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UVa professors among those urging Northam to implement stronger prevention measures

RICHMOND — A network of doctors, scientists, policy experts and concerned citizens have penned an open letter to Gov. Ralph Northam calling for more aggressive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia.

The letter comes after Northam on Friday announced a blueprint for easing health restrictions if cases trend downward for 14 consecutive days. The Virginia Department of Health reported the number of COVID-19 cases rose more than 1,000 on Sunday to 12,970 statewide.

The group, which includes dozens of professors with ties to the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, among others, said in the letter posted to that Northam’s stay-at-home order has saved lives, but that more action is needed before reopening can be done safely.

Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute and leader of the initiative, said the goal shouldn’t be slowing the spread of COVID-19 but to eliminate it completely.

“The steps that have been taken are at the margins of whether it will persist for weeks or months but not the kind of things that will just stop it in its tracks. If you do that right, then within weeks, it’s done,” Bar-Yam said.

The request comes as governors in other states begin to relax restrictions on commerce, including for retailers in South Carolina and tattoo parlors, salons and barbershops in Georgia.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt allowed certain personal care businesses, such as hair salons, spas, nail salons and pet groomers, to welcome customers back — by appointment only — last week.

The decision to loosen restrictions has ignited debate and drawn swift rebuke from experts concerned that half-measures will lead to a surge in new cases.

The letter to Northam lists seven steps the initiative would like to see put into action in Virginia. The steps include expanding mask usage, using CT scans for testing, and converting facilities such as college dorms into voluntary isolation stations.

The plea, endorsed by a range of workers from medical doctors to day care employees, calls for “safe-travel” rules to prevent areas already clear of the virus from importing newly positive cases.

The measure would involve a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors and limit travel to essential services such as food and supply shipments.

“Why are we holding up areas from going back to normal? We’re doing it because they can’t be sure they won’t have more cases next week,” Bar-Yam said.

Bar-Yam said he and the others who signed the letter hope Northam will take time to hear out the science behind the recommendations and how they work together to end the spread quickly.

More than 2,000 Virginians have been hospitalized due to the virus, and 448 had died as of 5 p.m. Saturday.

Last week, the VDH started reporting probable COVID-19 cases and probable deaths from the virus.

Probable cases are people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19 but have not been confirmed with a positive test.

State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website, which malfunctioned Sunday evening.

Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.


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