Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday addressed a rise in COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth, encouraging signs for a vaccine and last week’s election.
Northam said there were 1,435 new cases of the novel coronavirus detected Monday, continuing a daily trend upward that’s been going on for weeks.
He added that the test positivity rate, which had been down below 5% a few weeks ago, was up to 6.2% — a key indicator of how reliable the other numbers are.
“This virus is alive and well,” Northam said; “it’s very contagious.”
Cases are particularly surging in the southwestern portion of the state, where positivity is up to 9%. Northam didn’t give any specifics about possibly reimposing more safety restrictions, saying only that there are “a lot of things we’re considering,” and that communication of the importance of wearing masks and social distancing — “things that we know work” — is key, especially with colder weather and the possibility of holiday gatherings approaching.
“No region is an island,” Northam said. “We all need to step up our vigilance and our precaution.”
He added, “I’m not saying you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But if you’re going to celebrate with people who aren’t in your household, think of ways to do it safely.”
Northam said, however, that recent news about the effectiveness of a possible vaccine from the Pfizer corporation was a bright spot that should give Virginians hope that safety measures are worthwhile: “Nobody’s giving up here. And we can’t give up. … This is a time to be vigilant, to dig in, to be hopeful. There is a vaccine on the way.”
He allowed that a vaccine would not be a “magic bullet,” but as a physician, Northam said, the news of a 90% efficacy rate was “very, very promising. We’re gonna get there, we’re gonna get there together, and we’re gonna get there by following the guidelines.”
Health Officer Dr. Norman Oliver was even more optimistic: “We can expect to have a vaccine, from one of the many in play, by the end of the year. And we are ready to get that vaccine and administer it.”
Oliver cautioned, however, that “It’s going to take months to vaccinate millions in the commonwealth,” and it will take longer than that for real immunity to happen, but that his department long ago wrote a “whole of government” plan for administering a vaccine once one is approved.
Northam also announced new contracts with three testing laboratories that would add about 7,000 tests a day to Virginia’s capacity and let health authorities be “more nimble” in responding to outbreaks.
Addressing Virginians directly, Northam said, “You have done an exceptional job” responding to the virus.
“ … By and large, people have listened” to the safety restrictions, “and we can’t stop now,” he said.
Northam said he was glad to hear that former Vice President Joe Biden has been projected to win the presidency, especially after Biden’s first act since the election was called for him Saturday was to announce the formation of a new COVID-19 task force.
Asked what the difference could be between a Biden administration and the outgoing Trump administration, Northam said, “There are a lot of things, and it starts with messaging” about the importance of safety.
“It also includes options … like [using] the Defense Production Act” for supplies, the governor said.
“Other governors and I have been saying for months” that it’s necessary, Northam added.
He said that, even in the middle of a pandemic, there was 73% turnout in Virginia, helped by the fact that about 2.8 million people voted early in person or by mail.
He thanked election officials at state level and every locality, as well as poll workers, “for a smooth and well-run election.”
Localities will certify their results Tuesday; the state certifies the numbers Nov. 16. “This is our system working as it was intended,” Northam said.
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