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Wear Face Masks, Stay at Home, Says Northam

Man standing at a podium with woman next to him interpreting
Governor Northam is now recommending all Virginians wear facemasks when they're in public.

*This article has been updated with additional information on COVID-19 in correctional facilities.

In his briefing today, Gov. Ralph Northam pushed back against new projections that show an earlier April 20 peak for coronavirus cases, and recommended everyone wear face masks.

Northam opened his briefing describing  Virginia is a leader in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor said he was thankful that Virginians are taking orders to stay at home more seriously. Northam said there were fewer crowds on the beaches and at state parks this weekend than last. 

“Science tells us that social distancing is the best way to fight COVID-19. That’s why it is important to stay home.”

Northam stated that no one is immune, citing statistics that nearly half of all cases are among people under the age of 50.

He also reiterated CDC guidelines recommend people wear cloth face coverings when they go out for essential trips to the grocery store and elsewhere. 

“If a person is wearing a face covering it is less likely that droplets from a sneeze or from talking will spread out into the air. If you’re wearing a face covering it can offer you some level of protection against those droplets. It also makes you more aware of accidentally touching your face. You don’t need a medical grade mask to do this. In fact you can make your own. 

“I would advise everyone to wear a face covering when you’re out,” Northam said. Though he continued, “No one should assume that if you’re wearing a face covering that you’re safe and you can go about your business as normal.” That’s why social distancing continues to be so important. 

Northam modeled a face mask that had been made by the state department of corrections. He reminded Virginians to wash their face mask once a day at least with soap and water or put it in the washing machine. 

Though it’s technically illegal to wear face coverings in Virginia, the governor assured everyone that no citations will be written for wearing protective masks. 

State Lab Update

Virginia’s division of consolidated laboratory services is starting to use genetic technology to better help public health officials understand COVID-19. DCLS is tracking this work alongside the CDC with local and international partners. They are building a library of genetic information from the positive tests DCLS gets as well as those from private labs, health systems and university systems in Virginia. One insight they have already learned: It appears that the virus was introduced to Virginia in multiple communities rather than spreading from one single source. 

“I’m proud that DCLS is one of the first public health labs in the nation to do this very sophisticated work. This will help our public health officials understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change and that will give us more tools to fight it,” Northam said.

Northam says the state is finalizing contracts with the three sites for alternative medical care facilities and the build out will begin later this week. Those sites are the Richmond Convention Center, the Dulles Expo Center and the Hampton Roads Convention Center.

Shortage of Personal Protective Equipment for frontline medical professionals

The state has signed a contract with Estes Trucking to handle logistics and distribution for MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). Thus far they have shipped 56,000 of these MRE’s to foodbanks which Northam says is enough to keep them stocked for the next 6 weeks. The state has also received and shipped out hand sanitizer. 

Virginia has shipped out 1 million old H1N1 masks and supplies to be reconditioned and distributed by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. VDH has also shipped the third round of supplies to hospitals from the strategic national stockpile.

Testing
The governor says Virginia has not been able to secure the supplies needed to perform widespread tests. Sentara Healthcare has announced that they are starting to do in house testing which Northam said should allow for faster processing times within the Sentara network. 

“We continue to work as fast as we can on testing that will have a 15-30 minute turnaround.” 

Virginia’s total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus is now 2,878, 241 of which were reported in the past 24 hours. Three deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 54.

During the question and answer portion of the briefing, several reporters asked the governor about modeling - specifically a new projection of April 20 for peak resource use. Northam and officials said they were working as quickly as possible, but would not be ramping up to meet that earlier peak date.

They said they remain on a slower timetable, and referenced a model they continue to work with the University of Virginia on, which is expected to be released to the public soon.

Northam said social distancing was working, and expressed faith in those slower timetables: “We cannot relax our vigilance against this virus. The more everyone stays home, the safer we all will be.”

Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran says a reliable supply chain has been identified for personal protective equipment and Virginia has made a “substantial purchase” of N-95 masks, gloves and gowns for the state’s medical professionals. 

 

When asked, Northam said he does not intend to issue an executive order to pardon additional prison inmates who may be close to release. 

Secretary Moran said 2,351 individuals are eligible for parole statewide and 95 percent of those are incarcerated for violent offenses. Ninety-five inmates were released in the month of March. Moran says that was a 153 percent increase from February. 

Moran cited the Howell v. McAulliffe Virginia Supreme Court Case, which ultimately found the Governor could not issue a blanket restoration of rights to ex-felons. Moran said the same logic applies to blanket pardons. 

“You can only apply the clemency powers on an individualized basis.” 

Moran said the state intends to review more parole cases but called it a “cumbersome, lengthy process.”

Nineteen prison inmates and nine staff have confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide.