RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia is not ready to fully reopen its economy the day after demonstrators protested outside the state capitol for the governor to loosen restrictions enforced in response to the virus.
It also comes as the commonwealth reported its highest one-day increase in COVID-19 cases so far.
During his briefing Friday on the state’s coronavirus response, Northam explained that guidelines provided by the federal government to reopen the country go along with Virginia’s plans to lift its restrictions on businesses during the pandemic.
“Yesterday, I was on the phone with President Trump to discuss the White House guidelines for how we as states move forward,” Northam said. “Those guidelines are consistent with everything we in Virginia have been doing and will continue to do a phased approach based on science and data.”
The guidelines outlined by the White House on Thursday require that states have strong testing and declining infections for 14 days. Northam said Friday that Virginia is not there yet.
“We have not met that criteria,” the governor explained. “We’re still seeing more cases each day, not fewer. So we are not there yet. In fact, we saw 600 new cases today, an increase of about 8 percent.”
Highlights from Northam’s press conference below:
White House guidelines, regional approach with Maryland, D.C.
Gov. Northam said he just spoke with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser about the White House guidelines for “reopening” the country, and he spoke with President Donald Trump on Thursday.
The “reopening” in cooperation with Maryland and D.C. would be in phases, and the first phase wouldn’t start until positive COVID-19 tests trend down for 14 days. Northam says Virginia had an 8% increase in cases Friday and “we’re not close to that.”
He says Virginia doesn’t have enough testing currently, and lamented the lack of national guidelines requiring testing. “Every governor is having to establish our testing protocol and our supplies on our own. While that improves every day but we’re not there yet.”
A state official said guidance on testing in Virginia will be updated on either Friday or Monday, April 20, to add people entering congregate facilities such as nursing homes. The official said increasing testing is the goal, but again said there is a national shortage of equipment.
Federal aid and hotels for first responders
Northam says Virginia has received $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds to use for its COVID-19 response, and the commonwealth has received approval from FEMA for hotel accommodations for first responders and other essential workers.
Northam reemphasized to the public that social distancing guidelines are working. “The point of social distancing is to slow the spread, not eliminate it entirely,” Northam says about Virginia continuing to see cases go up each day — Virginia saw more than 600 on Friday, a record one-day increase. “Unfortunately, we will continue to see deaths from this pandemic. [social distancing measures] are keeping these to a level that hospitals can manage.”
First shipment of PPE through contract
Northam says Virginia received its first shipment of PPE through its contract with Northfield, and it’s being distributed. This includes more than 24,095 masks, as well as gloves and gowns, and Northam expects more shipments in the coming weeks.
Northam, fielding a question about why Virginia doesn’t have a registry of recovered individuals like Maryland, says the state is looking at apps and other technology and is talking to Maryland about what they’re doing. State Health Commission Norm Oliver says there are registries being set up, including a collaborative registry between the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Trump’s “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” tweet
When asked about President Trump’s “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” tweet on Friday, Northam said he’s fighting a “biological war” and he doesn’t have time to involve himself in “Twitter wars.” Trump also sent similar tweets about Minnesota and Michigan, two other states led by Democratic governors that have seen pro-Trump, anti stay-at-home order protesters in recent days.
State health officials reported Friday that 231 people have died from COVID-19 in Virginia. Of the 48,997 people tested for the virus, 7,491 have tested positive, according to numbers from the Virginia Department of Health.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s online dashboard shows that 1,308 people — confirmed positive COVID-19 patients (809) and those with tests pending (499) — are in the hospital as of Friday.
There are 400 patients who are in the ICU and 224 currently on a ventilator. The dashboard shows that 1,110 people in total have been discharged after being hospitalized with the virus.