‘This is hard on people’s morale’: Gov. Northam encourages Virginians to get outside as COVID-19 cases rise


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam is praising businesses and people who have adhered to the rules when it comes to social distancing and changing how food is being served up.

It comes as every region of the commonwealth is now reporting at least one case of COVID-19. Virginia has 114 COVID-19 cases, with 20 patients in the hospital and roughly 35 additional tests pending at the state lab, health officials reported Friday morning.

At his daily news conference in Richmond Friday, Northam let Virginians know he feels their pain.

“This is hard on people’s morale. It is very, very stressful. It is scary” he said.

With schools closed, jobs lost and social distancing, the governor warned the increased stress can worsen existing health conditions and lead to depression, anxiety and an increase in domestic violence and substance abuse.

“We encourage people to get outside get fresh air. Exercise keeps morale up, their self-esteem, but we do encourage them to keep their distance,” said Northam.

He also read aloud a number for help if you need it: 1-800-273-TALK – it’s the suicide prevention hotline.

“We are doing everything we can to help people,” he said.

That help includes relaxing rules for unemployment. More than 16,300 people applied for these benefits, 6,000 on Thursday alone. The state has now increased server capacity and phone lines.

“So, somebody applies for unemployment insurance after they fill out that process and they have direct deposit, hopefully they can start getting money within the next week,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy.

If you’ve been denied, Healy said you should try again. The rules are changing daily on who qualifies.

Supplies are also coming in almost daily. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Virginia received close to 200,000 N95 masks, surgical masks gloves and gowns two days ago.

“We are distributing those materials to the first responders and emergency medical service people who need these materials, and to the hospitals,” Oliver said.

Oliver said that more tests from private labs will most likely add to the 114-case total and in regards to testing, Virginia has the capability to test more than 1,000 people.

Health officials said that staff at the state lab have been trained to administer tests since the beginning of the outbreak, and that there is no reason to believe that there are any staffing concerns at this time.

Social distancing remains the main directive from the governor to help stop the spread and flatten the curve.

He said localities have the authority to enforce the 10-person limit at restaurants, fitness centers and theaters, and he fully expects them to do that.

The governor also noted that he directed the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to adjust licensing regulations to permit businesses with on-premise privileges only to sell wine or beer in sealed containers for curbside pickup at a designated location or for delivery without a permit.

Also on Friday, an email sent from the clerk for the Virginia State Senate confirmed that Northam has activated the U.S. National Guard to assist the commonwealth during the coronavirus pandemic.

The email, which was sent by Clerk of the Senate Susan Schaar, says the National Guard will help to dispense supplies and equipment in Virginia — not to “lock people in their homes.”

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