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'Stay-at-home' order in Virginia. Now what?

Posted at 4:53 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 19:04:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order Monday in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The order is in effect until June 10.

Following the order's announcement, Governor Northam and members of his cabinet answered questions about what this means for Virginians and their day-to-day lives.

A lightly-edited transcription of that question and answer session can be read below:

Can you clarify how the order will apply to offices of non-essential businesses and whether those will be forced to close? And then also, will there be accompanying fines or misdemeanor citations for breaking this order?

Gov. Ralph Northam
The executive order is obviously public and everybody will be privy to that.

A lot of businesses, especially small businesses, have already closed across Virginia. We are continuing to encourage businesses to maintain the 10 or less rule if they're unable to do that, then they will, by necessity be closed.

The second part of your question was what about fines and penalties? How do we enforce this?

This is not a time when we are looking to put people in jail. But it's a time when I expect all Virginians to comply.

We will continue to enforce the 10 or less rule. If we see people gathered in any place throughout Virginia, especially in our beaches or in our parks and non-essential businesses, then that will be enforced.

And there's a difference between the way we can enforce things criminally. We have the ability to do that. We don't have the ability to do it civilly. So it will go back to if there's more than 10 people that are gathering or congregating, then they can be subject to a class one misdemeanor.

On Friday, you said that you felt like there was no distinction between a stay-at-home order and what you've already been encouraging Virginians to do. I'm curious about over the weekend. Did you have a change of heart? Was there anything that prompted you to make this decision?

Gov. Ralph Northam
We have suggested through our guidelines to Virginians to comply and to stay at home and I, I want to remind Virginians that the majority of people have done that.

But I will tell you, I guess it can get a bit personal sometimes.

I know what it's like to be in mass casualty exercises. I know what it's like to be in the hospital in the emergency rooms on the frontline and, and I have seen heroes, literally across Virginia, over the past couple of weeks, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, you could go right down the list.

They are sacrificing their time. They're sacrificing, perhaps their health, the health of their families, and I commend them for all that they're doing.

And so I see that, but I also see people congregating on the beach that are completely ignoring what we're doing. And I will remind those folks, you are being very, very selfish because you are putting all of us, especially our health care providers at risk.

And so, to date, this has been a suggestion to Virginians. Today, it's an order.

Maryland's order appears to carry some specific misdemeanor and fine penalty, is there no such specific penalty attached to this order?

Gov. Ralph Northam
The penalty continues to be the same. For gathering of more than 10 individuals.

I will add that I was just on the phone with the governor from Maryland, who is also the director of our National Governors Association, and also with the mayor of Washington, Mayor Bowser, we are working closely together. We also have been in correspondence with North Carolina and we have formed our executive directives and orders to really be as consistent as we can with each other.

So I think if you look at the executive order, you will see that the details of it are very similar to our surrounding neighboring states.

Can you clarify what this means for restaurants and other non-essential brick and mortar stores that have been allowed to say open with the 10 person or less rule?

Angela Navarro - Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade
So the language provided in Executive Order 53, which the governor announced last week still stands.

Restaurants are still only allowed to be open for takeout or delivery. And non-essential retail brick and mortar retail is still allowed to be open as long as they maintain 10 patrons or less and provide adequate social distancing.

So the language in the previous executive order remains.

Did you consult with the mayors and the city managers of the cities in which our beaches located? I'm thinking Hampton Roads area?

And the second part is what would you say to those tourists who might still be here on vacation and are enjoying the beach? And those hotel managers and operators?

Gov. Ralph Northam
Yeah, the first part of your question, did I consult with the mayors in Hampton Roads and I have been on the phone with them this morning.

They realized that there were people in Hampton Roads that were not complying with our guidelines and so we agreed that this was the the most efficient step to take to really keep again, people can go to the beaches, we have closed the beaches to everybody except those that want to exercise or fish and you had a second part to your question.

What would you say to both the tourists that might still be here enjoying the beaches and the the hoteliers and the hotel operators that might be holding those people?

Gov. Ralph Northam
We would say that they need to comply with our guidelines just like Virginians are abiding by them.

Cameron Thompson
What do you tell people for those essential businesses still having to go to work feeling like they're unsafe conditions and don't feel confident or comfortable going to their [bosses]? We're talking factory workers, home health care nurses, and then what is the state actively doing to ensure that employers are following the the social distance in these safety guidelines?

Dr. Megan Healy - Chief Workforce Development Advisor
The federal government, specifically the OSHA office, Office of Safety and Health Administration has set standards. So we're waiting for standards to come down to the state.

And then our Department of Labor and Industry are going to accept those standards. And then when we have those standards in place around COVID 19, that's when we can actually take a little bit more action.

And so again, we're going back to, if you have a problem in your work to make sure you address it with your manager, or there's a lot of offices have safety officers that have to be OSHA compliant.

And then if not, then you want to go through our regional offices, and then you can make a complaint and we're taking every complaint very, very seriously And following up with the businesses.

How does this impact travel between two private residences?

Gov. Ralph Northam
I would just go back to what we've been saying all along that if your travel to anywhere is essential, then it's allowed, if it's not essential, then one needs to stay at home.

In just over a month, localities across Virginia are going to be having elections and I know there's been an emphasis on absentee voting. But I wonder if there's any consideration for imposing any other guidelines on voters or possibly postponing those elections?

Gov. Ralph Northam
We are having active discussions with our Board of Elections and also our Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner. We realized that the elections will be upon us in May and we will have some some further guidelines I would say in the next few days, so stay tuned.

Governor, I've got a question about testing. Obviously, Virginia has ramped up its testing capability in recent weeks. Is the state at a place where it can test anyone that it needs to and if we're not there yet, what is the holdup on having full testing capabilities?

Denise Toney State Laboratory Director
The answer to that question is no.

What the holdup is with respect to being able to expand is a couple fold.

One, we are still experiencing supply chain shortages throughout the nation not only in Virginia. And this is not only impacting the ability of the state laboratory to provide and to increase its laboratory testing capabilities, but it is impacting hospital laboratories and private commercial laboratories and preventing them from being able to fully expand because of the difficulty in getting the needed kits, supplies, and other consumables necessary to be able to provide widespread testing.

The rate of infection seems to different in metro areas, obviously where there's more people than in rural areas such as Lunenburg and Charlotte County, where we have no infections in the future. If that model stays, do you see areas being treated differently when it comes to stay at home and different rules and regulations?

Gov. Ralph Northam
The reality here is that this virus is does not recognize county lines , state lines. It is a very contagious pathogen and the guidelines that we are putting in place today and that we have had in place will continue for all Virginia.

My question is pertaining to the colleges and universities across Virginia. As you know, they've all been closed up, online education, dorms closed.

One of the questions we're hearing from a lot of people in our area is the possibility of partial or total refunds to the students and their families and from some of the fees, maybe not so much the tuition but maybe some of the related student fees such as housing.

I know that's basically done on a college by college base. But is there anything that the state could do to possibly help push that process along?

Gov. Ralph Northam
That is a college level or it applies to each college individually. And those are the individuals that are making that policy.

I will tell you that, you know, we're looking at the federal response, the amount of resources that are coming into Virginia, we're still working through that and what that means to our healthcare industry, small businesses, etc. And if it gets to a point where we have that dialogue with our colleges and universities and the funding is there, then we can certainly address that.

But to date, I haven't addressed that on a state level.

Yes, we've seen golf courses in the region, take differing decisions on whether to stay open or closed. And those that are staying I've been seemed to be becoming destination places for golfers looking to to exercise, I guess. Is the stay at home order impact golf courses in any way?

Are they still allowed to stay open under the new rules?

Gov. Ralph Northam
I think it's fairly straightforward.

One can go to the golf course and play golf but the club houses are, are closed and again, we will enforce the if there are more than 11 individuals that are gathered in one place, and certainly we will enforce that.

But people can still go to the golf course and, and play golf.

Governor, some localities have had to postpone the budget process because of the health emergency. And they feel a sense of urgency as they try to determine how to comply with FOIA guidelines for public participation meetings.

And also follow social distancing guidelines to keep residents safe. And this is really difficult for rural localities that don't have adequate broadband access. And they're making these efforts to scramble together with to hold their public budget hearings. Do you have any guidelines for them?

Gov. Ralph Northam
Attorney General Mark Herring has been very helpful in in helping with those guidelines and I would address any questions to the Office of the Attorney General.

I think a lot of Virginians are looking for some encouraging news. So my question is when and how Virginia's Department of Health will start reporting the number of patients who have recovered statewide and what criteria a patient will have to meet before being deemed to recover?

Laurie Forlano - State Epidemiologist
So the first part of the question about tracking cases to recovery, I'd say that varies a little bit on the capacity of the local health department, the case volumes that we're seeing, wouldn't make that possible in all situations. But we do try to do that to the greatest extent possible.

Regarding release from isolation. There are pretty specific guidelines from CDC both for home based isolation and for hospital based isolation. And they're testing pathways for release and non testing pathways for release and those are pretty specific and online and believe for home isolation. It's seven days asymptomatic and 72 hours fever free. And there are also some specifics around testing, which are available online.

Your administration has directed the parole board to expedite reviews of vulnerable prisoners who might be eligible for release. Do you have an update on that? We haven't been able to get any numbers from the parole board, how many expedited reviews have been conducted? And how many people have been released for that process today?

Brian Moran Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security
Yes. With respect to the parole and the direction that the governor has provided the parole board and again, it's something that Governor has directed the parole board from day one of his administration is to review these with great diligence and providing individuals with second chances so that has been going on throughout this administration.

With the onset of this crisis, we have reiterated that direction and they are doing a great deal with respect to review. The are number of challenges because by the code, we have no parole in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.

So you have a limited population by which can even be reviewed. Additionally, by Constitution, the victims need to be notified and you have to provide victim's time to weigh in on their decision. And that is an ongoing process as well. And we've heard from a lot of victims every time you know, questions are asked or reports are written with respect to releasing people, you're generating a lot of interest from a lot of individuals.

And so I can tell you, two steps have already been taken. That is good news. The parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals/ What that will do is not introduce those into the criminal justice system. We're waiving the warrant, so they don't have to get arrested. They don't have to go to the local court for hearing.

Secondly, they have expedited release of parole for those who are already been released. What that does is eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual. And so again, both of those efforts and decisions have eliminated additional interaction, which course is what we're ultimately trying to do with self distancing.

So the expeditious review is ongoing with that limited population by which is even available to us for early release. And, and I will say, I know a lot of concern is it among many advocacy groups and we all share that concern and I can tell you, I I'm just so proud of Harold Clark at the Department of Corrections, what he has been doing to ensure the safety of his correctional staff, but then also of the residents at our over 41 facilities. Extraordinary steps are taken which essentially locked down the prisons to outsiders, which could introduce the virus into a contained setting.

And again, our Department of Corrections is doing everything they can to prevent the introduction of this disease.

Well, the specific numbers are those that are even eligible for right so that is a limited basis. And then you have to determine whether or not there is a home health plan for those individuals. And so we're looking at those who are closest to release

So I'd be happy to give you numbers and I'll get those numbers. It's, we're not, and I'll be happy to share pacifically if you want how many inmates but but it's a matter of trying to determine the eligibility that that is somewhat, it's difficult but again, they're working 24 seven to accomplish it and we're going to do everything we can, but we're not going to release somebody unless they have a home health plan.

It'd be inhumane to them and frankly, they're getting a lot of health care in these facilities. I mean, we are doing our very best not to have the virus introduced in they're currently receiving care everyone who's coming in is getting a temperature taken the forehead temperature device. And so again, what we were doing everything we can not to allow that virus in the first place to be introduced and thanks.

Gov. Ralph Northam
Thank you all again for listening and watching today. The message today, as I said is very clear. Stay home. We know, we know that social distancing, we know that frequent hand washing will help minimize the spread of this virus. You have heard us talk every day about flattening that curve. As you go through your day to day activities and make decisions, what's essential and what's not essential. Think of those health care providers, watch those pictures, what these individuals are going through every day to take care of our sick folks across this country. And and I asked you just to do the right thing. Thank you.