Northam: ‘Staying home is an act of love’
Governor urges public to "do the right thing" to avoid spreading COVID-19 during holidays
Gov. Ralph Northam said that news about mobile morgues in other states with COVID-19 spikes prompted him to enact new mitigation measures on Friday across the state.
“What really affected me was seeing mobile morgues outside hospitals because there was no place to put the dead,” the governor said at his news conference Wednesday afternoon. “We don’t need that in Virginia.”
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Northam emphasized that importance of wearing masks and avoiding crowds to help others, including health care providers, and asked Virginians “to do the right thing” and consider during the holidays that “this year, staying home is an act of love, too.”
On Monday, Northam’s most recent restrictions on gatherings and mask use went into effect. Currently, gatherings are limited to 25 people — with the exceptions of essential workplaces, schools and places of worship — and people ages 5 and older are required to wear masks in indoor public places, a change from masks for people ages 10 and up.
Enforcement of social distancing, mask wearing and cleaning at grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential retail businesses has been increased, with violations leading to possible Class 1 misdemeanor charges, and an on-site alcohol curfew of 10 p.m. for all businesses that serve drinks.
Northam said Wednesday that the misdemeanor charge will remain in effect until March 2021, when a new civil penalty is enacted. He said that he is not currently considering travel bans or school closures, as other states have done recently, but noted that he couldn’t entirely rule out any additional restrictions.
Although the state is not seeing the sharp increases in cases and deaths particularly prevalent in the Midwest and other Southern states, Virginia has seen considerable increases in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks, including a one-day total of 2,071 cases Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported Wednesday morning. State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said the state is approaching 20 cases per 100,000 people, twice the level seen during the summer. More than 208,000 people in the state have caught the virus, according to the VDH, and 22,000 have been treated in Virginia hospitals, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported this week.
Twenty-five people in Virginia died Tuesday from COVID-related causes, and 29 people died Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 3,860 since March. Currently the state is conducting about 20,000 tests a day, Oliver added.
The VHHA Board of Directors issued a statement Tuesday asking Virginians to “recommit” to public safety measures such as physical distancing, wearing masks and washing hands regularly.
“Although hospitals across Virginia still collectively have thousands of available beds to meet patient treatment needs, everyone has a duty to act responsibly to limit the spread of infection so we don’t overwhelm our health care system,” the VHHA board statement reads. “In recent weeks, we have seen COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trending upwards in Virginia. If the trend continues, it will place greater strain on hospital team members including doctors and nurses, therapists and custodians, and food service and support staff who have bravely worked to help patients throughout the COVID-19 ordeal.”
In response to a question about people who advocate “letting the chips fall where they may,” regarding the coronavirus, Northam characterized such a viewpoint as “despicable.” He said that medical workers here and elsewhere are tired, and as a doctor, Northam said that health care remains a strong interest for him, particularly during the pandemic.
In other news, the governor said that 15,000 businesses have applied for funds through the expanded Rebuild VA economic relief program, which expanded eligibility in late October and increased grants to $100,000. The state has approved $55 million in funds so far, Northam said, including 39% for businesses in low-income communities. Northam said that the recently signed state budget, which was adjusted during the General Assembly’s special session this fall, includes measures to prevent evictions and utility shutoffs.
Northam and other governors are now looking to Congress to approve a new economic relief bill, which has been hung up for months as House Democrats push for a $2.2 trillion bill and Senate Republicans support a $500 billion package.
“Now that the election is behind us, Congress needs to come together to get it done, and they need to get it done now,” Northam said.