RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments Dr. Danny Avula have confirmed four cases of COVID-19 among Richmond residents. Below is a slightly edited transcript of a Wednesday morning press conference the city leaders held to address Richmond's COVID-19 response.
Mayor Levar Stoney
Residents of all ages have stayed home, prioritizing the health and safety of the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Local businesses have selflessly, selflessly abided by state and local recommendations for reduced capacity.
And I went in today knowing that our community was and still is united in the effort to flatten this curve, the flatten the curve of infections.
I want to begin by saying I'm very very proud of the city. We still have a long ways to go. This is just the beginning. And unfortunately, this is a new normal for us. We are in uncharted territory.
And to shorten the time in which we have to experience this moment, it takes each and everyone, no matter what age, gender, what race, to combat this virus. We all have a role to play. Every generation has a role to play.
So if you can be just as selfless as the small business owners who have closed their doors, who suspended their livelihood, if they can do that, and each and every one of us who live in this city can play our role as well.
As of today, four individuals who reside in the city of Richmond, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Two are men in their 20s, and two are men in their 30s.
All four are at home in self isolation, and none of them have been hospitalized.
All four of them have recently traveled outside of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Three of them were in a group.
Epidemiological research is ongoing, so there'll be further information provided by the health department moving forward.
With the knowledge of these cases within the city limits, now is the time to increase our diligence to keep each other accountable.
We have to be vigilant, personally vigilant in this combat versus COVID-19.
So I will continue to urge each and every person to stay home if you can.
My team is working on the best way to support those who can't stay home.
Right now the city of Richmond is closed to the remainder of the week, and likely will be closed for the remainder of the month.
We also are exploring best practices to serve the elderly, loan programs for small businesses who are currently closed their doors. And obviously we're exploring childcare options for those who have to go to work who are essential for the operation of our our community.
Also, I want to take a moment to tell the public as well that we will enforce the order provided by Governor Northam yesterday evening.
It says that no longer that we can be in rooms, facilities more than 10 people at a time, small businesses, restaurants you name it.
We will join the health department and enforce that order.
We are obviously working nonstop around the clock although our doors are closed. Right now as a city, we are working diligently to ensure that we keep each and every resident in the city safe. And we ask that our families out there, that they stay safe as well. safe and healthy.
With that, I'd like to invite Dr. Danny Avula, Director of Richmond City's Health District, Richmond and Henrico, to provide a briefing on the current situation.
Dr. Danny Avula
We have our first cases in the city of Richmond.
Four cases, three of whom were a part of a group trip and were actually part of a contact investigation.
So a few days ago, we announced a positive case for a Henrico County resident who had traveled as part of a group down to North Carolina. These three other members were part of our contact investigation. So to some degree, this is what we expected the work of the health department to yield. When we identify a case and we go and we interview potential contacts and test anybody who's symptomatic, we expect to find spread to other people.
So in some ways, this is this is what the point of contact investigations is to identify those other cases.
Thankfully, because they were associated with that first case that was diagnosed a little bit earlier, they were instructed to self isolate and epidemiologic investigation is ongoing.
We just confirmed these cases just a few hours ago and so our epidemiologists and research team are are making contact or are interviewing are determining what other potential contacts that they've had and I expect that that will yield other people that need to be quarantined and potentially tested if they develop symptoms.
It is just a reminder, you know, we've been talking about the inevitability of this for several days and weeks now, that each case that we confirm, I hope is a reminder to our general public about the seriousness of this, and just how widespread this is in our community.
And so anybody who's on the fence about should I go out or should I go to work, I know that this is causing a lot of economic challenge for so many of our residents who need to show up to work.
But as the mayor said, these are unprecedented times, right?
And we all have to make decisions, not just for our own welfare, but for that of all of our entire community.
So I really would ask that people abide by the advisories to stay home to shelter in place to work remotely, if you're able to avoid crowds and gatherings of more than 10 and to do everything you can to limit the spread of this disease.
Who enforces the order to limit people in a building?
Dr. Danny Avula:
So yesterday evening, the governor and the State Health Commissioner released public health emergency orders.
So public health department staff, our food inspectors who are typically permitting restaurants have been instructed to visit to do surveillance in the community.
And if there are restaurants that are convening more than 10 people at a time, they will be instructed to stop and with the potential consequences of having their permit pulled and law enforcement may be brought in to support that emergency order.
What's your message to restaurant owners?
Mayor Levar Stoney
First, I want to say thank you to the restaurant owners and small business owners in the city, because we never got to the to the level where we had the mandate closure of any restaurant.
Many of these restaurants voluntarily closed, not only just to protect their employees and their staff, but also protect the community as well. So my first is thank you.
As stated last week, we are going to provide a tax amnesty to those owners and also no fees and fines on any tardy taxes.
What we are working with now is how we go about creating a micro loan program for those small businesses as well. So they could have some relief during the recovery.
For our workers, who have worked in the restaurant industry, who have been the backbone of this economy. I would say that, you know, I've had conversations with Senator Warner at the federal level because not only do we need emergency unemployment for some of these workers, as I think people don't understand it, 27% of workers in the United States of America actually show up on a payroll.
And so there's universally we need emergency unemployment benefits, but also beyond that the ability for those businesses to met their mortgages or be able to pay the rent. So we need to relax some of the current restrictions that banks provide on something like this and the forbearance for those business owners as well.
I'm hearing what a trillion dollar package coming out of the federal government.
We need something today.
We need something today.
And we all got to play our part local government, state government and the federal government.
But I tell you this, if the federal government, Congress and the President can get together and come up with a trillion dollar package, it would, it's gonna save a lot of communities like Richmond as we think about the recovery.
What about Richmond daycares?
Mayor Levar Stoney
Yeah, we are working on all plans on daycare as well, particularly for those employees who may have to go and stock the grocery stores or their healthcare providers as well or even those who are a part of our first responder team too, so we're exploring our options.
There's nothing concrete to announce yet.
But obviously, childcare is very, very important this time or the continuity of government, the continuity of our society must continue.
What about the people who brought COVID-19 back from North Carolina?
Dr. Danny Avula:
These individuals went on a group trip together, down to North Carolina.
I don't have details about what they were traveling for, but they went together, they came back together on March 9.
Couple days after that, the first case developed symptoms, was tested, came back with a positive diagnosis diagnosis about three days ago.
And then that initiated the contact investigation that led to these three other cases.
We're not currently shutting down hotels at all.
I know that hotel owners have taken a lot of their own precautions to ramp up environmental cleaning, but I don't have a great answer about if they're taking any other interventions in place right now.
About the Richmond COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Danny Avula:
Three cases that were associated with that group trip.
The fourth cases a man in his 30s, who traveled up to New York and had a known contact with a positive case up in New York, came back. Because he was notified fairly quickly after the New York case, he had self isolated and so I think we're in pretty good shape on that investigation. But our epidemiologists are continuing to work on that.
What about COVID-19 testing?
Dr. Danny Avula:
Yesterday, Bon Secour announced that it is going to start to move to four or five regional sites where they will do COVID-19 only testing.
I don't know a date for when they will stand that up.
But hopefully in the next few days, that will create a lot of opportunities for COVID-19 testing.
I've been in contact with a number of clinicians who have started doing their own testing, they're large primary care practices, some, you know, smaller offices that are starting to do it.
As test kits become more available, we're seeing more and more testing.
Two of the most recent cases were done through LabCore testing.
So the fact that they have come through non-state lab is evidence to me that there's actually more testing happening out in the community.
Today, the health department will actually be launching its first pop-up testing site. We're doing that currently right now. We're registering patients who are calling 205- 3501, which is the regional call center for COVID-19 questions.
There's a screening protocol in place so that patients who may have had a contact or may have symptoms are are being registered for an appointment, and then we'll do an appointment-only testing site this afternoon.
It's the first time that we're doing something like this, our hope is that we can work out the kinks and then start to replicate this around the region, because there clearly is a need for more and more testing at the community level.