'Virginians, you need to stay at home' – Northam warns of COVID-19 testing delays, protective gear shortages

Mike Still • Mar 28, 2020 at 6:00 PM

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is asking the state’s residents to continue staying at home despite calls from President Donald Trump for loosening restrictions by Easter.

Northam, during his regular thrice-weekly press conference Friday, said that Virginia and other states continue to deal with shortages of protective gear for healthcare workers, novel coronavirus infection testing supplies and a lack of federal leadership in getting supplies and coordinated testing sites.

“Virginians, you need to stay at home,” Northam said. “If we act like this doesn’t apply to us, we see it get worse.”

Social distancing by remaining at home except for essential shopping or work is the only way to give the state’s health system time to get infection rates under control and to treat COVID-19-infected patients, the governor noted.

Northam said anyone needing access to the state’s “safety net” of social services for food and other help can call 211 for more information.

As of Friday afternoon, according to the Virginia Department of Health, the state has seen 7,337 residents tested out of a population of 8.54 million, with 604 confirmed COVID-19 cases reported and 14 deaths statewide. Four confirmed cases have been reported in far Southwest Virginia: two in Lee County, one in Washington County and one in Bristol.

Northam said the bulk of reported cases have fallen among people in their 50s, 60s and older, but 93 cases have been reported in people in the 20-29 age range.

State Secretary of Health Daniel Carey said that Virginia’s state laboratories have the capacity to test 1,800 people for the virus.

While state labs can return testing results within one to two days, Northam said private laboratories — many located outside Virginia —can take from seven to 10 days.

Getting personal protective gear for the state’s healthcare workers has been slowed by a combination of disrupted supply chains in Asia and competition for supplies between states, the federal government and health care systems across the U.S.

“We are all out there bidding against each other,” Northam said.

While Trump is scheduled to come to the Norfolk naval base Saturday to see off the USNS Comfort — one of two U.S. Navy hospital ships — as it heads to New York City to provide up to 1,000 non-COVID-19 hospital beds to relieve hospitals there, Northam said the administration needs to focus on patient testing and on procurement of medical supplies.

Northam said a conference call with Trump and state governors Thursday led the governors to call for better federal leadership. He cited a need for an organized federal testing site in the greater Washington, D.C., area, including Virginia and Maryland, because of more than 360,000 federal workers in the region.

Northam also called on Trump to use the Defense Production Act to improves supplies of medical equipment. While volunteers and state agencies are starting to produce items such as face masks and face shields, “this has to be resolved at the national level,” he said.

Talks are still progressing with the Army Corps of Engineers about preparations to build emergency hospitals as needed, Northam said. Discussions with the state’s congressional delegation show support from legislators to obtain federal funds to support National Guard mobilization and logistical support for disease control efforts, the governor said.

Northam said it was important to protect essential workers, including grocery workers and truckers helping keep food and supplies in stores.

“We need to keep them safe and their families safe,” Northam said.

Northam also called on medical professionals age 18 and older to volunteer for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/mrc. More than 1,500 people have signed up since early March, he said, and 650 have volunteered in the past two days.

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