RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam held a press briefing on Monday to address COVID-19 testing, Virginia’s projected peak of cases and more.
Highlights from Northam’s briefing:
Testing and Virginia’s projected peak in cases
Northam says Virginia has entered a new testing phase through the creation of a COVID-19 testing work group to expand testing sites, the criteria for testing and overall capacity as the state’s response moves into the “summer and fall.”
Lack of testing has been an issue, with only about 2,000-3,000 tests being returned daily (one of the lowest per capita testing states in the country.) Only people who met certain criteria — health care providers, those in long-term care centers, etc. — were able to be tested, and state health officials are looking to expand that to people in what are called “priority 2” and “priority 3” categories. One of the reasons was a lack of testing equipment such as swabs, Northam said, and a lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
A state official said originally Virginia was relying on its state lab because of quicker result turnarounds (despite low capacity) because private labs were initially taking up to 10 days or more to return results. Now private labs have increased turnaround times, and more tests are being sent there, increasing the state’s overall testing volume.
To consider phase one of easing restrictions, per White House guidelines, states must have 14 days of declining daily testing numbers, Northam says, emphasizing the need to focus on science and data.
To have a clear understanding of this data, Northam says Virginia needs more testing. He says daily confirmed case numbers appear to be trending down (there have been three straight days of declining per day cases increases) and Virginia’s peak in cases is projected for the end of this week, according to one model state officials are following.
“We hope we are reaching the peak during this pandemic and after that the numbers will start to come down and we can ease restrictions again. We want to do that responsibly and safely,” Northam said.
State COVID-19 data reporting
Northam and State Health Commission Norm Oliver say the Virginia Department of Health will start reporting more information about hospitalization records by municipality, along with deaths.
Meat processing plants
Facing a question on how the state will help protect workers in meat processing plants throughout Virginia, State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver, acknowledge COVID-19 outbreaks at plants across the country, says the state is issuing guidance to help make sure workers are protected. Companies are currently not required to share the numbers of COVID-19 cases at facilities, per Virginia law. State officials have cited patient privacy and safety.
Some meat plants have either temporarily closed or closed indefinitely due to outbreaks of cases, including one at a Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota where more than 600 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least one worker has died. Workers there told news outlets that not enough was done to protect them.