Va. COVID-19 cases rise 33% in 24 hours
The commonwealth now has 152 confirmed novel coronavirus cases; state revises testing criteria to prioritize health care workers and first responders.
As of Saturday, March 21, Virginia has 152 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — a 33% increase from the day before, the Virginia Department of Health announced during a news briefing Saturday.
Additionally, the state revised its COVID-19 testing criteria to prioritize health care workers and first responders caring for patients with the novel coronavirus, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Laurie Forlano. The state government is also focusing testing on areas where there are clusters of suspected COVID-19 cases, Forlano said, and is “slightly relaxing” testing criteria for patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
The novel coronavirus has spread statewide, with 25 cases in Central Virginia, 42 in Eastern Virginia, 77 in Northern Virginia, six in the northwestern region and two in Southwest Virginia. Twenty-five Virginians were hospitalized as of Saturday, with nearly 2,800 COVID-19 tests conducted so far by state labs. Two Virginians have died from COVID-19 since the first case was confirmed in the commonwealth on March 7. As of March 21, there are more than 287,000 cases worldwide, with nearly 12,000 deaths reported. There are about 20,000 cases confirmed in the United States, with 275 deaths so far.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Saturday that the state is working to get much-needed personal protection equipment and other medical supplies to health care providers, noting that a shipment from the national emergency stockpile was distributed on Friday. Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said the state is exploring several options for sourcing in-demand equipment, including reaching out to Virginia-based manufacturing companies that may be able to produce protective medical gear such as N95 respirator masks “very quickly.” The state is also exploring sourcing personal protective equipment for medical workers from the mining industry, which has “the same N95 masks, and they may look a little different, but they’re perfectly serviceable in the health care environment.”
Northam once again addressed reports that some restaurants, fitness centers and theaters may be ignoring his order to limit business to 10 patrons at a time or close for business. “There a few people that are not yet getting the message,” Northam said. “If our restaurants, our fitness centers, our theaters stay open with … more than 10 patrons, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and lose your operating permit on the spot. This is real. I am taking this seriously and I ask you to take it seriously as well.”
Northam has declined to mandate restaurants to close their dining rooms, as several other states have done, including Maryland.
Among other new state actions being taken during the COVID-19 crisis, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a decision late Friday that local governments can hold public meetings electronically if the meetings are limited to “essential business” related to the state of emergency and the pandemic. Other pending public business should be deferred until the governing bodies can meet in person again, Northam said.
Northam deflected a question from the press about whether Virginia is considering closing all nonessential businesses and ordering people to shelter at home. One in five Americans are now being mandated to stay home, following the enactment of stringent measures in California, New York, Illinois and other states. “This is a fluid situation,” Northam said. “… It literally changes hour to hour. … We have taken aggressive steps in Virginia to combat this, to keep it under control, to flatten that curve, and I’ll continue to monitor it and make decisions as necessary to keep Virginians safe. … I’m not here to answer ‘what ifs.'”
Northam also addressed misinformation and rumors, urging Virginians to get their information from reliable sources such as the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Uncertain times like this can give rise to a lot of bad information,” Northam said. Clarifying rumors that the Virginia National Guard has been mobilized, the governor noted that the guard has not been mobilized but that his state emergency declaration activated the guard, which means that guard members are on notice and ready to be deployed as needed. The Virginia National Guard regularly provides assistance during natural disasters, transporting people and supplies and performing other emergency duties.