Northam: Elective surgeries, non-emergency dental work can resume Friday


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam provided updates on the state’s coronavirus response during a briefing Wednesday afternoon.

The press conferences are being held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

At the end of March, Northam signed an executive order temporarily suspending elective surgeries in order to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and hospital space to treat COVID-19 patients.

Northam said the state’s PPE supply has stabilized and hospitalizations are flat – both metrics his administration is tracking as they try to figure out when to ease coronavirus restrictions.

“Our efforts to slow the spread of this virus are showing success. Our hospitals are not seeing a surge of patients,” Northam said.

The governor said this is a good sign that the state is on track to start reopening the economy by May 8 but that date isn’t set in stone.

“We’re looking at trends and I think that’s important for everyone to understand,” Northam said. “Our numbers haven’t flattened out yet.”

Highlights from Northam’s press conference:

Elective surgeries, non-emergency dental work can resume Friday

Elective surgeries and non-emergency dental work can resume on Friday, May 1, Northam announced, saying social distancing has prevented a surge of cases in hospitals. “We did this to preserve our PPE for our front line workers and our hospitals.” He had extended the ban to May 1 last week.

Northam noted how dental issues can lead to other problems in the body, and some surgeries deemed elective can still be very important and critical to long-term health and wellness, such as some cancer treatments and knee surgeries. These procedures are also a major source of revenue for medical practices, though Northam says “this wasn’t about money,” but safety.

The Virginia Dental Association has issued new guidelines for dentists in the commonwealth. These are some of the ways dental offices are planning to safely move forward:

  • Patients must wear masks during visits
  • There will be screening for coronavirus
  • Appointment times will be moved around to make room for thorough cleaning between appointments
  • Most dental practices will give priority to those who need care immediately
  • Dentists will now wear different forms of protective equipment to stay safe
  • Minimizing the use of air and water to cut down on the aerosol

Anyone who needs dental or medical care should contact their provider immediately to start coming up with a treatment plan.

“Our hospitals, our clinics, our dental offices – these are safe. These are clean places to go,” Northam said.

“It’s important for all Virginians to know that if you need care, don’t hesitate to receive care to improve your health outcome,” said Dr. Michael McDermott, board chairman for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association released a statement in support of Northam’s decision to allow hospitals, dental offices, and healthcare facilities to resume medical procedures.

The VHHA is an alliance that represents 27 health systems and 110 hospitals in Virginia.

“As the Governor indicated today, Virginians who need medical procedures, surgeries, and preventive care should know that it is safe to seek treatment at hospitals, which have ample capacity to provide that medical care and also treat patients impacted by COVID-19.”

– VHHA statement Wednesday

VHHA Chairman Dr. Mike McDermott said that the cancellation of non-emergency medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic meant that some Virginians weren’t able to get preventative care, which is important to long-term health.

McDermott said that Virginia’s hospitals have more than 5,000 available beds, allowing health workers to care for COVID-19 patients, as well as perform other types of surgeries and procedures, safely.

“Throughout this ordeal, the Commonwealth and health care providers have actively monitored the real world conditions and situational demands caused by COVID-19. As we consider the current situation, and the other medical needs of Virginia patients, we now believe the time is right to chart a path to begin providing non-emergency, scheduled procedures to people who need that care in inpatient and outpatient settings to improve their health outcomes.”

– VHHA Chairman Dr. Mike McDermott

Northam said he’ll continue to monitor data once these procedures resume.

“If we begin to see cases and hospitalization rates rise again, we are all prepared to take swift and necessary action,” he said.

Reporting data via zip code

Northam says COVID-19 cases will now be released down to specific zip codes, after repeated requests to release more specific data at the local level. State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver says zip code data will start soon, “in a few days.”

Meat processing facilities in Virginia

Gov. Northam started the press conference by addressing COVID-19 outbreaks at Virginia’s meat processing plants, including those chicken plants in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore. He says workers’ safety and health is his first priority, and if workers are deemed essential, they must be taken care of. He says he hopes President Donald Trump’s executive order to keep meat plants open means there will be medical and protective equipment available for workers.

Accomack has 229 cases, and many have been linked to county’s two largest employers, Perdue and Tyson. Workers at Perdue protested working conditions earlier this week.

“My number one concern here is our workers. Every one of them are human beings whose health deserves our protection,” Northam said.

RELATED: Daily cases, hospitalizations still trending up statewide, Tidewater’s growth in cases slows

The governor also mentioned that over the weekend he and the governors of Maryland and Delaware sent President Trump a letter regarding meat and poultry facilities.

The CDC visited Virginia’s Eastern Shore facilities this week to spread the word on proper distancing and providing guidelines for workers. These guidelines are to ensure that workers are separated and protected.

Northam, who grew up on the Eastern Shore, said that many of the workers at these facilities are at high risk for COVID-19 because of their race and underlying health conditions.

“I am very concerned for them,” Gov. Northam said.

The governor said he realizes the importance of the meat processing plants on our food chain and Virginia’s economy.

“I fully understand the importance of meat processing on our economy,” Northam said. “But I also want to be clear this depends on workers who are healthy and safe.”

Northam said he hopes that Trump’s order will help workers at these plants receive the healthcare support they need and adequate PPE.

Over the next few days, the CDC will be at Virginia’s poultry plants and Northam expects to have a more clear picture of what is going on and how the state can help.

“Time is of the essence to stop the spread and protect our workers,” Northam said.

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