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Virginia Healthcare Workers Call for National Leadership in COVID-19 Fight

Woman wearing medical clothing in a laboratory
Lab workers testing samples at the state lab. (File Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*VPM intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza reported this story.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Wendy Klein's name. It has been corrected.

Virginia healthcare workers are expressing frustration with the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Medical professionals have been raising concerns about access to personal protection equipment, also called PPE., as well as tests. Wendy Klein, medical director of Health Brigade in Richmond, says mixed messages from the Trump administration have undermined the work of the Virginia Department of Health. 

“They are hamstrung by the lack of federal guidance and funding they need in order to bolster their efforts,” Klein told reporters during a conference call on Tuesday, organized by the Democratic Party of Virginia.

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 43,000 Virginians have been tested for COVID-19. About a thousand have been hospitalized, and 154 have died. 

In order to break the cycle of transmission, Klein says hospitals need more COVID-19 tests and additional resources to track how people catch the virus.

“That requires a labor intensive, well funded, concerted effort, and that can only come if there is national unity,” she said.

Kellen Squire, an ER nurse in Charlottesville, expressed similar discontent with the lack of support for coronavirus testing on the national level. 

“I should be able to do a test for COVID-19 anytime that anybody walks through with even transient symptoms,” Squire said. “That’s how we get ahead of the curve. Instead of being reactive, we need to be proactive.”

While disappointed with the national response, the healthcare workers praised how the state is handling the pandemic. 

Gov. Ralph Northam told reporters Monday that Virginia hospitals are currently operating under capacity, and that new modeling data shows social distancing is reducing projected infection rates. According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, only 25% of ventilators in Virginia are being used, and almost 6,000 beds are available.

Healthcare professionals and government officials stress that the positive outlook is due to social distancing, and say it must continue to reduce COVID-19 deaths and infections.