Northam says Virginia not ready to reopen: ‘We’re still seeing more cases each day’


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — President Donald Trump is endorsing a phased approach to ease coronavirus restrictions but Gov. Ralph Northam says Virginia isn’t ready to move forward just yet.

The first phase of the federal guidelines looks a lot like the current ‘stay at home’ order set to expire in Virginia on June 10. The difference is that healthy people could begin socializing in groups of less than 10 and some could re-enter the workforce, though teleworking would still be encouraged.

“Those guidelines are consistent with everything we in Virginia have been doing and will continue to do, a phased approach based on science and data,” Northam said in a press conference on Friday.

President Trump laid out the roadmap for reopening the economy in a phone call with the nation’s governor’s on Thursday. After initially asserting he could ease coronavirus restrictions unilaterally, he asked states to take “careful steps,” acknowledging some will be able to move faster than others. 

One day later, the president appeared to throw his support behind recent rallies against “excessive quarantine” in a series of Tweets–“LIBERATE VIRGINIA” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

“I along with my staff are fighting a biological war. I don’t have time to involve myself in Twitter wars,” Northam said in response.

MORE: Groups protesting Virginia’s coronavirus restrictions asked to spread out

To initiate phase one of the reopening plan, a state has to have a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases. In Virginia, they’re up by more than 600 since yesterday, an 8 percent jump. 

“We’re not there yet. Once we are, just like everyone, I want to get back to being as near normal as we can as soon as possible but we have to be patient,” Northam said. “Otherwise, cases will spike, we’ll be right back where we started and all of the sacrifices people have already made will have been for nothing.”

Before loosening restrictions, a state also has to have enough hospital space to treat patients and the ability to test healthcare workers. 

A Virginia-specific model often cited by Gov. Northam’s administration suggests the state’s hospitals will have the capacity to manage a surge of patients. 

Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health at the Virginia Department of Health, said the state has been able to test symptomatic healthcare workers and those exposed to an outbreak for a while now. 

Gov. Northam said that the state still needs to develop widespread testing to track and isolate positive cases throughout the reopening process.

To date, Virginia is nearing 49 thousand tests. That represents less than one percent of the state’s total population. 

When asked how the state’s contact-tracing infrastructure is coming along, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said, “We’re scouring the country looking for that equipment and helping our institutions increase testing. We just haven’t been successful because of the national shortage.”

Gov. Northam said there is still no national guidance on testing. Instead, every governor has to establish their own protocol and gather supplies. 

The governor said Virginia is continuing to make progress. On Friday, his administration announced VDH is expanding its testing criteria to include people preparing to be admitted into congregate settings like long-term care facilities. 

Northam said, without federal assistance, testing will continue to be a challenge as states compete with one another for supplies. 

State health officials reported Friday that 231 people have died from COVID-19 in Virginia. Of the 48,997 people tested for the virus, 7,491 have tested positive, according to numbers from the Virginia Department of Health.

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s online dashboard shows that 1,308 people — confirmed positive COVID-19 patients (809) and those with tests pending (499) — are in the hospital as of Friday.

There are 400 patients who are in the ICU and 224 currently on a ventilator. The dashboard shows that 1,110 people in total have been discharged after being hospitalized with the virus.

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