your question?

Speaker 4: (11:41)
So we were wondering, we have a lot of emails about people wondering why [inaudible 00:11:46] are still in effect, and if there’s been any decision about those being closed to prevent this exchange of cash as well as the type of workers.

Secretary Valentine: (11:54)
Yes. Very good question. We’re also getting those as well. In Virginia, we have 16 toll facilities. Of those 16, Virginia owns and operates four of them, so we’re working with the public and the private sector. Of the 16, eight are completely electronic with y pa or the image pay by license plate. We are now working with the remaining eight and of those eight remaining, two are VDOT owned, so we’re moving those to all electronic. The others, we are continuing to try to move them in that particular direction. There are three in particular that we’re going to have to be a little bit more creative with. However, all 16 accept E-ZPass. E-ZPass is free. You can go to easypassva.com. You can order one for free, we will deliver it to you, and on the VDOT website under E-ZPass there are retail establishments and grocery stores that you can actually go and pick one up, and we also are working on an application, an app on your phone called gotoll.com which you can also use your phone which can be accessed within a very short time.

Secretary Valentine: (13:21)
We are urging all of the facilities that aren’t completely electronic to have credit card machines available. We are urging citizens to have exact change, which also helps. But for those cases where, like with the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel where there’s a gate, there’s a person, we are ensuring at all 16 that everyone has gloves, that the workspace is being cleaned and sanitized, that the money is being separated between shifts. There’s hand sanitizer and it’s very much like a pickup or delivery at a restaurant. We’re trying to make that transaction as clean as possible. We are requiring it within our VDOT owned toll facilities. We have received confirmation through David [Cadel 00:00:14:14], the administrator of our toll facilities in Virginia and working with all operators, private and public, that that is indeed the case. So it’s an ongoing process. We certainly want people to be able to move those who are essential and for those who are providing critical supplies that we have our roadways open. So thank you very much.

Speaker 4: (14:40)
In general, but also in particular to the Canterbury Healthcare and Rehab Center where they had the two deaths from yesterday, what additional steps, if any, are being taken at some of those Atlas facilities? As we’ve learned, Canterbury now has 13 and potentially even over a dozen additional cases there. We saw how that played out in Seattle, in Washington.

Dr. Peak: (15:03)
So first of all… So other question is what additional steps are being taken with longterm care facilities and other high risk medical facilities so that they are taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus in their facilities? And so first of all, we are providing a lot of education and guidance in advance. We have that information on our website as well as we’ve provided a webinar and have sent out literature. When we identify a case in one of these facilities, our epidemiologists and health care infection prevention team works with that facility to understand how they’re operating, what different strategies we can put into place to improve their infection control, and then we continue to work with them to monitor what’s going on. And that’s what we’ve done in that case.

Speaker 4: (15:57)
Following up on the Canterbury Rehab situation, do we know how the outbreak there became so extensive and are we seeing similar outbreaks at other facilities across the state?

Dr. Peak: (16:11)
So we are still investigating to understand what happened there, and we are seeing other cases in longterm care facilities and in other congregate settings, medical settings, but we haven’t seen any with that amount of spread.

Speaker 4: (16:29)
And do we know how it spread? We don’t know how it spread so widely across that particular facility?

Dr. Peak: (16:35)
So the question is, how would it spread so widely? It does spread person to person, and so people came into contact with someone who was ill and that’s how it was spreading.

Speaker 4: (16:50)
Have you taken further steps to provide childcare for healthcare workers? You spoke about that earlier in the week and said guidance was coming.

Ralph Northam: (16:58)
Yes, is Secretary Lane here?

Aubrey : (17:03)
Thank you, Governor. Commissioner Duke [Storen 00:17:09] of the Virginia department of social services, that team, along with the department of education, have put out guidelines on their website, so I think that’s where we’re focused and we continue to make sure that essential workers in all areas and especially our health care workers are getting the child care needs met, their childcare needs met. So we’re looking at that in those venues on a daily, certainly weekly, but really daily basis.

Speaker 4: (17:42)
Governor Northam, any thought to following Florida’s steps in issuing an executive order mandating a mandatory quarantine for those traveling from the high infectious areas such as New York?

Ralph Northam: (17:55)
That’s a great question, and the question is what about those individuals that have been in New York and are traveling to other areas of the country, in this case Virginia? We are following the guidelines. If someone has been in New York where there seems to be a higher incidence of CoVID-19 we would ask them to quarantine for 14 days if they come to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Speaker 8: (18:19)
Jackie, last one.

Speaker 4: (18:20)
Yeah. So we also have a lot of emails about rent and [inaudible 00:18:26] freezes. Given that it’s the end of the month, have you given any thought… Do you have the authority to actually mandate that people don’t have that burden?

Ralph Northam: (18:33)
Yes. Secretary Lane, do you have any thoughts on that?

Aubrey : (18:37)
Yeah, I’ve got many. I should have mentioned part of the stimulus package was for housing and in that regard. Of course in the last year as the governor’s budget, there was additional monies set aside for helping with attorneys and evictions, but I don’t think any action has been taken or the governor has the authority, I don’t believe, to basically stave off a private action in that, but of course been encouraging all the localities and working with the housing authorities and the local governments with the private sector, much like we do in other areas, to be cognizant of what’s going on here in the Commonwealth with the virus.

Speaker 4: (19:17)
I’m sorry, so the administration does not have the authority to mandate rent and [inaudible 00:19:22] freezes?

Aubrey : (19:23)
I do not believe that he has the authority. I’m happy to check on that, but I don’t believe he has that authority.

Speaker 4: (19:28)
I can think of one more thing. Do you have the authority to actually force the Liberty to close?

Ralph Northam: (19:35)
I’m sorry, your question?

Speaker 4: (19:36)
Liberty to close.

Ralph Northam: (19:38)
No I don’t. We just are asking them to follow the guidelines that other colleges and universities are following. I appreciate you all being here today. I encourage all Virginians to continue to take this seriously, as we have said each day, to prevent the spread of this, to protect our capacity in our healthcare facilities, to protect our healthcare providers, our first responders, our law enforcement, etc. Please continue to follow the social distancing. Try to keep your space to six feet and frequent hand washing and try to keep your hands away from your face. And again, if at all possible, stay home, especially if you aren’t feeling well. So thank you all again for listening, for being part of the solution. We are available around the clock, unless something changes, between now and Friday. We will be back with you on Friday at 2:00 PM so thank you all so much.

Aubrey : (20:41)
Thank you.

Speaker 9: (21:02)
So the income eligible Ohioans have access to that funding to provide them energy, heating, and heating assistance. That’s also available for further information at coronavirus.ohio.gov/businesshelp. Oh, also worth mentioning, I know a couple of days ago we had trouble with the unemployment website. The team worked diligently to get that fixed. It was up and running all day yesterday. It’s been running so far today without any problems. That unemployment site, unemployment.ohio.gov is available for you to use. Now, something that I know that the governor and I and Dr. [Acton 00:21:51], we get a lot of questions on as it relates to the stay at home order, and in particular the essential business…