By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam turned his attention to the economic impact of COVID-19 while speaking during a press conference today, as Forward Virginia Phase One took effect in most of the state, allowing some businesses to re-open following a 14-day slowing of the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our primary concern throughout this situation has been public health. We also recognize that has major implications on everyone who is not working, and for our state budget,” Northam said.
Virginia tax revenue was down about $700 million in April, a decrease of 26%, and that loss is expected to reach $1 billion by the end of June, he said.
Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said “economic activity held up well” in April despite the $700 million revenue loss.
About 80% of Virginia’s tax revenues come from payroll withholding, which was up 4% in April, “meaning that we had quite a few businesses still operating and paying their employees,” he continued.
Layne attributed the gain to an economy that was strong before the pandemic, as well as shipyards that have remained open.
About 20% of Virginia tax revenues are from sales taxes, which held steady in April as spending decreased in stores and restaurants but increased for online shopping, grocery stores, and Virginia ABC stores.
Most of the April tax revenue drops were due to extending the state tax payment deadline from May 1 to June 1, Layne said.
Virginia received tax payments from about 260,000 individuals and companies this April, compared to 540,000 payments received last April.
Layne also provided an update on approximately $6 billion in COVID-19-related stimulus funds Virginia has received, including $3.1 billion from the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).
About $650 million of the stimulus funds will be distributed by June 1 to localities for costs directly related to COVID-19, Layne said.
The state has also designated around $121 million for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management for PPE (personal protective equipment) and $42.3 million for COVID-19 testing.
Northam clarified that about 15,000 of the 184,000 coronavirus tests given in Virginia since February were antibody tests, accounting for roughly 9% of all COVID-19-related testing in the state.
Virginia has a 15% positivity rate for nasal-swab COVID-19 tests, which test for the active virus. There is a 13.4% positivity rate for nasal-swab tests and antibody tests combined.
The results of the two types of tests will be kept separate going forward, Northam said.
As of April 21, Virginia had 58 testing sites for COVID-19, but as of May 14, it has 215 testing sites, with 52 more to be added soon, he said.
Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver reported that COVID-19 contact tracing is “ramping up” and more than 4,000 individuals have applied for about 1,000 additional contact tracing positions that will be filled.
As of May 15, Virginia had 28,672 cases of coronavirus, including 859 new cases. There were 22 more coronavirus deaths, bringing the death toll to 977 in the state.
African Americans accounted for 4,586 or 23% of coronavirus cases and 207 or 24% of COVID-19 deaths in Virginia.
Latinx community members accounted for 8,466 or 44% of coronavirus cases and 76 or 10% of COVID-19 deaths in Virginia.
Northam commented on the Accomack County Board of Supervisors and the city of Richmond, Va., requesting to follow Northern Virginia in delaying Phase One of re-opening in their respective localities.
“They’re local leaders. They know that area better than certainly anybody else, and I granted their request.”
He did not favor granting such a request to one part of a county or an individual town. “It would just get totally out of hand,” Northam said.
“While I’m sure the decisions that I make are difficult for some individuals to understand, we have tried to be consistent, we’ve tried to be fair.”
“And most importantly, we’ve (concentrated) on public safety, and at the end of the day, we want Virginians to be safe as well as their families.”