Northam holds press conference on coronavirus preparations in Virginia


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — Virginia health officials briefed the press Wednesday on the commonwealth’s preparedness for a possible coronavirus outbreak.

Of the 17 people in Virginia tested, 14 came back negative and three are currently pending, Virginia Department of Health officials confirmed at the joint press conference alongside Gov. Ralph Northam.

“The Commonwealth is taking this public health issue seriously, and we have a plan in place to respond to COVID-19,” Northam said. “The Virginia Department of Health has some of the country’s leading public health experts on its team, with deep experience guiding public health emergency responses, and I have great confidence in their ability to guide Virginia in this situation.”

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Last week, health departments and hospitals across Hampton Roads put plans in place to deal with any possible community outbreaks.

“The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19,” State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver explained. “There are also many everyday preventive measures that you can take to help stop the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19.”

State health officials shared precautions that should be taken to combat spread of the novel coronavirus.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Officials said Virginia gained the ability to test potential COVID-19 cases over the last few days, after having to send specimens to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Commissioner Oliver said Virginia’s professionals retrieve specimens on-site of the person that will be tested, and do not transport people to a central lab location.

Virginia established an Incident Management Team in January that will lead the response and remains “in regular and close communication with government and private sector partners.” Dr. Lilian Peake, a state epidemiologist acting as Virginia’s incident commander in charge of the team, also spoke on Wednesday.

“Our team is tracking the virus and meeting daily to discuss the situation,” Peake said. “The risk to Virginians right now is low. But this is a dynamic situation that is changing daily. Being able to test potential cases here in Virginia will help us protect public health by providing results more quickly, so we can prevent the spread of disease and protect our communities.”

Officials also said the state would provide around $3.6 million for preparedness, testing and response to COVID-19 over the next 90 days.

Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane told 8News where the money would go. Below are cost estimates and expense items:

  • $2.45 million for personnel protection equipment for staff retrieving specimens and conducting tests (masks, gloves, suits etc.)
  • $610,000 for outreach and media materials to “get the message out.”
  • $355,000 for additional personnel and overtime between the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
  • Remaining costs are for lodging, food and transportation for staff, and for potential quarantine efforts and telecom costs in the event any quarantines were set up.

Accurate, reliable information about COVID-19 can be found on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website.

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