Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and first lady Pam Northam tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday afternoon, the administration announced Friday.
Northam, the only physician among the nation’s governors, is experiencing no symptoms, while his wife is experiencing mild symptoms, the administration said in a news release. Both will isolate for the next 10 days.
“As I’ve been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
“The safety and health of our staff and close contacts is of utmost importance to Pam and me, and we are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that everyone is well taken care of. We are grateful for your thoughts and support, but the best thing you can do for us — and most importantly, for your fellow Virginians — is to take this seriously.”
The announcement of Northam’s COVID-19 infection comes hours before a planned visit to the state by President Donald Trump, who is planning to hold an airport rally in Newport News Friday night.
On Thursday, two members of Northam’s Cabinet urged airport officials in Newport News and elsewhere to enforce the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, including a limit of gatherings to 250 people. A local health official in Hampton Roads said the planned Trump event posed a “severe” health risk.
The administration said the Northams sought testing after an Executive Mansion staffer who works closely with the couple developed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19.
The Northams are working with the Virginia Department of Health and local health district to trace their contacts. It’s unclear whether high-ranking Cabinet officials, including state health officials, have been in close contact with the governor in recent days.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for the administration, said that any staffers and officials who have been in close contact with the governor at the executive office building where he works will be tested for the virus.
Yarmosky added that officials and staff who work within the Patrick Henry Building regularly wear masks and follow health guidelines, curbing the chances of spread. The building is undergoing sanitation.
Both Northams have recently traveled the state on official duties, sometimes appearing indoors, though photos show them wearing masks and socially distancing.
In the last two weeks, the governor has visited George Mason University in Fairfax, the Richmond registrar’s office, a solar energy facility in Mechanicsville, and more.
The first lady, as part of her back-to-school tour, visited five sites on Tuesday, including an elementary school, three daycare centers, and an environmental nonprofit.
Northam is not the first governor to test positive for COVID-19. Earlier this week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as did his wife, Teresa Parson.
Like Northam, Parson had not experienced any symptoms when he tested positive — illustrating the phenomena of asymptomatic positive cases that health experts say is to blame, at least in part, for the quick spread of the virus.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, announced in July he had tested positive for COVID-19. He recovered and was back to work less than two weeks later.
Four members of the Virginia General Assembly have tested positive for COVID-19 this year: Dels. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg, Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, and Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke; and, Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania. All have since recovered.
Northam might not be considered at high risk for severe illness due to his age, 61, and no disclosed pre-existing conditions. Eight out of every 10 deaths resulting from COVID-19 are among people 65 and older.
Virginia’s COVID-19 trends have held steady in recent weeks as the state’s positivity rate — the percent of positive tests among everyone tested — hovers above 5 percent.
So far, the state has seen 144,443 total COVID-19 cases, and 3,136 deaths.
At a recent news conference Northam emphasized that the key to staving off the spread of the virus is collective adherence to the health guidelines. Virginia remains under COVID-19 restrictions that require the wearing of masks indoors, social distancing of 6 feet and limits on public and private gatherings.
“It’s behavior that will put this pandemic behind us, not testing, not tracing, not [personal protective equipment],” Northam said on Sept. 15.
Four months ago, Northam fielded criticism for coming close to beachgoers, including posing for photos, without wearing a mask, during an official visit to Virginia Beach. Northam later apologized, saying he had forgotten his mask in the car and did not anticipate being approached by people at the beach.
Northam has since regularly wore masks during appearances.
On Friday, a slew of high-profile Virginians wished the Northams a prompt recovery.
“The House of Delegates wishes the Governor, First Lady and anyone else affected a speedy recovery. We also thank them for all they do to protect and move our Commonwealth forward during these unprecedented times,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn wrote on Twitter.
“Wishing [the governor and first lady] and all affected the swiftest of recoveries. We are all in this together in fighting this unprecedented pandemic,” former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is weighing another run for his old post, wrote on Twitter.