By Connie Morrison —
At 11 a.m. Sunday, a time, said Gov. Ralph Northam, “when many Virginians would ordinarily be sitting in a church pew,” the governor again briefed Virginia on the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Since yesterday, a third Virginian — a man in his 60s from Fairfax — has died from the virus and 67 more Virginians tested positive, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 219 cases. Most of the new cases were tested in private labs.
The Eastern Shore has two confirmed COVID-19 cases. The initial case is believed to be travel related, and the second person, a male in his 60s, was a travel companion of the first identified case.
The sharp increase in case numbers, Northam said, was due to the increased testing capacity, but also because, “This virus continues to spread. We talk about flattening the curve, but make no mistake: We are still in the early stages of that curve rising,” Northam said. “How high and how quickly those numbers rise is up to you, and me, and every single Virginian.”
Northam warned Virginians to prepare for the long haul. “COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time — months, and not weeks. We need to begin adjusting to that reality,” he said, acknowledging the uneasiness and uncertainty that go with that understanding.
Noting the state is at the end of the first week of its two-week school shutdown, Northam said there will be an announcement about schools at Monday’s (March 23) press conference (2 p.m.).
Personal Protection Supplies (PPE)
“A majority of people who contract COVID-19 will exhibit mild to moderate symptoms, so the priority must be to protect the state’s most vulnerable, including the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and health care workers,” Northam said.
The state is dedicating as much PPE as possible to health care workers who are focused on COVID-19. Yesterday, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management shipped a major supply of PPE to emergency medical services, health districts, and hospitals. The shipment included gloves, gowns, face masks, and respirators.
Hospitals have been asked to reschedule elective surgeries to free up health care workers, PPE, and blood supplies.
There is information on social media that COVID-19 has entered some of the prisoner populations.
According to a Department of Corrections spokesperson at the briefing who was not identified, there have been no reported cases in the state inmate population. When pressed, he said no inmates in state correctional facilities have been tested. “Some have been presented for testing” but have not met the criteria. He could not speak to possible cases in the state’s more than 60 jails.
To keep the virus from entering the prison system, the Department of Corrections has suspended visitation and eliminated transfers from local jails to prisons.
The department has asked the parole board to accelerate its “geriatric relief” program to identify and expedite cases of qualifying prisoners over age 60. The governor has also given guidance to jails and the criminal justice community on using electronic home monitoring as an alternative to incarceration for low-level offenders.
“This will have long-term implications; long-term impact on our economy,” said Northam. “We are taking that seriously.”
The governors have asked, collectively, for much of the federal relief package under negotiation in Congress be sent directly to states for them to use to help businesses with programs like SBA loans.
“This is a health crisis,” Northam said. “Our economy will be stronger the sooner we can get the health crisis under control.”
“Every one of us has a job to do to fight this virus,” Northam said.
Most Virginians are following the guidelines, but those who are not “are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk,” he said.
Northam again called on local governments to enforce the 10-patron rule “If a restaurant is violating 10-person — the 10 patron — rule, you need to shut them down,” he said.
“To our colleges and universities: No more fraternity parties. And for everyone: social distancing does not mean congregating on a crowded beach,” he added. “This is not a holiday, it is not a vacation.”
Beginning Monday, March 23, the governor’s daily press briefings will move from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.