RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Ralph Northam held a briefing Wednesday, November 18, to update the commonwealth on the coronavirus pandemic.
Northam discussed the new COVID-19 measures he put in place last week, ways to address the upcoming holidays, and when we might have a vaccine in Virginia.
Virginia is ready to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine when the time comes. Governor Ralph Northam stressed Wednesday that he hopes we will be past the worst of the pandemic in a few months. But he added we are seeing a record number of cases this week and now is not the time to ease up on things like wearing masks and social distancing.
Governor Ralph Northam got choked up talking about what helped him decide to enact greater restrictions this week on restaurants and gatherings.
“What really affected me was seeing mobile morgues outside hospitals because there’s no place to put the dead,” Northam said. “We don’t need that to happen in Virginia.”
He does, however, see light at the end of the tunnel with the results of two clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine. “As a doctor, I have to caution everyone that light is still a few months away still,” Northam said.
State health commissioner Doctor Norm Oliver says he suspects Virginia will have limited quantities of a vaccine by mid December, with initial deliveries aimed, in part, at the healthcare workforce and first responders. But mass distribution won’t happen until months later.
“All of these things we are quite prepared for, have a very detailed plan for on how to deal with this and we’re really excited about launching into it,” Oliver said.
That plan includes 14 sites prepped for ultra-cold storage for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires a temperature of 112 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
While other states see overwhelmed hospitals and double digit positivity rates, Virginia remains near the bottom for the rate of new COVID cases. “I don’t intend to wait until things get worse to start taking action,” Northam said.
Northam also asked Virginians to think twice about large gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday and the potential effect those can have on loved ones.
“We think of Thanksgiving as a time of family and of love and maybe some football” Northam said. “But this year, staying home is an act of love too.”
On Wednesday the governor also signed the budget legislators worked on during the special session. It includes provisions to prevent evictions and utility shutoffs during the pandemic.
Gov. Northam said we’re seeing a record number of daily COVID-19 cases being reported, with the most rapid spread is in the Southwest region, but all areas of Virginia are seeing a rise in numbers.
He reiterated the new statewide measures that he announced last week. These include a reduction in public and private gatherings, expansion of the mask mandate, strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses, and a on-site alcohol curfew. Northam talked about the following topics:
- Social gatherings must be 25 people or fewer. He is strongly discouraging Virginians from holding indoor gatherings. He advises to do so outside if you must, but still follow social distancing and wear masks.
- Restaurants must stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m. and dining rooms must be closed by midnight. He acknowledged that later events do not necessarily cause the virus to spread, but the later a restaurant hosts an event, the more likely people are to drink and forget to social distance.
- Children age 5 and up are required to wear face coverings in public, including when they’re in school. Previously, the age limit was 10 years old. Northam said the new age aligns with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Northam said research shows wearing masks can reduce the spread of the virus and can protect the person who is wearing the mask.
- Northam is strengthening enforcement of masks and social distancing requirements, saying violations will be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health.
- Spectators at sporting events will be limited.
Gov. Northam says they’re working to provide additional help and funding to small businesses. He urged Congress to pass another round of stimulus checks.
Dr. Norm Oliver went over the statistics of COVID-19 in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health reports there are now a total of 208,833 COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth as of Wednesday, November 18. The number of newly reported cases since yesterday is 2,071.
Virginia’s death total from the virus is at 3,860. The total number of hospitalizations is 13,707. The total number of people tested is 3,229,178, an increase of 20,859 since yesterday, and the current 7-day positivity rate total is 8.3%.
When he was asked if there may be additional restrictions in the future, Northam repeatedly stated that all options are on the table and that he and others will continue to watch the data.