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COVID-19 Precautions Protect Healthcare Workers, Northam Says

Man at podium next to ASL interpreter
Gov. Ralph Northam gave a briefing on COVID-19 today. (Screenshot: VPM News)

At his Friday briefing, Gov. Ralph Northam had strong words for protesters who defied social distancing, and thanked Virginians who are continuing to follow his executive order.

Although new cases continue to appear, Northam said, "The purpose is to slow the spread. Our actions are keeping those cases at a level that our hospitals can manage.”

He also thanked the federal government for $1.6 billion in stimulus funds. “We’ll use that for the COVID-19 response and to aid our local governments,” Northam said.

Despite the aid, the state still lacks testing and medical equipment, Northam said, which limits his ability to reopen Virginia under Centers for Disease Control guidelines. 

“The first phase of those guidelines requires positive tests to be on a downward trend for 14 days,” Northam said. “We have not met that criteria.” Even after meeting that criteria, he said, “We need resources for testing supplies, for the workforce to do the tracking, apps to help with this work, and more.”

Today, confirmed cases rose by about 600, roughly eight percent. Dr. Norman Oliver of the Virginia Department of Health later explained part of the steep rise in cases today could be traced to a nursing home outbreak in the Shenandoah Valley.

To assist long-term care facilities struggling with outbreaks, Northam announced Executive Order 57, which eases restrictions on employment to let facilities increase their staffing. He’s also deploying the National Guard in a training role, training staff in proper use of protective medical gear.

Northam said they were also continuing to work on protecting incarcerated people, another vulnerable population. “Since early March, our local jail population has been reduced 17 percent,” the governor said, thanking local authorities for using electronic monitoring and summons instead of jail for non-violent offenders.

On the economy, Northam said unemployment filings are down, but that current numbers don’t reflect the many people who are about to be eligible - including gig economy workers and others who previously didn’t qualify. He announced several steps to increase access to unemployment, with staff expansions and a new call center projected to open next week.

After Northam’s remarks, Oliver announced an increase in data collection on race and ethnicity. He released new figures that continue to show racial disparities in COVID-19. Out of 7,491 confirmed infections for which the state has racial data, 30 percent or 1,401 have affected African Americans, who constitute 34 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. According to the Census Bureau, African Americans account for less than 20 percent of the state’s population.

During questions, Northam fielded several questions about opposition to coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, commerce, and work, including a protest that took place at the Capital yesterday. He had a statement for the protesters.

“They can't get into the hospitals, but turn the TV on and look at our heroes, at the men and women fighting this biological war every day,” Northam said. He asked that Virginians think about the sacrifices healthcare workers are making, and the risks they’re taking, before they defy social distancing orders.

In a response to a question about Pres. Donald Trump’s recent tweet calling on people to “liberate Virginia,” Northam said he had no response.

"I am fighting a biological war. I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars,” he said. “I will continue to do everything I can to protect Virginians and save lives."