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Model Shows Social Distancing Working, Must Continue

Man at podium next to ASL interpreter
Gov. Ralph Northam announced 144 budget amendments, increases in nursing home funding, and a new Virginia-specific model for the coronavirus outbreak. (Screenshot VPM livestream)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the release of a Virginia-specific coronavirus model today, which he said showed social distancing was working to slow the pace of COVID-19 infections.

“We are slowing the spread of this virus. It also shows that right now Virginia’s hospitals have sufficient capacity to handle the surge in patients that we expect,” Northam said. “But this model also demonstrates that if we lift the stay at home order or social distancing too soon, if we try to get our lives back to normal, the number of cases will spike higher and earlier.” 

The model shows a peak in illnesses and mortality if his executive order closing non-essential businesses does not continue past its initial date, but the governor didn’t have a specific answer on when life could return to normal.

“These are models and they’re as good as the data that we put into those models,” he said “The data changes every day….There are no known answers as of today.”

Non-essential businesses that provide personal services, like hairdressers and barbers, will receive further guidance at his Wednesday briefing.

The model, which was developed with the University of Virginia, also shows a need for students to continue learning at home, Northam said. He announced an expansion to Virtual Virginia, a state-wide educational platform which works offline as well, and educational programming on four PBS television stations for households without computers.

“Virginia Public media stations have launched VA TV Classroom. This will broadcast teacher led classroom instruction, aligned with the commonwealth’s academic standards, into homes across our state,” Northam said.

For nursing homes, staffing remains an issue, but Northam announced an increase in funding of $20 per Medicare recipient per day. He said, “This boost in funding will allow these facilities to address staffing issues during this epidemic. We’re also looking at how our medical reserve corps can potentially help with staffing at our long term care medical facilities.”

That funding comes from a budget amendment Northam made Saturday. “We dealt with 1,291 bills, more than any other year in my memory, and we met that deadline Saturday night,” he said.

One of those bills was the state budget, which received 144 amendments. “Eighty-three of them un-allot, or freeze, new discretionary spending of 874.6 million dollars in fiscal year 2021 and 1.4 billion dollars in fiscal year 2022,” Northam said. Another 49 amendments increase spending flexibility “for agencies and institutions of higher education as they conduct business during COVID-19.”

The General Assembly reconvenes on April 22 to take up Northam's legislative amendments.

New data released Monday shows that more than half of Virginia’s COVID-19 outbreaks are in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But, the state is not releasing the names of the facilities.  

“At least 554 cases are in long-term care facility residents or staff, and 34 deaths,” Dr. Laurie Forlano with the Virginia Department of Health said while announcing a new data breakdown of COVID-19 outbreaks by facility type Monday. 

But, Forlano was careful not to actually name the specific sites. That’s because the state isn’t releasing these names unless the individual facilities themselves have given permission.

A spokesperson for VDH’s public records office cited a section of Virginia code barring the state health Commissioner or local health districts from releasing the information to the public. 

Meanwhile, a number of other states like Minnesota and Oklahoma are releasing the names of long-term care facilities with confirmed cases.