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Governor is Postponing Elections Due to Coronavirus 

ASL interpreter next to man behind podium
Gov. Ralph Northam at the April 8 briefing. (Screenshot: VPM News video feed)

Gov. Ralph Northam has moved the June congressional primaries from June 9 to June 23 in an effort to best maintain social distancing during his stay at home order. He made the announcement during his regular Wednesday briefing along with other COVID-19 updates.

Northam says he has discussed the election date change with legislators and members of the congressional delegation. The governor says he has the authority to take this action on his own, but he is asking the General Assembly to approve pushing local and special elections set for May to November. 

“We are in the middle of a public health crisis. We have wrestled with our options and none of them are ideal or perfect. Elections are the foundation of democracy and voting is a fundamental right,” Northam said. “But no one should have to choose between protecting their health or casting a ballot.”

Northam also gave an update on medical supply distribution. “We continue to distribute PPE around the state. Everything from gloves and gowns to masks and face shields, to hand sanitizer and coveralls. We’ve distributed 1.5 million gloves and more than 435,000 N-95 masks.”

Although the state continues to buy more equipment, he said, “That market is chaotic and difficult, due to a lack of federal direction. We continue to compete with other states for the same supplies.”

Recent reports have found racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes in places like New York and New Orleans, with higher mortality rates for African Americans. Northam said the commonwealth is collecting racial data, one of fewer than 12 states doing so, in an effort to track and address inequality.

“We know that longstanding racial inequities in things like access to healthcare, education and economic opportunities lead to differences in underlying health conditions. The existence of such inequities is one reason why communities of color, including African American people are more likely to have some of the underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk with COVID 19,” he said.

About that effort, Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver Virginia said, “There are a number of challenges that we face. We do not have race and ethnicity data on 53 percent of the incident cases in the state,” because private clinicians and labs may not be collecting that data.

About half the COVID-19 deaths reported also have no racial data, Oliver said, but the state can backfill this information later. They have issued a letter to clinicians asking them to include racial and ethnic information going forward, so the state can have a clearer picture of racial inequalities.

Even as the state works to contain the coronavirus, though, Northam said regular business must continue. “The General Assembly passed 1,291 bills for me to consider. Some of our bills are one page, some are longer. Often they’re very complex,” he said, giving the 83-page transportation omnibus as an example.

“One of those bills is our state budget. We know the budget as passed just a few short weeks ago cannot move forward as written,” Northam said. “We are expecting a recession with a drastic reduction in our revenues paired with large increases in spending to fight this epidemic.” 

The governor said he’s acted on over 800 pieces of legislation, and has about 400 more to address before a midnight deadline this Saturday.

Northam also announced efforts to help restaurants. For restaurants that serve alcohol, Northam said he was deferring license renewals due in June. “This affects some 6,000 establishments with ABC licenses. If we didn’t do this, some businesses would be in the position of paying for a license they can’t use or losing their license,” he said.

He is also permitting takeout mixed drinks, something requested by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. This goes into effect at midnight Thursday.

With Passover beginning, the governor also made a request that religious observations follow social distancing guidelines. He said, “This is normally a time for people of the Jewish faith to come together. But please celebrate the Seder only with those who you live with or in a virtual Seder, not in a large group.”

Passover begins tonight and concludes next Thursday, while the Christian holiday of Holy Week continues until Saturday. Easter is this upcoming Sunday.

*David Streever and Craig Carper contributed to this report.