In his first public appearance since being diagnosed with COVID-19, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday expressed appreciation for the people who helped him and his wife through the disease, addressed the outage on the voter registration site, and had sharp words for the White House over the threats that surfaced against him earlier in the day.
“Our experience with this disease was mild,” Northam said of himself and his wife, Pam, and detailed their exposure, diagnosis and treatment.
On Wednesday, Sept. 24, Ralph and Pam Northam learned that one of the workers in the governor’s mansion had tested positive and had symptoms, the governor said. They were tested the next day at 2:30 p.m. and notified of their positive results at about 7.
“It is frightening when one is notified,” Northam said. “I’ve been a doctor for 30 years, and I’ve had to give people some pretty devastating news.”
He described their symptoms as “mild” and “cold-like,” adding that his wife was released from isolation after 10 days, but that his symptoms took eight days to appear, so he needed to isolate for another 10, for a total of 18 days.
Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond Health Department, noted that while 65 close contacts of the Northams were traced and monitored, including those who spent time in a car with the governor, none of them tested positive.
Northam was proud to emphasize that, saying that “I truly believe that is a testament to wearing these masks.”
He also sharply contrasted those numbers with the White House event introducing Amy Coney Barrett as President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, at which virtually no guests wore masks — even indoors — and from which dozens of cases, including the president’s, appear to have stemmed.
“Compare that with the gathering in the Rose Garden. … And look at the number of people who tested positive. We talk about science – it doesn’t get any clearer than that.”
‘I will not work under a cloud of intimidation’
Northam also addressed news that an FBI agent testified that members of self-styled paramilitary groups had discussed kidnapping Northam, similar to a plot uncovered last week to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — both because of the safety restrictions they imposed due to the pandemic.
“It’s unfortunate,” Northam said, but added, “I will not work under a cloud of intimidation. That’s not who I am.”
He said he was aware that not all his actions as governor have been popular with everyone, and that he had received various threats since January. But, referring to his years as an Army doctor, including in Operation Desert Storm, Northam said, “I have been in harm’s way. We knew we were in harm’s way, but I wasn’t intimidated by that.”
“What’s different now, which is concerning, is that the people who are making comments and rhetoric about our elected officials – it’s not just me – this is not coming from another country. It’s coming from Washington. And that I regret. And it needs to stop.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to divert attention to the targets of the plot, saying in a statement: “President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate. Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
Asked for examples of Trump encouraging violence, Northam quickly pointed out that in April, two days after he and Whitmer imposed safety restrictions in accordance with the president’s own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Trump fired off a series of tweets including “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”
“Words have meaning to people,” Northam said.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, Northam’s office said that the FBI, following their regular protocol, had told his security team, but not the governor or the rest of his staff, about the kidnapping plot. “At no time was the governor or his family in imminent danger,” the statement said.
Attorney General Mark Herring echoed those sentiments with his own statement: “Words have consequences. When we have a President who regularly spews hate and openly incites violence, people can be put in serious danger. From day one, President Trump has used his platform as Commander-in-Chief to vilify his opponents and to urge his supporters to go after anyone who may disagree with them, and that includes both state and national leaders. This kind of harmful rhetoric further divides our country and it needs to stop now before more Americans are hurt.”
Northam and Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner also addressed the accidental cutting of a cable that shut down the commonwealth’s voter-registration site on the last day of registration before the election.
Asked why there was seemingly no backup for the cable that was cut, Northam said, “it reaffirms why we need backups to a lot of our systems,” while Conner said that the cable that was cut had just been installed this spring to supplement older, lower-capacity cables that were being overworked. The older cables were still in place, she said, but the system was very slow.
She added that a temporary replacement would be up by 4 p.m., and at about 3:30, elections officials said it was working again.
Northam said that while he would support an extension of the registration deadline to make up for the lost time, he didn’t have the power to order it.
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia\
- Some DC indoor pools and fitness centers reopening Oct. 13 with restrictions
- DC charters offer innovations in pandemic-era education
- Number of divorce cases in DC area surge amid coronavirus pandemic