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Northam Addresses COVID-19 Uptick in Press Conference

Slide of coronavirus cases
Virginia has seen a surge in cases over the past two weeks. (VPM Screenshot of Video)

Gov. Ralph Northam gave a press conference today to acknowledge a resurgence in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks. “We’re seeing some troubling numbers,” he said. “And an increase in cases largely out of the Hampton Roads area.”

Although he said Virginia’s numbers overall remain good, the governor pointed to regional data, which appeared to show a spike in new cases in the Tidewater region and the Eastern Shore. Northam emphasized that the Tidewater region’s role as a tourism and transportation hub means the increase in cases has statewide implications. “If we don’t take this seriously now, we could see bigger increases across our commonwealth,” he said.

Northam said new cases are driven by noncompliance with health guidelines, and the state health agency will be encouraging local agencies to increase enforcement. New measures will include unannounced inspections and the deployment of 100 health officials to bolster enforcement. “I want to make it clear that these enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules,” he said. “You are being selfish, and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing to help us all beat this virus.”

Noncompliance will result in business penalties Northam said, even going as far as license revocation.

Regarding the opening of schools in the fall, Northam indicated that plans would largely be developed on the local level, with guidance from state agencies. “One size does not fit all,” he said, endorsing a regional approach.

The Virginia Employment Commission has received over 900,000 unemployment claims since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Northam said, and increased staff over 500% to handle the surge. Accepted claims are paid within 14 days, but rejected claims must enter an appeals process. Meghan Healy, the governor’s chief workforce advisor, said the wait time for those appeals is currently 6-8 weeks thanks to staffing increases and additional call centers.

More information will be forthcoming on a planned virtual hiring event the commission will hold later this month, on July 28. VPM will update the coronavirus blog when we know more about this event.

Northam closed his planned remarks by reiterating the continuing need to abide by social distancing and the mask mandate. “We have to remain vigilant, and continue doing the things we know work,” he said.