Northam unveils blueprint for easing his COVID-19 lockdown
Gov. Ralph Northam today presented the “Forward Virginia” blueprint that he says will help guide the Commonwealth on when to begin easing public health restrictions.
“We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and builds public confidence,” Northam said. “Businesses know that customers will return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. Our blueprint for the path forward is data-driven and provides clear guidance, so Virginians will know what to expect and understand how we will decide to when to lift certain public health restrictions.”
Virginia is looking at a wide range of public health data. The governor emphasized that key indicators will include a 14-day downward trend in confirmed cases as a percentage of overall tests and in reduced COVID-19 hospitalizations.
While hospitalization rates have largely stabilized in the Commonwealth, confirmed cases continue to rise.
The Forward Virginia blueprint includes the following priorities:
Testing and tracing
The goal is to test at least 10,000 individuals per day. Karen Remley, a former state health commissioner and current co-chair of Virginia’s Testing Work Group, outlined a four-stage approach to meet this goal prior to safe reopening. The expanded testing plan includes hiring contact tracers, who will support local health departments in identifying individuals who may be exposed to COVID-19 and helping them self-isolate.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical to ramping up testing, ensuring the safety of healthcare staff, and expanding the medical workforce. Virginia’s PPE pipeline is improving, and hospitals are successfully managing their supplies.
Virginia has ordered 17.4 million N95 masks, 8.3 million surgical masks, 17.1 million gloves, 1.7 million gowns, and 1 million face shields. This includes a contract signed jointly with Maryland and the District of Columbia for 5 million N95 masks.
Northam said today that a second shipment from Northfield Medical Manufacturing is scheduled to arrive today and will be promptly distributed. The latest shipment includes 3 million nitrile exam gloves, 100,000 N95 masks, 500,000 3-ply procedure masks, and 40,000 isolation gowns.
Hospital capacity, staff
Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are largely stable across Virginia, even as case counts continue to rise. Northam yesterday, bucking the recommendation of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, extended the ban on elective surgeries through May 1.
The state has also expanded the ability of physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement.
Phase One of easing restrictions
Phase One includes continued social distancing, teleworking, limits on travel and public gatherings, and recommended use of face coverings.
The state is developing two sets of guidance: one with broad-based recommendations for all businesses, and another with industry-specific recommendations for public-facing businesses like restaurants and non-essential retail.
The guidance will be provided to businesses in early May.