Northam could order Virginians to wear masks/face coverings, will give reopening process update on Tuesday

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and state officials held a coronavirus press conference on Friday as Virginia Beach reopened its beaches.

Virginia reported its lowest hospitalization numbers since May 3 on Friday, with 813 cases and 37 new deaths also reported.

Highlights from Northam’s press conference:

Memorial Day reminders

Governor Northam reminded Virginians to stay safe and stay conscious of the coronavirus outbreak over this Memorial Day weekend.

Northam said people should still practice safe social distancing guidelines over the holiday. There are still some parts of Virginia, including Accomack in our region, that have not moved to phase 1 of reopening and remain under the stay-at-home orders.

State officials warned extra law enforcement will be out on the roads enforcing speed limits.

Northam said the Virginia War Memorial’s annual Memorial Day ceremony would be held virtually this year and said the state would be flying its flags at half-mast.

“I want to remind people of what Memorial Day means, and that is that many men and women who wore the cloth paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can have the freedoms we enjoy every day,” he said.

Watch the full press conference below:

Mask use strongly encouraged, “homework” ahead of announcement coming Tuesday

Northam says he’s strongly encouraging all Virginians, including children and teenagers, to wear a face covering in public settings going forward, emphasizing how those without symptoms can still spread COVID-19.

He’s giving Virginians a weekend “homework” assignment to buy or make a homemade mask ahead of an announcement set for next Tuesday’s press conference.

Northam’s press conferences are moving to Tuesdays and Thursdays going forward.

Next steps for Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack

Northam says he’s been in frequent contact with officials in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County, which all delayed phase 1 to at least May 28. He says he’ll have updates on their next steps next week.

Community testing sites

The percent of positive COVID-19 tests continues to trend downward. 

Northam says the Virginia National Guard has provided more than 11,000 tests through large-scale testing sites. VDH is working to expand access to testing by offering more community testing events and partnering with pharmacies.

Next week, 44 community testing events are planned across the state and officials anticipate that will add approximately 17,500 tests to the overall tally.

“Testing and tracing are critical pieces of this puzzle as we move forward,” Northam said.

To find a testing location near you, click here.

Online shopping for SNAP recipients

Northam says Virginians on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be able to order groceries online and have them delivered starting next Friday, May 29. The new pilot USDA program includes seven retailers, including Amazon, Safeway and Walmart. For more information, click here.

Unemployment updates

Northam says 720,000 Virginians have applied for unemployment since the pandemic hit the U.S., with 10.6% of Virginia’s workforce out of a job. He acknowledged that many Virginians are still struggling to get unemployment benefits and says Virginia is opening a new call center with 315 more employees. For more information and help with unemployment, visit WAVY’s unemployment page here.

On Trump declaring churches “essential”

Fielding a question on President Donald Trump declaring churches essential on Friday, Northam said that “faith is more important than ever, and we want to make sure folks are allowed to practice their religion and do it safely,” and said that churches in Virginia’s phase 1 areas can be at 50% capacity, but they need to continue to practice social distancing and good hygiene. Those not comfortable reopening for indoor services can still continue to hold online or drive-in services.

“We’ve made sure people can continue to practice their faith through this pandemic,” Northam said.

New COVIDCheck app launched

A new, free online application tool to help Virginians prevent the spread of COVID-19, called COVIDCheck, launched on Friday.

“If you are feeling sick or think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it is important that you take action right away,” Northam said. “This online symptom-checking tool can help Virginians understand their personal risk for COVID-19 and get recommendations about what to do next from the safety of their homes. As we work to flatten the curve in our commonwealth, telehealth services like this will be vital to relieving some of the strains on providers and health systems and making health care more convenient and accessible.”

To use COVIDCheck, click here.

The Virginia Department of Health announced plans to launch a proximity tracking app to help supplement the efforts already underway by human contact tracing. It’s still under development. For more on that, click here.

Class of 2020 virtual celebration

Virginia Public Media is hosting “Virginia Graduates Together,” a statewide celebration of the Class of 2020. According to the website, the special broadcast and streaming event is a salute to this year’s grads that will feature an address from Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam. There will also be musical performances, a keynote speaker and well-wishes for the graduates from notable Virginians.

Residents are encouraged to submit photos, messages, and videos though the website. The event is scheduled for May 29 at 5 p.m.


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