RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam sat down with CBS 6 on Monday to discuss his unprecedented third year in office.
This year handed the Democrat a global pandemic that led to massive unemployment claims, widespread economic hardships, and the deaths of 4,500 Virginians due to the coronavirus.
“What a difficult 10 months it’s been for all Virginians,” Northam said. “My main priority during this pandemic, especially as a governor and doctor, is keeping Virginia healthy.”
The 61-year-old counted Virginia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of his successes.
“We follow the data. We follow the science as closely as we could and taken measures to mitigate the numbers,” Northam explained. “Our numbers are concerning to me, but we are better than 45 other [states] so we are overall doing well. I credit that to Virginians being vigilant and following the guidelines.”
Governor Northam has received criticisms surrounding his COVID-19 restrictions from multiple sides of the issue - some said they go too far while others feared they don’t go far enough.
“Some of the decisions we have made not everyone agrees with, I get it. Looking at the big picture it’s all about keeping that curve as slight as we can. Making sure we have the staff and bed capacity,” he stated. “I don’t want to take any more measures than we need to, but at the end of the day we need to keep Virginians safe and we committed to doing.”
He didn’t discount the notion that new restrictions could be implemented during 2021.
Rich Anderson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV), took issue with the compulsory language of Northam’s mandates.
“There’s one unique thing about Americans: they don’t like to be managed, they don’t like to be told, they don’t like to be compelled and you see these sorts of adverse reactions as a result of that,” Anderson said.
Critics have argued that Virginia’s restrictions have been inconsistent or unfairly enforced.
“Restaurants are being penalized very heavily. That industry is being injured very dramatically and yet one can walk into a Walmart or a Target or other large store and people are elbow to elbow,” Anderson explained.
Other issues like suicide and depression have also risen during the pandemic, Anderson said.
“Long after Ralph Northam has left office these adverse impacts will be left for a new governor and new General Assembly, to repair over the space of a very protracted period of time,” he stated.
Anderson said RPV does agree that COVID-19 guidelines should be followed like wearing face masks in congested areas, social distancing, hand washing. He also said high-risk individuals should stay home.
Gov. Northam said his biggest regret is the politicization of the pandemic.
“It divided groups of people in this country and we all need to remember the enemy in this fight, in this war is the virus,” Northam stated. “We are all Virginians. We need to take care of each other especially those on the frontlines.”
Northam described the new coronavirus vaccines as the light at the end of the tunnel.
On Monday, Moderna was expected to deliver 146,000 doses of their newly approved vaccine. That’s on top of the 70,000 Pfizer vaccinations sent to Virginia last week.
The state’s existing Health Equity Commission will ensure that the vaccine will be distributed fairly to all Virginians once supply meets demand.
“I would encourage Virginians to be patient and when the time comes and when my time comes I will take the vaccination because I do believe it is effective and safe,” Northam said.
Northam also said he put $15 million into next year’s budget to update the state’s unemployment system following months of reported issues.
Prior to the pandemic, Virginia’s unemployment rate was 2.6 percent. It jumped to 11.2 percent in April as industries felt the immediate impacts of the pandemic.
As a result, 1.3 million Virginians filed for unemployment which Northam said overwhelmed the Virginia Employment Commission system.
Despite the issues, the state distributed $10 billion to individuals who lost their jobs.
As of November, Virginia’s unemployment rate has dropped below five percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.