RICHMOND Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — There are now 3,645 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Virginia.
Updates from Northam’s press conference:
Personal protective equipment
Northam says Virginia has been working to purchase personal protective equipment (gloves, gowns, masks, face shields, hand sanitizers and coverups) and 1.5 million gloves, 435,000 N95 masks have been distributed to hospitals so far.
He says no Virginia hospital has run out of PPE yet, but several are concerned about the possibility, and that the state is bidding against the rest of the states and other countries for supplies.
“That market is chaotic and difficult, due to lack of federal action,” Northam says. Northam says Virginia has only gotten 1/10th of the personal protective equipment it’s requested from the federal government.
Primaries pushed back, Northam recommends moving local elections to November
“No one should have to choose between their health or casting a ballot,” Northam says. He’s using his executive power to move Virginia’s June 9 primary to June 23 (he’s only allowed to move them back two weeks at the most by law) and recommending lawmakers to move local elections from May to November. The new date allows for about two weeks of extra time for the coronavirus pandemic to wane. The governor’s stay-at home order ends on June 10, and Northam’s team says new data shows they may be able to safely conduct the primaries at the end of June.
“Modeling right now suggests that by the end of June we should be able to pull off a primary and feel better about it,” said Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer.
“Postponing these elections is the best way to protect democracy without endangering public health,” Northam said.
The League of Women Voters of Virginia praised Northam’s decision to delay the primaries.
“Elections, a foundation of democratic government, must take place while ensuring voter safety. Consolidating and allowing time to plan for the safe conduct of elections will help ensure that voters can exercise their right to vote as safely as possible,” said Deb Wake, president.
The League further encourages the governor, the attorney general and the General Assembly to work to make vote by mail a priority and an option for voters as a precaution in the event that the pandemic persists in the lead up to the November 3, 2020 general election.
Moving the May elections requires General Assembly action, Northam’s office says. Northam’s plan would also include discarding absentee ballots already cast and having people resend ballots in November. Officials whose terms were slated to expire on June 30 will continue in office until their successors are elected on November 3.
Another pressing issue is the upcoming state budget. It’s one of over 1,000 bills that need to be amended, signed or vetoed by Saturday at midnight. Northam said changes will have to be made due to the health crisis.
“We are expecting a recession with drastic reduction in our revenues paired with large increases in spending to fight the epidemic,” he said.
COVID-19 race data reporting
Northam says the state needs to do a better job at tracking COVID-19 demographic data, particularly how virus is impacting black communities and other minority groups. He says African Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of severe symptoms of COVID-19.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver says Virginia is one a handful of states to report race and ethnicity data in COVID-19 testing, though race has only been reported in 53% of cases so far.
State officials say they may not be able to get data from those 53% of unreported cases.
“It is my understanding that private testing labs and some other partners are not currently reporting this data,” Northam said.
Dr. Oliver says the state will be sending out letters to clinicians encouraging them to note important racial information.