‘We’re talking semantics here’: Northam defends not issuing stay-at-home order for Virginians

‘We’re talking semantics here’: Northam defends not issuing stay-at-home order for Virginians
Gov. Ralph Northam, pictured earlier this month, has been holding regular briefings on the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia and the state's response. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Asked whether he would implement a shelter-in-place order to reduce further spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam contended that the mandate was just another description for what he had already done.

“We’re talking semantics here,” Northam said at a news briefing on Friday. “We’re talking about how to enforce this. I think if you go back and listen to my comments, not only from today but from previous days, I have said repeatedly, ‘Stay at home unless it’s essential that you go out.’

“That’s what we’ll continue to say, that’s what our guidelines will be,” he added. “If you look at whether this is a shelter-at-home, whether it’s shutdown, whether it’s a lockdown, however you want to describe it, all states are giving the same directions, and that is to stay at home.”

But some residents and local leaders have called on Northam to implement additional restrictions as COVID-19 continues to spread across the commonwealth. As of Friday, there were 604 positive cases, 83 hospitalizations and 14 deaths in Virginia.

Efforts to track the transmission have been stymied by continued shortages of testing materials. Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner for population health at the Virginia Department of Health, said it would be accurate to consider the known number of cases as a fraction of the overall spread.

Earlier this week, city officials in Charlottesville urged Northam to take stricter measures to contain the disease. In a letter on Tuesday, Mayor Nikuyah Walker, Fire Chief Andrew Baxter, and Police Chief RaShall Brackney specifically asked the governor to reconsider his latest executive order and issue a mandated stay-at-home order similar to ones in Louisiana, New York, and California.

Those orders allow residents to leave the house for essential errands such as grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, or even picking up takeout orders from restaurants. But residents are widely restricted from going to work, visiting friends and families, or standing more than six feet from another person in public spaces.

READ MORE ON VIRGINIAMERCURY.COM>

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.