Northam: Hampton picked for COVID-19 alternate care site, budget cuts coming, law enforcement won’t bother anyone wearing mask in public


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As coronavirus cases in Virginia top 2,000, health officials warn community COVID-19 spread is increasing rapidly. Gov. Ralph Northam talked Friday about some new resources and recommendations to slow the virus down.

It comes as Virginia health officials reported more than 300 new cases on Friday, bringing the commonwealth’s total to 2,012 overall. 312 are hospitalized and 46 people have died due to the virus.

Even though intentionally concealing your face is illegal in Virginia, Northam is now encouraging people to wear cloth masks in public to stop COVID-19 from spreading. He said N95 mask should be reserved for healthcare workers.

“I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pathogen that is as contagious as this is,” the governor said during his briefing Friday. “I would just assume that if you’re around other people that there is a good likelihood that someone is going to have the virus.”

Northam also announced that the Richmond Convention Center will be the state’s third alternative hospital. He said these sites will be used to free up space in the health care system.

“The next steps are to complete contracts, move into design and then to construction,” Northam explained. “Teams are moving fast and we expect these alternative care sites to be ready within six weeks.”

The commonwealth will have more funding to combat the coronavirus now that the federal government has granted Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration. This comes as Northam told state agencies to expect budget cuts.

“We can expect to have significantly less revenue than even our most pessimistic forecasts. Our response to this crisis requires us to make significant investments,” Northam said.

The governor said the state is putting aside $2.5 million to shelter about 1,500 homeless people during his stay-at-home order. In the last 24 hours, Northam’s office says more than 500 hotels have offered up rooms.

With the weather looking good this week, Northam warns he’ll be watching to make sure people are abiding by social distancing in state parks.

“I hear that some people are still gathering in groups and not abiding by our social distancing,” he said.

Under his executive order, state parks and beaches are only open for exercising and fishing.

“I do not want to have to close these lands to public visitation because of a few irresponsible people,” Northam said.

Northam also referenced Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Richmond. At least 17 residents at the facility have died, and there are 92 residents who tested positive.

“Of those who tested positive, 53 had no symptoms. They didn’t know they had the virus at all,” he said. “This demonstrates how absolutely critical it is that everyone to stay home and stay away from other people.”

Updates from Northam’s April 3 press conference.

  • Gov. Northam confirmed Friday that the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton will be one of three major sites in Virginia to serve as overflow medical facilities if local hospitals are overwhelmed due to the coronavirus. The facility will have 360 acute or 580 non-acute beds. Other sites will be in Northern Virginia and Richmond, and all three are expected to be ready in 6 weeks, Northam says. Officials say the number of beds they’re building are in line with the expected surge in cases in Virginia, though they’re looking at other sites to possibly expand. The Army Corps of Engineers is also looking to see what sites will be needed in the western and southwestern areas of the state, officials say.
  • 114,104 Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week, but Northam says that number will seem small next week. He says the state has upgraded the unemployment department’s website and server capacity and staffing to answer calls has been increased by 20%. Virginians have reported major issues in applying for benefits.

More: Laid off due to coronavirus? Here’s how to apply for unemployment benefits in Virginia

  • “These are not normal times,” Northam said while encouraging faith communities to use virtual or drive-in services in the next few weeks. His pastor, Kelvin Jones of First Baptist Church in Capeville, Virginia, said “this could be the time for us to push the reset button on our lives and concentrate on our faith,” even as we suspend in-person worship.”
  • Fielding a question about help for renters, Northam’s chief of staff first says 500 hotels across the commonwealth have offered to help up to 1,500 people experiencing homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. He says many people are looking for information on private landlords/commercial operations. While evictions are currently suspended, rent payments are still due.
  • “No law enforcement will be bothering anybody because they have a covering on their face,” Northam says in response to a question about Virginia’s law against wearing masks in public. Health officials say masks, scarves, bandannas, etc. can help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The White House is considered national guidance asking Americans to wear masks in public. Northam is asking citizens to leave N95 masks for medical professionals and use cloth masks instead. “I would encourage that,” he says – for healthy people and people who suspect they may have COVID-19.”

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