Northam 'comfortable' for phase one reopening to start Friday

'We cannot act as if things are back to normal, because they are clearly not.'
Posted at 12:59 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 18:26:12-04

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam said he feels comfortable with the first phase of reopening much of Virginia beginning Friday.

Northam said health metrics are trending in the right direction and that more Virginians are being tested for COVID-19.

"As we continue to ramp up testing, we did 8,845 tests yesterday, which is closer to our goal," Northam said.

For testing, officials have said they want to conduct 10,000 tests per day. While the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported those 8,845 tests from the previous day, that number was only 3,481 on Tuesday morning.

"We're doing more testing at long-term care facilities and around the state," Northam said. "Pharmacies and drugstores are stepping up to help with testing. Rite Aid has been doing testing in two sites, performing more than 12,00 swab PCR tests through this past Monday."

Additionally, the governor said hopes to share "exciting news about Walmart and their testing efforts" in the coming days.

The one exception to that start is Northern Virginia, as Northam approved that region’s request to delay implementation of phase one until May 29.

"Our health metrics show that the majority of Virginia's positive cases are in the Northern Virginia region," Northam said. "And while that region's percentage of positive test is trending downward, it still has a higher percent of positive cases and people hospitalized with a positive or pending test. So I have delayed the implementation of Phase One in Northern Virginia for an additional two weeks. I thank the officials in those localities for their cooperation in working with us on this."

Northam said that as of Wednesday no other localities had asked his administration to delay the first phase of reopening.

However, the governor warned Virginians that while part of the state will begin reopening, Phase One is not like "turning on a light switch."

"Phase one represents a small step forward, but we will remain vigilant. We will continue to monitor health data closely," Northam said. "I again want to remind all Virginians, this virus has not gone away and everyone needs to act accordingly. Continue to stay six feet from others, wear face coverings, not just to protect yourself, but to protect other people. You will be safer at home unless you need to go out. Moving forward requires us all to act responsibly. We cannot act as if things are back to normal, because they are clearly not."

For the rest of the Commonwealth, Northam has said at the last several news conferences that the COVID-19 health metrics that Virginia needs to hit to begin phase one has been trending in the right direction.

The metrics are recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that he laid in his “Forward Virginia” blueprint, including an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity, and a downward trend in the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations over 14 days.

Officials also continue to beef up the number of contact tracers in the state, people who will track down and isolate new cases of COVID-19 and the people they’ve had contact with.

On Monday, Health Secretary Dr. Dan Carey said VDH has over 600 tracers so far. On VDH’s website, there are job postings for an additional 1,300 positions.

Officials said Wednesday they had received more than 3,000 resumes for the positions.

“We want to get to that additional 1,000 in terms of tracers and 200 in terms of the supervisory folks with public health. So, we're well on our way and we will aggressively ramp up over the next several weeks in order to meet those goals,” Carey said on Monday. “The hiring experience will be over the next two-to-four weeks to get an additional 500 and then in June an additional 300 to get to 800…to get us to where we need to be in that...somewhat more than 15-per-100,000. So, we do have increased capacity, but we also need to increase it further.”

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COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.