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Gov. Northam’s coronavirus briefing: no spike in COVID-19 cases, higher education guidelines, May revenue numbers

Updated: Jun. 11, 2020 at 1:42 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Northam is holding a briefing on the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in Virginia. He began by reminding viewers that they are working to remove the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee safely. A person was recently injured when protesters took down a statue.

Governor Ralph Northam announced his commission to examine racial inequity in Virginia law will continue its work, looking at racial disparities and discriminatory policies in current laws in areas like health, housing and public safety. The commission had worked last year to identify and uncover racist and discriminatory laws still on the books in Virginia’s Acts of Assembly. They made their recommendations that those laws be struck from the Acts, which was done by the General Assembly this session.

Speaking of the COVID-19 numbers in Virginia, Northam says so far the commonwealth has not seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. Northam also notes the number of coronavirus deaths has been deceasing over the last couple of weeks.

Gov. Northam, though, emphasizes “this virus is still with us.” He encouraged everyone to continue to follow guidelines. He urged protesters to social distance, wear masks, and get tested.

On higher education, Northam says guidance for reopening is similar to those recently announced for K-12 schools.

Peter Blake, the director of state council of higher education, spoke about the challenges around racial inequities in Virginia’s colleges and universities, and that they will strive to improve.

Blake says reopening guidance for higher education puts safety at the forefront. Blake said campuses will have to meet certain conditions related to public health, and each plan will be unique and can be updated. He says to expect a new normal in college life as colleges and universities adjust as a result of COVID-19. Additional info is expected to be released Friday.

Northam says we want our students back on campuses this fall, but also want them to be safe. Gov. Northam asks everyone to continue to take COVID-19 seriously, and reminds us that the virus has not been eradicated.

Northam then turned to the May revenue numbers, saying May 2020′s numbers are about 20% lower than May 2019. Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said this represents about $800 million, better than the projected $1 billion loss. Layne says teleworking has helped, as well as federal actions. “It is still a very difficult time for the state,” he said.

Thursday morning, the Virginia Department of Health reported a total of 52,647 COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth. The death total from the virus in Virginia is now at 1,520, 6 more than yesterday. A total of 453,869 people have been tested for the coronavirus. The total hospitalizations is 5,360, 88 more than yesterday.

When he was asked about defunding the police, Northam says a lot of semantics have been used. Northam says there are certain areas they can start with in regard to reform, such as increasing diversity in the police force, de-escalation training, and body cameras. Later in the briefing Northam said the use of force will definitely be discussed during discussions in regards to police reform.

When asked, Northam said he wasn’t aware if any arrests have been made in connection to statue of Jefferson Davis being pulled down Wednesday night.

Northam says COVID-19 has shown the importance of broadband internet access, such as to allow students in rural areas access to online education tools.

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Commonwealth of Virginia - Office of Governor Northam

Press Release:

Governor Northam Provides Guidance for Reopening Higher Education Institutions~ Virginia’s public and private degree-granting institutions to develop plans to bring students back to campus, resume in-person instruction ~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued guidance for Virginia public and private higher education institutions as they develop plans to safely reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction. This guidance document was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Health, and was informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Governor is directing all of Virginia’s colleges and universities to create detailed reopening plans that demonstrate compliance with this new guidance.

“Virginia has one of the best and most diverse systems of higher education in the nation and each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission, location, circumstances, and student bodies,” said Governor Northam. “A safe, responsible reopening of Virginia’s college and university campuses is critical, especially for students who depend on our campus communities to provide valuable resources that they do not have access to at home.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. Secretary Qarni, Deputy Secretary Fran Bradford, and staff from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard a wide range of perspectives including parents, students, faculty, student affairs specialists, college access program staff, and more.

“At their best, Virginia higher education institutions are engines of economic and social mobility for the students they serve and the communities they are embedded in,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Virginia’s colleges and universities create space for dialogue about hard issues and promote new ideas that are critical to moving the Commonwealth forward. For all of this to be possible, students, faculty, staff, and families alike need to know that our institutions are prioritizing the health and safety of campus communities. Transparency and accountability is critical in this process.”

Virginia’s higher education reopening guidance is among the first in the nation, and is one of the most comprehensive accounts of criteria that should be considered when reopening a college or university campus. The document requires institutions to meet certain public health conditions in order to reopen their campuses, and to develop plans to address the following considerations:

  • Repopulation of the campus
  • Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
  • Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
  • Shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe Conditions and/or public health guidance

For more information, read the guidance document available here. This document is also available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, and Tagalog.

“With this robust guidance document, Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities can begin the hard work necessary to reopen their campuses,” said Peter Blake, Director of SCHEV. “While life at our colleges and universities will change, the energy, creativity and commitment shown by faculty and staff ensures that the learning experience will not be sacrificed. SCHEV stands ready to support institutions in developing strategies to serve students more effectively, without sacrificing the highest public health standards.”

Institutions must submit comprehensive reopening plans SCHEV, who will review their plans for compliance to relevant guidelines. Plans may need to be updated as guidance evolves, especially in the areas of testing, contact tracing, and symptom tracking. Institutions are encouraged to post their reopening plans publicly.