RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia State Police have been directed to stop motor vehicle inspections enforcement for the next 60 days because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Ralph Northam said during a news briefing Thursday.
Northam also asked Virginia's Department of Taxation to extend the due date for income tax payments for individuals and corporations.
"While filing deadlines remain the same, the due date for individual and corporate income tax will now be June 1, 2020," officials said. "Please note that interest will still accrue, so taxpayers who are able to pay by the original deadlines should do so."
Aubrey Layne, Virginia Secretary of Finance, said the interest cannot be abated without General Assembly approval.
"We will work with our partners in the upcoming reconvene session to make sure that we can have that also alleviated."
Additionally, officials said businesses impacted by COVID-19 can defer the payment of state sales tax due March 20 for 30 days.
"Now, this will be a liberal granting of the request," Layne explained. "The reason why you need to make the request is because our tax receipts for sales tax don't only affect the state budget, but also some of our localities and our regions. And therefore we take seriously whenever we have to take monies from one part to pay for something else."
"When granted, businesses will be able to file no later than April 20, 2020 with a waiver of any penalties," officials said.
Layne estimated the changes will cost Virginia roughly $145 million and that localities will lose about $30 million.
"Unlike our federal partners, we must balance our budget and we can't print money," Layne said. "So we take seriously as we move forward, but we want to give taxpayers for sales tax the opportunity to take advantage of this relief."
Businesses impacted by the outbreak can also apply for low-interest federal disaster loans of up to $2 million from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to pay "fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other expenses." (Go to disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/ to submit a loan application.)
Epidemiologist: 'We're seeing local transmission' of COVID-19 cases in Virginia
Virginia health officials are seeing "distinct clusters" of coronavirus cases in the state as the number of people who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus increased to 94, up from 77 cases on Wednesday.
"We have at this point distinct clusters and a few geographic areas in the state," Dr. Lilian Peake, a state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said. "And so we are at a level where we're seeing local transmission in Virginia."
Those clusters include 14 cases in James City County, 11 in Prince William County, 17 in Arlington County and 16 in Fairfax County.
Peake said 19 people are hospitalized as of Thursday and two COVID-19-related deaths have been reported.
Officials said 1,293 people have been tested for the virus in Virginia.
"And I'm very happy to say today that we actually have some increased capacity at our state lab to do a bit more testing," Peake said. "We have been working hard our I'm really proud of our state lab staff who are working around the clock to get the different supplies that they need to run the test."
Northam urged Virginians to take the outbreak seriously.
"I want to reiterate the need for every single one of us to take social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus," Northam said. "There is evidence of community transmission in the northern and central regions of the state and in the Peninsula. infectious diseases do not respect boundaries. All people within these areas should remain vigilant."
Northam said experts believe that community transmission will expand to other parts of the state "in time."
"That is why all Virginians need to practice individual prevention and control measures," Northam said. "Our health is in your hands. Know the signs and symptoms. If you're sick enough to seek testing, you are sick enough to stay home for any reason other than to get medical care."
Northam urged those who are sick to stay home since those people can still transmit the virus.
"We continue to work closely with our hospitals and our health care providers to ensure they have what they need to take care of people," Northam said. "And as I said yesterday, to our providers across the Commonwealth, 'Thank you for your work.' We all have a responsibility to one another. Every single one of us must take these actions to take care of one another."
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.