Northam: COVID-19 crisis will be 'months, not weeks'

COVID-19 in Virginia: 3 dead; 32 hospitalized as of Sunday.
Posted at 1:38 PM, Mar 22, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the Commonwealth continues to see a sharp uptick in cases of COVID-19 because of increased testing capabilities.

"But we're also seeing it because this virus continues to spread," Northam said during a news conference Sunday. "We talked about flattening the curve, but make no mistake, we are still in the early stages of that curve rising. How high and how how quickly those numbers rise is up to you and me and every single Virginian."

Northam also said the COVID-19 outbreak will be "with us for a long time. "

"Months, not weeks," the governor said. "We need to begin adjusting to that reality."

COVID-19 in Virginia: 3 dead; 32 hospitalized

Virginia health officials said Sunday that 219 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 32 people remain hospitalized with the illness in the Commonwealth. Three people have died of COVID-19-linked illnesses in the state.

"We are reporting 67 new cases," Dr. Lilian Peake, a epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said. "That brings us to a total of 219 -- 95 in the Northern Region, 70 in the Eastern Region, 28 in the Central Region, 20 in the northwest and six in the southwest."

Officials said 3,337 people have been tested, which is an increase of 547 since Saturday's update.

"Most of the new cases were reported today from tests done at private labs," Peake said. "So it is heartening to see that we are having more increase in testing in the Commonwealth."

Officials said the state lab capacity continues to be at about 1,000 tests.

"And we're looking at how we can stretch that capacity and use those tests wisely until we have more available," Peake noted.

Virginia Department of Health Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said Saturday that Virginia has revised its COVID-19 testing requirements.

"We're prioritizing healthcare workers and those responders who have had contact or cared for COVID-19 patients," Forlano said. "We want to make sure that they are protected, so we can ensure the continuity of care."

There is also a "priority" for healthcare facility outbreaks, Forlano said.

"The testing criteria for hospitalized individuals with more severe illness remain largely the same," Forlano said. "And the testing criteria for persons who are residing in nursing homes have been slightly relaxed to remove one testing component that previously existed -- and we hope that will relieve a barrier for testing for those individuals."

Additionally, Forlano said the state is focused on testing "clusters of respiratory illness" where the flu has been ruled as a cause of sickness.

Officials are investigating "distinct clusters" where there is "local transmission" of the virus in Virginia.

Those clusters include 32 cases in James City County, 31 in Fairfax County, 26 in Arlington County, 18 in Prince William County, 17 in Virginia Beach and 15 in Loudon County.

"We do not have a medicine for COVID-19. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Friday "The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing., so we need to all do that."

Northam: 'We're in this for the long haul -- months'

Northam urged Virginians to do what they can to slow the spread of the virus.

"Every one of us has a job to do to fight this virus," Northam said. "That is why it is so critical that everyone stay home as much as possible. Do not go into crowds, cramped, do not have gatherings. I know that most Virginians are hearing this message and I thank you all for doing your part. But I also know that some people are not listening -- and I want you to know, you are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk." 

Northam said protecting the vulnerable is the responsibility of everyone.

"It is up to all of us to act responsibly and avoid crowds. We will win this fight together," Northam said. "We're in this for the long haul. Months. That's one thing to be clear of... We're all in this together and we're going to get through this, but it's gonna take some time."

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.