RICHMOND — Virginians should wear face masks outside to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday.
Northam, speaking at a news conference in Richmond, cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday that said people should wear non-medical, cloth masks.
“If a person is wearing a face covering, it is less likely that droplets from a sneeze or from talking will spread out into the air, and if you’re wearing a face covering, it can offer some level of protection against those droplets,” Northam said. “It also makes you more aware of accidentally touching your face. You don’t need a medical grade mask to do this; in fact, you can make your own.”
Northam showed off his own mask, which he said was made by the Department of Corrections.
The CDC had initially recommended that only those with COVID-19 symptoms wear masks.
"Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure,” the CDC said in a statement last week.
Virginia law bars people from concealing their face, a measure passed in the 1950s aimed at unmasking the Ku Klux Klan. The felony carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Northam said the law would not be used to charge people wearing the masks to mitigate COVID-19’s spread.
“If you are wearing this face covering for the purpose of protecting yourself medically, nobody in Virginia will give you any problems; nobody will write any citations,” he said.
– Justin Mattingly
Virginia using genetic technology to find virus’ origin
Northam also announced Monday that Virginia is among the first states in the country to use genetic technology to help public health officials better understand and track the scope of the virus.
Northam said the Department of General Services’ Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services is using genetic sequencing to decode some of the state’s COVID-19 samples.
“Advances in genetic sequencing allow us to track and analyze COVID-19 better than previous outbreaks,” Northam said. “This innovative technology, combined with the work of our public health laboratory and epidemiologists around the commonwealth, will help us understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change. And that will give us more tools to fight it.”
So far, researchers have found evidence that the virus was introduced in Virginia in multiple places and not through a single source. Northam also said that there is “clear indication” of person-to-person spread within the suspected coronavirus outbreaks in the state.
“This genetic fingerprint gives us tremendous insight into this novel virus, helping us understand where Virginia cases originated and how they are being transmitted in our communities,” said Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services Director Dr. Denise Toney. “Providing this information in real-time is unbelievably valuable for public health officials as they determine how to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Northam said Virginia working with the CDC, along with international public health organizations and universities on the project, with the state also creating a library that stores the information of the positive samples it identifies and those tested at private labs, hospitals and universities in Virginia.
– Justin Mattingly
Virginia places PPE order
Some personal protective equipment is coming Virginia’s way, but state leaders say it will need more.
Northam said Monday that the state has signed a $27 million contract with Northfield, a Virginia-based logistics company, to get more PPE, including masks, gowns and gloves, to health care workers in the state. The first shipment, coming to Virginia from Asia, is expected to arrive April 13.
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, calling the state’s current PPE supply “woefully short” of what’s needed, said the order the first of many.
“Clearly the need even outweighs what that purchase would be,” Moran said. “We made it with alacrity, but we are going to need additional supplies."
Northam would not commit to joining a nationwide PPE-buying consortium that governors of other states, most notably New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have called for.
“We are working with the other governors. We are working with our leadership in Washington to follow our inventory, not only in Virginia, but for all the other states,” Northam said. “We also have a responsibility to prepare and we have prepared for the worst.”
Virginia has also started “meals ready-to-eat”, better known as MREs, to food banks in the state, which are seeing an increase in demand with many out-of-work.
Northam said the state is finalizing contracts for the three venues, including the Greater Richmond Convention Center, that his administration has tapped as emergency field hospitals.
Construction on the three sites is scheduled to begin this week, Northam said.
– Justin Mattingly
The Virginia Department of Corrections reports that 19 inmates – 18 of them at two facilities for women and one at an outside hospital – and 9 staff have tested positive for the virus less than a week after the first cases were confirmed behind bars.
The department, which manages nearly 30,000 inmates in more then 40 facilities said it has taken measures to help keep COVID-19 out of the prisons and to curb its spreading once inside. Officials said they are following the guidelines of the CDC and Virginia Department of Health.
The number of cases at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, a 500-inmate prison in Goochland, doubled from Sunday to Monday, from 6 to 12, said the department.
Advocates and critics continue pleas to the Northam administration to release more inmates. Parole ended for crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995. The administration says there are nearly 2,600 inmates who are eligible for parole or eligible for geriatric release by the parole board.
– Frank Green
A new online dashboard run by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association launched Monday says that 1,194 people either confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 are currently hospitalized across Virginia.
This number shows a significant difference in reporting from the Virginia Department of Health, which reported only 497 cumulative hospitalizations Monday morning based on data collected as of 5 p.m. Sunday.
The state has also reported only 2,878 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, about 2.4 times as many hospitalized cases there are.
A lack of testing and a delay in laboratory results has stunted the Virginia Department of Health in its ability to track how widespread COVID-19 is throughout the state.
According to the VHHA dashboard, 538 of those hospitalized have tested positive for COVID-19, 656 of those hospitalized have tests still pending. Of those hospitalized, 387 are in the Intensive Care Unit and 285 are on a ventilator.
Hospitals throughout the state report having 1,900 ventilators that are not currently being used by a patient.
Eleven hospitals have told VHHA that they are having difficulty obtaining personal protective equipment in the next 72 hours.
– Bridget Balch
The Virginia Department of Health reported Monday that 2,878 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19.
That’s an increase of 241 cases from the 2,637 reported Sunday.
The VDH also said that 24,521 have been tested for the virus in Virginia, and 497 people have been hospitalized.
There have been 54 deaths.
The state updates information based on counts submitted the previous day; numbers reported on the VDH website at 9 a.m. were current as of 5 p.m. Sunday.