Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he remains confident in the steady decline of COVID-19 rates statewide, a health official warned that the region — and the U.S. as a whole — should expect to keep up coronavirus pandemic safety practices through the summer and into the fall.
Northam announced earlier this week that Virginia would enter Phase Three of its reopening plan on July 1 after seeing several weeks of sustained downward movement of key health metrics, such as the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive.
In recent weeks, other states have a seen a resurgence of positive cases, leading many governors to begin pumping the breaks on their reopening efforts.
Northam said that continued efforts in testing, contact tracing and social distancing have kept Virginia from seeing a spike in cases for now.
Number of total cases*: 59,946 (+432)
COVID-19-related and probable deaths: 1,675 (+14)
Currently hospitalized, per VHHA: 854 (-32)
Recoveries**: 7,818 (+53)
Total number of tests^: 590,404 (+16,391)
*includes positive test results and probable cases
**Confirmed COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized and have since been discharged, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.
^includes diagnostic/PCR tests only
Dr. Karen Remley, who has been a key figure in Virginia’s coronavirus response efforts, said though all metrics are trending in the right direction now, the gains the commonwealth has made could be lost if people do not keep up their efforts to contain the virus in the long term.
“It’s a success story, for now,” Remley said. “But I would say as a mom and a grandmother and a public health physician and a pediatrician: Nobody let your guard down, because it’s going to be a long summer and a long fall for COVID.”
Without mentioning him by name, Northam called out a lack of organized federal response to the virus from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“America saw little to no leadership from Washington,” Northam said. “And states and governors like myself came to the realization that we would be on our own.”
Northam also announced that his regularly scheduled press briefings are coming to an end as Virginia enters Phase Three. He said future briefings will be held as needed.
“The Department of Health will continue to update its data daily,” Northam said. “My staff and I will continue to answer your questions, and I expect to hold more informal briefings to update members of the press going forward.”
“To all Virginians, I appreciate every sacrifice you have made and continue to make as we continue to adapt our lives to this pandemic,” Northam said. “Like all of you, I look forward to the day when we have a vaccine or a treatment.”
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Northam aide: School reopening decisions rest on local districts
Chief of staff Clark Mercer said that though Virginia released guidance for school districts to follow through the phased reopening, the final decisions will lay with each school district.
“[The guidance] is intended to inform the discussions happening at the local level, but it does not mandate any one particular approach — guidance is not law,” Mercer said. “This is up to your local school boards to decide how they are going to reopen responsibly.”
Mercer advised parents to get to know their local school boards and get involved in the discussions at a local level, as school boards will ultimately be responsible for developing reopening plans for their districts.
“Local public health conditions, community concerns and practical facility constraints have to be taken into account in these school reopening decisions,” Mercer said. “We believe our local leaders are best positioned to do that thoughtfully.”
New housing assistance program
Virginia is launching a new program to help people struggling to pay their rent or mortgages amid the pandemic. An initial $50 million in federal coronavirus-relief funds is going toward housing assistance, Northam said Thursday.
Starting next week, Virginians whose ability to cover housing costs has been hurt by the pandemic can apply for financial assistance.
Virginia will target outreach to communities of color, which Northam said have been disproportionately hurt by the virus.
Va. amusement parks rethinking Phase Three
Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens Williamsburg will not reopen when Virginia enters Phase Three next week.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the amusement parks say it is not economically feasible to open if only 1,000 people can be allowed in at a time.
Phase Three allows entertainment venues to open at 50% capacity, or a maximum of 1,000 people.
Kings Dominion spokeswoman Maggie Sellers said the capacity restriction does not consider the large amount of space the park has to accommodate for social distancing protocols.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.