RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in response to the global COVID-19 outbreak.
Virginia now has 17 presumptive positive cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the website for the Virginia Department of Health. A breakdown on the website Thursday said 10 cases were in northern Virginia, 2 in central Virginia, 4 in eastern Virginia, and 1 in northwest Virginia.
Northam said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the state is canceling state-sponsored conferences and banning work-related travel by state employees for 30 days.
“I am asking top economic officials to continue to assess how this will affect our economy and figure out ways to mitigate that,” he said. “Our goal is for everyone to get back to work as quickly as possible, but protecting public safety is our top priority.”
The new numbers are an increase from the 15 cases Dr. Lilian Peake, the state’s epidemiologist, told the House Appropriations Committee existed earlier Thursday morning.
“This pandemic has been shifting and it’s changed every day,” Peake told lawmakers.
Dr. M. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, told the committee that “hundreds” in the state had been tested, but did not offer a specific number.
Longwood University said Wednesday night that a student had tested positive, and Alexandria reported Wednesday that a resident had tested positive, putting the total at 11.
Peake said the state lab has enough tests for 500 people, and is working to build capacity.
“Testing is limited now, so it is important that we, though public health, test those who are most at risk,” Peake said. “If we overwhelm our public health system testing people who really don’t have a risk of having been exposed, we won’t be able to identify the cases and that will lead to further spread.”
Oliver said the state will issue guidance soon on how to mitigate community spread of COVID-19.
“I can say with confidence we’ll have some very specific guidance coming out around that soon,” Oliver said.
“At some point we are going to be looking a the necessity of thinking about curtailing mass gatherings. We’ll have some suggestions about to do with our workforce.”
The Central Shenandoah Health District issued a press release Thursday evening about a new presumed positive case in Harrisonburg.
The person who tested positive is in their 60s and developed upper respiratory symptoms that progressed over a few days to a pneumonia with high fever. The patient was tested for the novel coronavirus by a commercial lab. The patient is currently doing well and is in isolation, according to the health district.
It is not yet clear if that brings the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 18.
The Fairfax County Health Department also reported two new presumptive positive coronavirus cases on Thursday afternoon, which brings the total number of Fairfax cases to four.
One case was a man in his 60s whose spouse is a presumptive positive case in North Carolina.
The second case is a man in his 20s who is close contact of the N.C. case.
Both Fairfax men are isolated at home.