RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in Virginia as the commonwealth continues to see coronavirus cases increase.
17 people have now tested “presumptive positive” for the virus as of Thursday afternoon. The number rose from 15 cases announced at noon Thursday.
This is all comes five days after a U.S. Marine became the first person in the commonwealth to test positive.
The Tidewater area now has 4 cases — including two from a couple in Virginia Beach who went on a cruise to Egypt. It’s unclear where the other two cases in the “Eastern” region originated from.
Here’s the breakdown for geographic regions in Virginia.
- Central – 2
- Eastern – 4
- Northern – 10
- Northwest – 1
- Southwest – 0
As of 2 p.m. Thursday, VDH says 117 tests have come back negative. So far no deaths have been reported in Virginia due to the virus.
Northam’s declaration comes days after North Carolina and Washington, D.C. announced their own state of emergencies.
Virginia has been preparing for the coronavirus for “weeks,” the governor’s office wrote in a news release following a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Northam’s office says the state has enough funding to address the outbreak, but the state of emergency will help further by giving the state the ability to ease regulatory requirements and procurement rules.
The state of emergency will also help continue federal and multi-state coordination and make sure the most vulnerable Virginians have access to critical services.
Northam’s state of emergency triggers Virginia’s anti-price gouging statutes for emergency situations, which protect customers from paying extremely high prices for necessary goods and services.
Customers are protected under the 2004 state Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prevents a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for important goods and services during the 30 days following a state of emergency declaration.
Goods protected under the act include water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more.
“The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster,” Attorney General Mark Herring’s office wrote in a news release.
The public should report any price gouging to the Herring’s Consumer Protection Section.
State employee travel ban, telework policy
Northam also announced several other actions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Virginia’s more than 100,000 state employees may not go on official travel outside of the state. Inter-state commuters and essential personnel are now given more flexibility. These guidelines will be revisited after 30 days.
State employees will also transition to teleworking. Support for workers who cannot perform their responsibilities from home — such as custodians, food and grounds staff — will be supported by the Virginia Department of Health’s Equity Workgroup.
Full-time and part-time state employees can also use paid Public Health Emergency Leave if exposed to COVID-19 or high-risk travel.
The state is canceling all specially-scheduled state conferences and large events.
The cancellations are in effect for at least 30 days.
State agencies will also limit in-person meetings and other gatherings.
Northam has also asked localities and nonprofits to limit large public events.
Long-term economic planning
Northam and state officials are working to prepare for an ongoing economic disruption should coronavirus concerns continue to impact the economy.
“The General Assembly will vote today on a budget that boosts Virginia’s reserve funds more than at any other time in the Commonwealth’s history, an essential mechanism to ensure continued state services regardless of economic uncertainty,” Northams office said Thursday.
Schools, nursing homes and other vulnerable Virginians
The state department of education has asked all school districts to update their pandemic guidelines.
Anyone who has symptoms at nursing homes is top priority for immediate testing. Visitor guidelines have been adjusted for nursing homes as well to include additional visitor screening.
The state has also worked to make sure vulnerable Virginians can still have access to services such as food supports and in-home care.
“In the event of extended school closures, the Virginia Department of Social Services is working with local partners, such as food pantries, to ensure no one goes hungry,” the governor’s office release said.
Virginia is also working with insurers to waive co-pays for COVID-19 testing.
As far as public transportation, cleaning schedules at airports, the Metro, buses and rail have been adjusted to fit CDC protocol.
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