RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in Virginia as the commonwealth sees record COVID-19 hospitalizations with the omicron surge.

Northam made the announcement on Monday during a press conference, his final one before he leaves office at the end of this week.

The state of emergency will go for 30 days, as Northam says data shows hospitalizations will peak in early February. Officials say the order relaxes regulations to be able to bring in licensed providers from out of state, and gives hospitals more flexibility to increase bed capacity.

“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Northam said. “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people. Ultimately, the best thing everyone can do for our hospitals and their staff is to get vaccinated.”

Northam reemphasized how most of those who are being hospitalized in this latest surge are unvaccinated. 97% of those on ventilators at Ballad Health in Southwest Virginia are unvaccinated.

Northam said there are no plans to switch Virginia’s schools back to fully virtual learning (state law currently doesn’t allow for large-scale closures of public schools, only one the individual school or classroom level), pointing to vaccine access for those 5 and older.

This is the first COVID-19 state of emergency for Virginia since June 30, 2021.

Following an inquiry, Governor-elect Youngkin’s transition aide Devin O’Malley says the governor-elect supports “the use of tailored executive action.”

Read the full statement from Transition Aide O’Malley below:

“Governor-elect Youngkin and his transition team have been in frequent contact with hospital systems and medical professionals throughout the transition, and it is clear that our hospital systems continue to experience an historic staffing crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic creates new challenges for them. Governor-elect Youngkin supports the use of tailored executive action that removes staffing barriers and provides healthcare providers the flexibility in order to deliver high-quality care and give overworked medical professionals the relief they need.” 

Governor-elect Youngkin’s transition aide Devin O’Malley

The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians also released a statement Monday in response to Northam’s declaration.

“We thank Governor Northam and his team for this critical action, which should provide necessary relief to emergency departments and hospitals statewide. The declaration highlights the important role ERs play as a safety net for all people every day. We also encourage Virginians in need of a COVID-19 test to use one of the many new community testing sites statewide, as emergency departments have only a limited supply and test only high-risk, symptomatic patients.

“By the way: Get vaccinated and boosted. When you do, you avoid ever coming here with serious symptoms and you’ll keep ERs open to your neighbors and friends who truly need us.”

Virginia College of Emergency Physicians

Monday’s declaration comes as Virginia reports record numbers of coronavirus cases. VDH reported its single daily record on Saturday, Jan. 8 with 26,175 new cases reported, there were 16,065 cases reported on Sunday and 15,463 on Monday. Virginia is also seeing its highest number of current COVID-19 patients (3,681 total patients as of Jan. 10.)

Infections on a per-case basis with omicron variant are proving to be less severe than previous variants such as delta, but the sheer number of new infections has led to the strain in hospitals. Sentara Healthcare has had to pause non-emergency procedures until after the surge.

Though it’s less severe overall, omicron is still killing people (nearly all unvaccinated) with more than 1,500 new COVID deaths per day in the U.S. (though some of those may be delta infections).

“While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,'” said the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people and it is killing people.”