Virginia’s COVID-19 testing capacity is improving, Northam says
Governor names testing task force led by state epidemiologist, former health commissioner
With more tests becoming available and faster turnaround for results, Virginia expects to soon be able to test more people — including those with lower-grade symptoms — for COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam said in his Monday news conference.
State, hospital and private labs are testing between 2,000 and 3,000 people per day, said Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia’s secretary of health and human services. Hospitals are increasingly able to conduct in-house testing, and the state’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, which runs tests for the Virginia Department of Health, expects to run 400 tests a day by next week, when it receives additional equipment from the Altria Group, Northam said. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with the White House to provide more swabs, reagents and transportation containers that will allow expanded testing, the governor added.
With greater numbers of tests on the way — although neither Carey nor Northam would specify how many daily tests are the state’s ultimate goal — a “testing work group” led by former state health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley and State Epidemiologist Lilian Peake would coordinate with hospitals, nursing homes, free clinics, health districts and departments, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to use the tests to their full capacity, Northam said.
Carey explained that the “total number of tests is not the same thing as deploying a test that meets both clinical criteria: adding value to the individual patient or adding value to our full understanding of how this outbreak is behaving.” Northam said that although there would be continued focus on people at the most risk — including those in hospitals showing symptoms, people in nursing homes and health care workers who have been exposed — he will begin encouraging physicians to begin testing patients who show symptoms but are not sick enough to go to the hospitals.
When asked about President Trump’s “Liberate Virginia” tweet and a small protest on the Virginia State Capitol grounds last week, as well as one that has been scheduled on Facebook for Wednesday, Northam acknowledged that the White House has sent mixed messages. Officials have veered from the “one team, one mission” message repeated by Vice President Mike Pence during a phone call with the nation’s governors and then, “two days later,” the president’s tweet decrying gun-control legislation the governor signed this month, Northam said.
“This has entitled folks to have protests, not only in Virginia but in other states,” the governor said. “I would encourage Virginians to remember ‘one team, one mission.'” He added that he supports the First Amendment but noted that he saw protestors “not six feet apart but six inches apart. They’re literally putting themselves at risk. They’re also putting the rest of us at risk. They’re putting health care providers at risk.”
Northam also added that he, too, is anxious to reopen Virginia for business and loosen restrictions, although he noted that both the White House and the CDC have said it is not safe until the state has seen at least 14 consecutive days with declining numbers of cases. “Be patient,” he said. “Staying six feet apart, staying at home — these things are working.”