Gov. Northam Reports COVID-19 Positivity Rates Declining

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Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a Sept. 15 press briefing.

By Stefanie Jackson – Virginia is identifying about 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, and the COVID-19 test positivity rate is 6.8%, which has been decreasing over the last 12 days, Gov. Ralph Northam reported during a press briefing Sept. 15.

“When we’ve had these outbreaks, local elected officials and the business community have really cooperated, and I can’t thank you all enough for that,” Northam said.

Amid concern over a recent increase of COVID-19 cases in Virginia’s Eastern region, additional restrictions were placed on Hampton Roads, but the plan worked “quite well” and the additional restrictions were lifted, Northam said.

The Eastern region’s positivity rate for COVID-19 is now 6.2%; it has been in decline for 17 days, he noted.

Northam’s attention is now on Southwest Virginia, which is identifying about 229 new cases of COVID-19 per day – more than any other single region, including Northern Virginia, “which is home to a lot more people living closer together,” Northam said.

Southwest Virginia has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 8.1%, but it has been decreasing.

Northam encouraged Virginians to continue being “part of the solution” by avoiding large gatherings, practicing social distancing, and wearing face masks.

He also recommended all Virginians – especially those on college campuses – download the Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDWISE app.

The app uses Bluetooth technology to alert the user of possible exposure to COVID-19 without tracking the user’s location or personal data.

More than half a million people – or about 12% of Virginians ages 18 to 65 – have downloaded COVIDWISE to date, Northam said.

Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said researchers at the University of Washington, in Seattle, Wash., have studied local use of COVID-19 exposure notification apps. The researchers found that when 15% of people use such an app, COVID-19 cases drop 15%, and deaths from COVID-19 drop 11%.

As of Sept. 15, Virginia had detected 135,514 cases of COVID-19, with 943 cases reported within the previous 24 hours.

Total COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia were 2,839, with 96 new deaths reported within the previous 24 hours.

Total COVID-19 tests conducted were 1,922,966.

Earlier this summer, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) banned the disconnection of utilities including electricity, natural gas, water, or sewer service of customers who failed to pay their utility bills due to COVID-19. The governor has asked the SCC to extend the ban through Oct. 5.

The Virginia National Guard collected almost 106,000 COVID-19 testing samples and helped distribute nearly 1.3 million pounds of food from April through July, Northam reported.

Virginia has designated $42 million in funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act for distribution of PPE (personal protective equipment) to federally funded health facilities, he said.

Virginia also has designated more than $70 million in grant funds for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. More details will be provided next week on how to qualify for funding, Northam said.

The governor reminded everyone to get a flu shot this fall. “Flu season is coming on top of the pandemic, and a flu shot can help reduce the pressure on our hospitals and keep people healthier.”

September is Suicide Awareness Month. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 17 U.S. veterans die by suicide every day.

Virginia has more than 725,000 veterans, and 231 of them died by suicide in 2017 – 21% of all veteran suicides that year.

“One suicide … is one too many,” Northam said.

As a former Army doctor and a veteran, he knows how soldiers have suffered, and he reminded them that “it’s not weakness to ask for help.”

Northam said active military service members and veterans in crisis should call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.