Testing for COVID-19 has increased in Virginia, with Thursday seeing the largest number of single-day tests yet, and doctors will soon be able to expand the types of patients that qualify to be tested, Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday.
In a news briefing, Northam said that Virginia had administered over 5,000 tests on Wednesday and around 5,800 Thursday, which marked the largest number of tests administered in Virginia in a single day since the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the commonwealth.
“We have said the beginning that our goal is to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed — we have done that,” Northam said. “We said from the beginning we need a consistent supply of PPE — we have gotten that. We are testing dramitcally more people …”
Northam said that daily cases of COVID-19 continue to rise the rate of hospitalizations has not, and so the commonwealth’s health care facilities have not been overwhelmed.
“Our case counts continue to climb, but so does our testing,” Northam said. “We have slowed the spread but we are not out of the woods yet. We must continue to move forward carefully — testing is key to that.”
Virginia has turned to private labs to help administer more tests, and they hope to gain more support from the private sector to increase the capacity for testing, the governor said.
With that increased ability to test, Northam issued new guidance to doctors across Virginia, clearing the way for most patients who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to now qualify for tests.
“Doctors, if you have a patient who has the symptoms and meets the criteria, we want you to please get them tested,” Northam said. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a sick person to get a test in a setting that they trust.”
There will also be new guidance for doctors administering tests in outpatient settings coming next week, Northam said.
Karen Remley, a leader of Virginia’s coronavirus task force, said those conducting tests will also be able to collect samples using a nasal-swab method, which patients can administer themselves. With this method, clinicians and others who administer tests will have less direct exposure to patients, which means less personal protective equipment, or PPE, will have to be thrown away.
Northam also said that supplies of PPE have become more readily available, thanks in part to the rollout of a new cleaning process to decontaminate supplies. Northam said PPE could be cleaned up to 20 times before it begins to degrade.
Three new sites in the state will be set up to disinfect used supplies with hydrogen peroxide to further shore up the supply chain. The first of these facilities is in Blacksburg, Virginia, and will be shared with West Virginia and Tennessee, according to Northam.
“A stable supply of PPE is key for moving forward,” Northam said.
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When all three facilities are active, Northam said he hopes the state will be able to clean up to 200,000 masks per day.
Northam will discuss further details about the blueprint for reopening Virginia on Monday.
He also said he would discuss the executive order that closed some businesses. That order is set to expire May 8.
In the immediate future, Northam said the commonwealth is looking for more private labs to work with on testing. His administration is also looking to increase the amount of PPE that is being sent to testing facilities.
Cases increases as tests surge in DC, Md. and Va.; deaths pass 2,000 mark
Across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, the number of new coronavirus cases jumped Friday, with each jurisdiction reporting their highest daily case counts of the pandemic so far. The number of coronavirus deaths across the broader region also surpassed the 2,000 mark.
Overall, the jump in new cases — more than 3,100 — was accompanied by a significant surge in new testing across all three jurisdictions.
Maryland, which recorded 1,730 new cases Friday, reported 6,624 test results total. That’s a few thousand shy of Maryland’s highest daily testing total of about 8,300.
D.C. reported 335 new cases Friday and 1,056 total new test results. That’s the highest number of test results reported in a 24-hour period in the District.
Virginia reported 1,055 new test results Friday. That was accompanied by a total of 14,805 new test results — more than double the number of test results reported the day before.
Part of the increase Friday stems from a change in the way Virginia is reporting total tests results. Health department officials are now counting multiple tests of the same person at different points in their illness as separate tests. Previously, Virginia was only counting one test per person.
Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said at Friday’s briefing that part of the reason for the change is to better capture the total number of tests being conducted in the commonwealth.
The retooled data is also being studied by officials as they consider easing some coronavirus restrictions. A key metric officials are looking at is the percentage of positive tests out of the overall tests conducted. The new way of counting total tests affects how that number is interpreted.
Across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, there have been a total 45,031 recorded coronavirus cases.
The region also marked a grim milestone Friday, with the coronavirus death toll passing the 2,000 mark. More than half of the broader region’s deaths — 1,192 — have been in Maryland.
The total number of coronavirus deaths — 2,004 — doubled in nine days.
However, there were also more encouraging signs in the data. Both Virginia and Maryland — which report current hospitalizations — recorded Friday a drop in the number of coronavirus patients currently hospitalized.
Overall, the hospitalization rate appears to have stabilized in recent days, according to the data.
WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report.