Northam, health commissioner issue public health emergency to enforce 10-patron limit

Gov. Northam gives update on Virginia's response to the coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam and the Health Commissioner have issued a public health emergency in order to give law enforcement the ability to enforce the 10-patron limit in Virginia amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“I hope that everyone will have the common sense to stay home tonight and in the days ahead,” said Northam. “This order will ensure that state and local officials have the tools they need to keep people safe.

Gov. Northam announces additional steps to Virginia’s response to coronavirus

Northam announced that there are now 77 cases of the coronavirus, with a risk of community spread from coronavirus case in Chesterfield County and one from the peninsula.

“We have now begun to observe cases with no known exposure to a case," said Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia Health Commissioner.

Health officials are monitoring those contact investigations, but have no information on where the patients caught the virus.

“In some cases what we’re finding now, a handful of cases, we have not been able to identify the source of the exposure and that’s what makes us concerned that it’s spreading just in the community,” said Oliver.

Gov. Northam urged everyone to not attend St. Patrick’s Day celebrations tonight. The governor says the state of Virginia will follow CDC guidelines of no public gatherings of more than 10 people. The public health emergency gives local and state law enforcement the ability to enforce the ban.

That does not include normal operations at essential services such as manufacturers, distribution centers, airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, grocery stores or pharmacies.

Gov. Northam says the regional workforce teams will be activated to support employers that slow or cease operations. Employers who do slow or cease operations will not be financially penalized for an increase in workers requesting unemployment benefits.

Gov. Northam will be authorizing rapid response funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act for employers eligible to remain open during this emergency. Funds may be used to clean facilities and support emergency needs.

Gov. Northam directs all employers to follow U.S. Department of Labor guidance on workplace safety.

Public health experts advise that individuals with underlying medical conditions and those aged 65 or older are at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. Governor Northam encouraged neighbors and friends to stay in touch and regularly check in with high-risk individuals.

All restaurants fitness centers and theaters are mandated to significantly reduce their capacity to 10 patrons, or close. Restaurants are encouraged to continue carry-out and takeaway options.

“Every single one of us has a personal responsibility in this situation. Everyone of us has a role in being part of the solution,” said Northam.

Virginia Health Secretary Daniel Carey says they’re working with hospitals to count the number of beds available and ventilator machine stock. That number still isn’t available, but we do know it’s not enough.

“There definitely is a shortage and we’re not getting everything we’re asking for,” said Carey.

Northam says expect to see more of those drive through testing centers in the state like what Sentara Healthcare is doing. But he says that won’t happen until more testing kits become available. And even then, not everyone will get tested.

“I want people to understand it’s not just everybody drive up and get tested. There will still be a screening process,” said Northam.

The Virginia Department of Health says another supply of testing kits arrived Tuesday from the CDC.

That will double testing capacity but that’s still leaves the state with the capacity to test only a few hundred people.

Governor Northam announced the following actions to protect working Virginians impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • No waiting for unemployment benefits. Governor Northam has directed the Commissioner of the Virginia Employment Commission to waive the one-week waiting period to ensure workers can receive benefits as soon as possible.
  • Enhanced eligibility for unemployment. Workers may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if an employer needs to temporarily slow or cease operations due to COVID-19. If a worker has been issued a notice to self-quarantine by a medical or public health official and is not receiving paid sick or medical leave from their employer, they may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. In addition, a worker may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they must stay home to care for an ill family member and are not receiving paid family medical leave from their employer.
  • Fewer restrictions. For individuals receiving unemployment insurance, Governor Northam is directing the Virginia Employment Commission to give affected workers special consideration on deadlines, mandatory re-employment appointments, and work search requirements.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will close 75 of their offices and mobile units to the public. Online services will still be available and anyone needing to renew a license or vehicle registration is encouraged to do so online.

The State Corporate Commission (SCC) issued an order directing utilities it regulates such as electric, natural gas and water companies in Virginia, to suspend service disconnections for 60 days to provide immediate relief for any customer, whether residential or business, who will be financially impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

For those who can’t renew online or whose license or registration expires before May 15, the DMV will grant a 60-day extension.

According to the VDH Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia has one case of coronavirus at Westminster Canterbury, which is a long-term care facility.

Gov. Northam says the state can expect more drive through testing once more testing kits become available.

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.