Gov. Northam declares state of emergency after confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to grow in Virginia

Virginia under a State of Emergency as number of cases grows

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the commonwealth, with the Virginia Department of Health confirming at least 17 “presumptive positive” cases Thursday morning.

Governor Ralph Northam, along with other state officials, announced the state of emergency during a press conference.

Governor Northam provides Thursday morning update on COVID-19 in Virginia

The Central Shenandoah Health District says a Harrisonburg resident in their 60s tested positive for the coronavirus. This case marks the first case in the Central Shenandoah Health District, according to a release. Officials said the patient developed upper respiratory symptoms that progressed over a few days to pneumonia with a high fever. The patient is currently doing well and is in isolation.

“The situation with COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly changing, so it is not surprising that we are identifying a case in our area,” said Central Shenandoah Health District Director Dr. Laura Kornegay.

There are two confirmed coronavirus cases in our regional health district. Due to patient privacy concerns, we don’t know much about that second case. Two Virginians in Texas tested positive. They remain in the Lone Star state as Virginia health officials here figure out what to do.

“It has become clear to everyone that states all over the country need to take a greater leadership role in response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Northam.

Northam made the declaration as one of four steps. He also canceled all state conferences and events for the next 30 days. Northam is taking steps to ban state employee travel and implement “work from home” policies. The administration is also monitoring the economic impact the virus fallout could have on the state.

“While Virginia has been thoroughly preparing for weeks and has adequate funding to address the situation, this declaration will give us increased flexibility to ease regulatory requirements and procurement rules, continue federal and multi-state coordination and ensuring ongoing support for the most vulnerable Virginians,” said Northam.

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases in Virginia, state health officials say, for now, there is no community spread.

"We have been testing people that really do have risk. That’s why you know we’ve been able to say we understand where you got this. Again if that shifts and it starts to circulate among people and we can’t track it back that’s when we say okay we have community spread,” said Dr. Lilian Peake, VDH State Epidemiologist.

State health experts said they were not concerned about testing capabilities in the commonwealth The state has tested a little over 100 people and still has the capacity to test between 500 and 600 people. Northam says this pandemic will not cripple the commonwealth.

“We have trained for them and we are ready for this,” said Northam.

Earlier this week, the governor says they’ve set aside about $10 million to deal with the virus fallout and have more money set aside in the upcoming budget that is set to be approved by the General Assembly Thursday. The state announced it has a stockpile of protective gear like face masks, gloves, and gowns but also ordered $2.7 million more.

“We also have our own stockpiles so we are doing our best to increase the amount of personal protection equipment for our first responders and medical providers,” said Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia State Health Commissioner.

Testing criteria are also changing for those living in nursing homes to make sure the most vulnerable are protected.

“Our priority right now Is to prevent COVID-19 from entering our facilities and if it does, to stop the spread,” said April Payne, Vice President of Quality Improvement and Director of the Virginia Center for Assisted Living.

VCU Health said on Wednesday that it is in the process of developing its own test for COVID-19.

“We are currently exploring all of our options to make testing more readily available for our patients, and are actively working on developing our own test at VCU Health. Given the spread of COVID-19 worldwide and in the United States, we expect that the need for testing will only increase. We are in regular communications with UVA and support each other as we are each working on increasing our abilities to test for COVID-19 to best serve our patients,” a spokesperson said.

The state is also making plans for its employees to work from home. The governor is also asking for private employers to consider the same as we all weather this storm together.

Where are all the cases?

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has confirmed that there are a total of 17 coronavirus cases in Virginia.

As the virus continues to spread around the globe, here is a look at the numbers. The table below shows all confirmed coronavirus cases, recovery numbers and deaths, by country.

Are the cases related?

State epidemiologist, Dr. Lilian Peake confirmed that the cases are not related, nor are there signs of the virus spreading in Virginia. But many of the cases appear to be linked to international travel.

The VDH says they are working with local, county, and state health officials to determine who the patients may have come into contact with, in the time they’ve been back from overseas.

“We know where these individuals were but it’s something that’s a very dynamic situation. It changes literally by the minute,” said Governor Ralph Northam during the 12th annual conference on Agricultural Trade in Richmond Tuesday afternoon.

How can we prevent the spread?

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel
Protecting yourself from coronavirus

Find more information on the coronavirus from the Virginia Department of Health here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.