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New COVID-19 Testing Task Force Announced

Northam standing at podium

Before Virginia can ease restrictions on businesses and individuals, Gov. Ralph Northam said testing needed to improve. Then, “We need to see fourteen days of decreasing cases before we can ease restrictions.”

The timeline was established by Pres. Donald Trump and the White House, as part of a plan to reopen America. To coordinate this effort, Northam announced a new testing task force under the direction of former Virginia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley and the state epidemiologist, Dr. Lillian Peake.

The task force, made up of representatives of hospitals, long-term care facilities, physicians, and other medical professionals, will be charged with expanding testing sites and criteria, increasing testing volume and turnaround, and obtaining testing supplies.

“These are all critical components because testing isn’t just about the test itself,” Northam said. “Labs might be able to run tests but until doctors have enough swabs to do the tests and we have enough supplies to safely transport the tests, we cannot meet the need for testing.”

Remley said the task force will also coordinate new federal support: “We will work with the CDC, which is promising additional staffing as well as additional flexibility with supplies and tests.”

As part of the testing expansion, Northam has also issued new guidance to doctors: Instead of only testing for COVID-19 when it would change the course of medical treatment, they’ll be encouraging doctors to test anyone with symptoms so long as tests are available. Testing isn’t still widely available, but the state lab is set to more than double its capacity next week from 300 to 700 daily tests.

In addition, Northam said they’ll be increasing the amount of data they share with the public. “On a daily basis, the Virginia department of health will share the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and fatalities by locality,” he said. “It will also share the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and fatalities at the health district level with demographic information such as age and or race.”

That data is now available at the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 page.

During the question period, one reporter asked Northam if the slight decrease in new cases “started the clock” on the 14-day period for declining cases. “Statistics can sometimes be confusing,” the governor said. “But we are following that curve...each day, we have more cases than we have had as the baseline. That curve is still going up."