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Help for Meatpackers, Covid-19 Testing on Track

Man at podium next to ASL interpreter
Dr. Norm Oliver gave updates on COVID-19 cases. (Screenshot: VPM News)

Across the nation, outbreaks of the new coronavirus have swept through meatpacking plants.

Meatpacking is a big business in Virginia, which has over 120 processing plants. Last week, these locations saw a rising number of COVID-19 cases, particularly on the Eastern Shore. Gov. Ralph Northam announced additional support to mitigate outbreaks in his Monday afternoon briefing, including the fulfillment of a joint federal request for aid he made with the governors of Maryland and Delaware.

The federal government is sending teams from the Centers for Disease Control to evaluate health and safety at various facilities, Northam said, and “that will allow us to take the proper mitigation steps to contain the outbreak on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.” New guidelines for meat processing facilities and protective equipment are being issued, and authorities will begin contact tracing to determine who has been exposed to the illness.

Northam said the CDC support for existing Virginia Department of Health efforts would protect more people. “We are making sure that workers are screened, provided care if they are sick, and measures are taken to protect other workers not showing symptoms,” he said.

The governor also gave updates on personal protective equipment: Some 800,000 gloves, 300,000 masks, and 10,000 tests have been delivered to the state. While it’s still not enough to support the 10,000 test per week goal he’s established as part of a phase one of reopening, Northam said we’d increased our testing by 41% since last week. “Last week we were at around 2,000 and this week we’re at around 4,000 tests per day,” he said. And by summer, “I’m confident our testing will be where it needs to be.”

Northam also encouraged Virginia residents to seek normal medical care, like vaccinations for children and elective surgeries. “It’s essential to vaccinate young children on time to provide immunity before children may be exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases,” he said, noting that an uptick in serious preventable illness would be especially challenging during the coronavirus outbreak. 

This Friday, the governor’s order banning elective surgeries ends, and it seems likely he won’t renew it. He said hospital capacity was good, and encouraged people to call their doctors and schedule appointments for hip replacements or other procedures which were postponed due to his earlier executive order.

Major grants were announced today in healthcare and for the general economy. Behavioral healthcare efforts will be supported with $2 million to address problems stemming from isolation and substance dependencies. “We expect the demand for behavioral health services to increase and so we need to be able to provide treatments,” Northam said, noting that the money would be used for healthcare workers and medicine.

On the economic front, $14.6 million is being used for an economic resiliency program through “Go Virginia,” and the Commonwealth Transportation Board has nearly $100 million in federal public transportation money to help local transit companies. Northam said, “These emergency relief funds will go to help offset the revenue losses that local gov’ts and and transit agencies are seeing.”

Northam was also asked about an indoor firing range in Lynchburg that sued the state, claiming his executive order closing non-essential businesses infringed on the Second Amendment. A judge sided with the plaintiff earlier today. “The point I would like to make clear to all Virginians is that the decisions we’re making are for the health and safety of all Virginians,” he said. “No particular business has been singled out, but businesses where patrons would be confined, where there would be more than 10 people, we made the decision to close them.”