Gov. Northam: Three COVID-19 alternate care sites selected, budget cuts coming, law enforcement won’t bother anyone wearing mask in public

Coronavirus

UPDATE 3:53 p.m.: Virginia Gov. Northam and state officials held a press conference Friday to give updates on Virginia’s COVID-19 response.

It comes as Virginia health officials reported more than 300 new cases on Friday, bringing the commonwealth’s total to 2,012 overall. 312 are hospitalized and 46 people have died due to the virus.

Updates from Northam’s press conference.

  • Gov. Northam confirmed Friday that the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton will be one of three major sites in Virginia to serve as overflow medical facilities if local hospitals are overwhelmed due to the coronavirus. The facility will have 360 acute and 580 non-acute beds. Other sites will be in Northern Virginia and Richmond, and all three are expected to be ready in 6 weeks, Northam says. Officials say the number of beds they’re building are in line with the expected surge in cases in Virginia, though they’re looking at other sites to possibly expand. The Army Corps of Engineers is also looking to see what sites will be needed in the western and southwestern areas of the state, officials say.
  • Northam says 53 of 92 residents at a long-term care facility in the Richmond area (where 16 deaths have been reported) who tested positive didn’t exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. He stressed that’s a real-time example of why social distancing is needed.
  • 114,104 Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week, but Northam says that number will seem small next week. He says the state has upgraded the unemployment department’s website and server capacity and staffing to answer calls has been increased by 20%. Virginians have reported major issues in applying for benefits.

Northam says he has directed state agencies to prepare cuts to the state budget, eliminate discretionary spending for the rest of the year and institute hiring freezes. Northam will have to send the budget back to the General Assembly by next Sunday.

  • “These are not normal times,” Northam said while encouraging faith communities to use virtual or drive-in services in the next few weeks. His pastor, Kelvin Jones of First Baptist Church in Capeville, Virginia, said “this could be the time for us to push the reset button on our lives and concentrate on our faith,” even as we suspend in-person worship.”
  • Fielding a question about help for renters, Northam’s chief of staff first says 500 hotels across the commonwealth have offered to help up to 1,500 people experiencing homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. He says many people are looking for information on private landlords/commercial operations. While evictions are currently suspended, rent payments are still due.
  • “No law enforcement will be bothering anybody because they have a covering on their face,” Northam says in response to a question about Virginia’s law against wearing masks in public. Health officials say masks, scarves, bandannas, etc. can help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The White House is considered national guidance asking Americans to wear masks in public. Northam is asking citizens to leave N95 masks for medical professionals and use cloth masks instead. “I would encourage that,” he says – for healthy people and people who suspect they may have COVID-19.”

RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) will deliver an update on coronavirus in the Commonwealth.

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