Virginia residents will be able to start undergoing nonemergency surgeries and dental procedures at the beginning of May, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday.
The governor said at a briefing that his executive order prohibiting elective surgeries and limiting dental procedures, which expires late Thursday night, will not be renewed.
Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds, the president of the board of directors of the Virginia Dental Association, said that new safety procedures would be in place, and that patients should begin consulting with their dentists on when and how to proceed.
Dr. Michael McDermott, president and CEO of Mary Washington Healthcare, added, “We now believe the time is right to begin to provide” nonemergency surgeries.
“If you need care, please do not hesitate to receive care,” McDermott said.
He also said that the numbers on hospitalization and intensive-care usage “have stabilized significantly.”
Northam added that many Virginia veterinarians had voluntarily stopped performing any surgeries that required personal protective equipment in order to preserve and donate it, but that they are now “allowed to provide the full array of services their patients require” while following best practices.
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There will soon be good news on testing as well, Northam said: Early in the crisis, testing was limited to high-risk patients, in another effort to preserve equipment.
“Now, we have more testing capacity, and we are able to ramp up our testing of moderate- and low-risk patients,” as well as first responders and people in nursing homes, Northam said.
McDermott had encouraging news on testing as well: During some days in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, he said, some of his hospitals had enough tests for maybe 30 patients, but would see up to 60 patients in a day who they thought needed a test.
Now, he said, “We test every patient that comes into Mary Washington” who seems to require it.
Northam added that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had provided Virginia with 200,000 swabs for testing, “which will help.”
Health Officer Dr. Norman Oliver said that breakdowns of case data will be available on the ZIP code level in the next few days.
Northam also announced that Virginia is joining a multistate initiative to provide student-loan relief for people with commercial Federal Family Education Loan Program loans, Perkins loans or private student loans.
The provisions include a directive to lenders to grant at least 90 days’ forbearance, waive late-payment fees and more.
The move comes in addition to the postponement of loan payments for those with federal government-owned loans provided in the federal CARES Act.
Northam said the move would benefit about 200,000 Virginians.
Concern for Delmarva poultry plants
Northam also responded to the executive action President Donald Trump took to keep meat processing plants open amid growing cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply.
Trump signed an order Tuesday that uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on grocery store shelves.
Northam said he hopes that order is a signal that the federal government will play a larger role in also helping the Delmarva region’s response to rising cases in poultry plants. He mentioned the letter sent last weekend with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Delaware Gov. John Carney, asking the federal government to help them coordinate the region’s approach.
“If we declare that workers at meat processing plants are essential, then it is imperative that we continue to support their health and well-being,” Northam said.
Accomack County, Virginia, which has poultry plants, currently has 229 positive cases, he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has responded to help the region.
Hogan also discussed the issue in a briefing Wednesday. Maryland now has at least 262 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with poultry workers in the state. The case rate per 100,000 in Maryland’s Wicomico County is now the fifth-highest in Maryland, nearly equal to Baltimore City and higher than Baltimore County.
“These outbreaks are not only a serious public health concern. They’re also a potential threat to Maryland’s leading agricultural industry and to our nation’s essential food supply chain,” Hogan said.
A CDC team will be on the ground later Wednesday, providing assistance in Maryland. The state also requested and has been granted a designated FEMA liaison to help expedite other federal assistance.
WTOP’s Jack Moore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.