Northam: Testing capacity is key to reopening Virginia safely

Ralph Northam
Posted at 1:16 PM, Apr 20, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- The issue of increasing testing capacity was the main topic of Governor Ralph Northam’s news conference Monday as he said the ability to run a large number of tests is key to any plan to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Northam says the state lab has increased its testing capabilities and can now run more than 300 tests per day.

He says the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services has also just received equipment from Altria that will allow them to run more than 400 tests per day by next week.

The governor also announced Monday he’s created a new workgroup tasked with addressing a backlog of coronavirus tests. Along with helping to address the backlog of tests, Northam says they will work to increase the number of test sites and criteria needed to get a test.

It will also work to address the various equipment shortage related to conducting a test, whether its swabs to take the sample, containers to send samples to testing labs, or the reagents needed to conduct the test.

Northam says much like personal protective equipment, there has been a competition between states for testing equipment because of a lack of direction from the national level.

On the subject of expanding testing, Northam said they are sending a letter to clinicians asking them to start testing patients suspected of having COVID-19, but who don’t require hospitalization.

Previously, those clinicians had been diagnosing them without testing.

Northam says this will give them a more accurate picture of positive tests in the Commonwealth.

The governor also reiterated that Virginia is not yet ready to begin reopening under CDC guidelines which is 14 days declining case numbers, but he says testing will be key to getting there.

“I want our businesses to be able to be open again and people to get back to work, but we have to do it in a safe manner,” he added.

The Monday news conference came as the number of COVID-19 deaths confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health reached 300.

Positive Tests: 8,990 (+453 from Sunday)
People Hospitalized: 1,500 (+78 from Sunday)
COVID-19-Linked Deaths: 300 (+23 from Sunday)
People Tested: 56,735 (+2,002 from Sunday)

Monday’s numbers also mark the third straight day that the number of positive/presumed tests dropped, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

In the days since Northam’s last news conference, the debate over when to reopen the state and lift recently extended restrictions continued.

CNN reported that President Donald Trump said Saturday there was enough testing capacity to begin reopening the country. Northam told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that such a claim was “delusional.”

“You know, our president, obviously, has been unable to deliver on tests. Now he has chosen to focus on protests. And this is not the time for protest. This is not the time for divisiveness. This is time for leadership that will stand up and provide empathy, that will understand what's goingon in this country of ours with this pandemic. It's the time for truth,” said Northam.

President Trump had weighed in on Virginia politics last week when he tweeted “LIBERATE VIRGINIA…” The tweet came a day after about 50 people protested outside of the Executive Mansion on Thursday calling for the state to reopen.

Northam said in response to the President’s tweet that he did not have time for “Twitter wars.”

"I would just simply say that as the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I along with this staff, is fighting a biological war," Northam said. "I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars. I will continue to make sure that I do everything that I can to keep Virginians safe and to save lives."

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.