RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam urged Virginians to maintain their vigilance in following COVID-19 safety protocols at a news conference Wednesday as he expressed concerns about rising case counts in one part of the Commonwealth.
“We don't want Virginia's case count to look like most other states and that depends on each and every one of us doing our part, caring about the people around us,” said Northam. "Virginia, you have been doing a good job of this in the past eight months. Our numbers show that and on behalf of the Commonwealth, I thank you. But we all need to keep doing the right thing.”
Northam said the Southwest region was “more concerning” than the rest of the state where the number of cases have been steadily increasing and the percent-positivity is just under 8%. The statewide average for percent-positivity is 5.1%.
Officials said the increase has been driven partly by small family gatherings. They said people need to take precautions even with immediate family members if they live in separate households.
“It may sound innocent that you're going over your brother's house and they have three kids in the household and a spouse and and there's a total of only six or eight people,” said Health Secretary Dr. Dan Carey. “If they're from different households with different connections that they really should be socially distanced.”
Carey said it can be done safely if people wear their masks, stay six feet a part, and sanitize or wash their hands frequently.
“But, coming together as an extended family as if you're in one household does present risk,” added Carey. “We want people to stay connected emotionally. But, we we need to be clear about physical connection. We need to keep that distance if you're not in the same continuous household.”
Northam said they are monitoring the situation in the southwest and considering reimposing restrictions, as they have done elsewhere in the state, to get it under control.
“I know that many people are tired of COVID restrictions. We are all tired of not having social get-togethers, not going to see sports or shows, not having the regular interactions that we count on in our lives,” said Northam. “Most people are doing the right thing and they are tired of seeing other folks disregard the rules and disregard the health and safety of other people.”
Small Business Grant Program Increase
Northam also announced at his news conference that he was expanding and adding money to a grant program intended to help small businesses and non-profits impacted by COVID-19.
“We know that while this health crisis continues, so does the economic fallout. You have heard me say that we have to fix the health crisis to fix the economic crisis. And that remains true. But that doesn't mean we can't work on both at the same time,” said Northam.
As such, Northam announced an additional $30-million in federal CARES Act funding would go towards the Rebuild VA Grant Fund. The program was launched in August using $70-million in CARES Act funding.
Northam is also expanding eligibility for the program to allow businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees to apply and the maximum grant award has been increased from $10,000 to $100,000.
“We started Rebuild VA to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Northam. “These changes to the program will ensure that we can provide additional financial assistance to even more Virginians so they can weather this public health crisis and emerge stronger.”
Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:
- Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
- Employee salaries;
- Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
- Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
- Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.
Tuesday’s announcement was called a “lifeline” by the National Federation of Independent Business Virginia State Director Nicole Riley.
“Today many NFIB small business owners from all over Virginia told Governor Northam directly about the predicaments they face recovering financially from the economic crisis. We heard from several that they would be helped by the Rebuild VA grants, but the restrictive rules on eligibility made that impossible. Hearing the announcement about the additional funds and expanded flexibility immediately afterward offered great hope to these small business owners that they may be able to make it through the pandemic and remain in business,” said Riley. “The new flexibility and increased funding the Governor announced today will be a lifeline for these small businesses that have been so hard-hit by the economic crisis. If the business owners can make it through the pandemic, they will again be generating income, providing jobs, and helping the state’s economy recover.”