Testing for health care providers, nursing homes, prioritized

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The sign at the Roseland Theatre in Onancock displays a message of encouragement on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

— By Carol Vaughn

Virginia has 152 confirmed cases of COVID-19, officials announced during Gov. Ralph Northam’s daily briefing Saturday.

A second confirmed case of COVID-19 on the Eastern Shore of Virginia was announced Saturday.

Northam thanked Virginia health care workers for their efforts during the crisis.

“As a doctor, I know what it’s like to be on the front lines in a hospital….It’s up to all of us to keep them healthy,” he said.

Northam announced priority for testing will be given to medical professionals with symptoms who have had contact with or cared for someone with COVID-19.

Additionally, criteria are being eased for people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to get tested.

“We also are working to get more of the supplies — the masks and gowns — that our front-line health care providers need,” Northam said, noting a shipment of personal protective equipment was distributed to providers Friday.

Northam also signed an executive order Friday to give hospitals and nursing homes more flexibility to add beds during the pandemic. The order lifts certificate of public need restrictions.

In the area of public education, the U. S. Department of Education announced Friday will accept waivers from states for federal standardized testing requirements.

The Virginia Department of Education is preparing the state’s waiver, Northam said, adding his administration also is considering providing relief to students from state standards of learning tests, “which go beyond those mandated by the federal government.”

Northam thanked Virginians who are taking social distancing seriously, and said, “I want you to continue to take basic precautions.”

The Attorney General Mark Herring Friday issued an opinion saying public bodies may conduct business electronically if the purpose of the meeting is to address the emergency, but the opinion also outlined limitations, saying “the General Assembly did not intend to permit public bodies to handle all business through electronic communication means, even during a declared emergency,” and that “public bodies should carefully consider whether taking a given action during a meeting held by electronic communication means is truly essential and should defer any and all decisions that can be deferred until it is once again possible to meet in person.”

The opinion says measures for transparency and public accountability must be followed, even during electronically held meetings — including public access, proper public notice, agendas made available to the public, roll-call votes, and recorded minutes, according to a press release.