Coronavirus In The Commonwealth: Hampton Roads Responds
Last Updated March 29 at 7:37 p.m
Southampton County Man Dies From Coronavirus
Health officials say a Southampton County man has died after recently testing postive for COVID-19.
The man in his 60s was a patient at a local hospital and had several underlying health conditions, which exacerbated the effects of the coronavirus, according to a news release Saturday from the Western Tidewater Health District.
The cause of death was respiratory failure.
An HRT Employee Has COVID-19
A staffer in the light rail division of Hampton Roads Transit has tested positive for the coronavirus illness, according to a statement by HRT. The person is the first employee confirmed to have the virus.
The person was last at work on March 17 and is now in quarantine. The HRT statement says the organization has alerted all staffers who may have had close contact with the employee, telling them to stay home. None of them have reported symptoms of the disease.
A spokesman for HRT says the organization began an aggressive daily cleaning schedule in early March for all buses, light rail vehicles, transit centers, ferries and offices. During that period, HRT began to see a significant decline in passengers across the system.
On Tuesday, HRT will lower the number of bus routes and decrease service time. It will also reduce the frequency of light rail and ferry service and stop service earlier in the day. More information on HRT service changes is at its website.
Help For Hampton Roads Businesses
Small businesses providing essential services can receive funds for the additional costs they face keeping open during the pandemic.
The governor's office has allocated the money to pay 145 local businesses $2,000 each for sanitation, technology and other expenses caused by the coronavirus crisis.
USNS Comfort Leaves For New York City
The Norfolk-based USNS Comfort left for New York City Saturday to help with the coronavirus response.
The 1,000-bed hospital ship with 12 operating rooms will treat patients without the virus in order to free up New York City hospital beds for people with the virus. The ship is expected to arrive in New York Harbor Monday.
President Donald Trump was in Norfolk to bid farewell to the ship.
The Comfort was orginally expected to leave for New York in April. But White House officials say the schedule was expedited as New York City has more than 23,000 coronavirus cases.
The ship is crewed by civilian mariners. However, most of its medical staff is from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.
Old Dominion University Reports First COVID-19 Case
On a call Thursday with President Trump and Vice President Pence, Gov. Northam and other governors across the country called on the federal government to manage production of personal protective equipment.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Northam said the issue is very simple: "We do not have enough testing materials and personal protective equipment for our medical staff and our first responders."
Citing a bidding war between states, hospitals, the federal government and other countries, Northam said the Trump administration needs to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of PPE.
“There is no time to waste,” he said.
The Defense Production Act, a Cold War-era law, gives the executive branch the power to direct the production and distribution of materials that are deemed vital to national defense. It would essentially allow the government to jump to the front of the line to buy goods from companies and ship them where needed.
The Trump administration has so far resisted calls to use it.
Northam, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser are also calling on the Trump administration to set up a federal testing site specifically for the three jurisdictions.
“We are home to the majority of federal workers,” Northam said. “Our specific region needs special accommodation for testing and bed capacity to support this population.”
COVID-19 Test Results May Take 10 Days For Results
People tested for COVID-19 at Sentara drive-thru centers may have to wait 10 days for results, about twice as long as it took about a week ago.
The hospital system launched drive-thru testing centers last week. At that time, Sentara's Division Vice President for Ambulatory Services Kurt Hofelich said test results would take four to seven days. He said that could change if testing ramped up.
Sentara officials said testing has increased and they "are now experiencing longer turnaround times in receiving and communicating these results to patients."
According to the Virginia Department of Health, just over 5,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the state. The number includes tests conducted by private labs.
The Governor Calls Out Liberty University
At his Wednesday press conference, Gov. Ralph Northam cited Scripture to criticize the administration of Liberty University, which allowed hundreds of students to return to its campus this week.
"As are told in First Corinthians, 'It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful,'" the governor said. "Proving faithful means providing clear and consistent guidance. And it means respecting the duty that Liberty University has to its students, its staff, the Lynchburg community in which it is located and our Commonwealth."
Other universities across Virginia have sent students home and switched to online classes in response to the pandemic.
'The World Has, No Doubt, Changed'
At a press briefing Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated his call for Virginians to stay home if they are not employed at essential businesses, to thoroughly wash their hands and to practice social distancing if they do have to go out. Northam confirmed that unemployement claims continue to climb. He encouraged small businesses to seek loans through the state as possible.
He also spoke about emotional losses -- the proms and graduations that aren't happening for Virginia students. On Monday, Northam ordered that all K-12 schools must remain closed to in person teaching through the end of the academic year. School districts are working to identify out of classroom learning solutions.
"The world has, no doubt, changed," Northam said.
The governor also announced he was signing an executive order for all Virginia hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. The measure was taken to conserve the use of medical supplies, including personal protective equipment.
State officials said they're seeking one million face masks and 500,000 N95 respirator masks from overseas.
Virginia Secretary of Health Dr. Daniel Carey said that his office is working with local medical facilities to assess the state's current capacity to adequately treat people who contract COVID-19.
"We really need national leadership to contribute to the excellent efforts that we're doing here in Virginia," Carey said.
In response to a reporter's question, Northam confirmed that he or a member of his team is on every available call between U.S. governors and the Trump administration.
Gov. Northam's has been holding daily briefings, but they will now occur Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. unless other information becomes available.
Newport News Shipbuilding Workers Test Positive
Two Newport News Shipbuilding employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
In mutiple Facebook posts, shipyard president Jennifer Boykin says employees who work near the individuals or who came into close contact with them are being advised to contact the shipyard clinic. She says she expects more workers to test positive as the virus continues to spread across Virginia.
With more than 23,000 employees, Newport News Shipbuilding is the largest industrial employer in the state. It is the only builder and refueler of nuclear-powered U.S. Navy aircraft carriers in the world and one of two providers of U.S. naval submarines.
Boykin says she is extending the shipyard's liberal leave policy through the end of April. Newport News Shipbuilding is also finalizing options for employees who feel at risk in their current work environment.
"These are difficult times, and we all have tough choices to make. We will continue to do our best to offer you flexibility and options, and I will continue to be open and transparent as we learn more and make additional decisions," she says.
Virginia Beach Reports First Death From COVID-19
The Virginia Beach Health Department announced Monday the city's first death as a result of the coronavirus.
The patient was a hospitalized man in his 70s with underlying health conditions. Health officials have not yet identified the source of transmission and are investigating with whom he was in contact before his diagnosis.
“Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” said Virginia Beach Health Director Dr. Demetria Lindsay. “Elderly individuals and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, including death. These at-risk individuals are strongly advised to take steps to minimize contact with others who are ill, practice social distancing and stay at home as much as possible.”
Virginia Beach has now reported 18 confirmed cases of the virus.
Virginia Schools Will Remain Closed For Rest Of Academic Year
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday all K-12 public and private schools will remain closed for at least the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
He also said all restaurants can only stay open for takeout and delivery. And all non-essential brick-and-mortar businesses can only serve a maximum of 10 people at a time beginning Tuesday, March 24. If they cannot do so, they must close.
“Our priority is to save lives,” Northam said during a daily press conference Monday. "The next several weeks, the next several months will be difficult. They will require everyone to change the way we live and interact with each other."
Read more here.
Three More Die From Coronavirus On The Peninsula
The state health department announced Sunday three more people died from COVID-19.
All three women were in their 80s and hospitalized at the time of their deaths. They were from Newport News, Williamsburg and James City County.
One was a resident of a long-term care facility.
The women died because of respiratory failure from the illness.
NATO Staff Member Tests Positive
A staff member of NATO Allied Command Transformation tested presumptive positive for COVID-19.
The command is based in Norfolk.
The person is in self-isolation, according to the Commmand's Twitter account. It's the first potential case of COVID-19 in the Norfolk NATO installation.
Coronavirus Will Impact Virginia "For A Long Time," Northam Says
Gov. Ralph Northam said dealing with COVID-19 could last months.
"It's clear from talking daily with our public health officials that COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time," he said Sunday during a daily press conference. "We need to begin adjusting to that reality."
Peake said Virginians should expect more cases in the coming weeks. Many will have mild symptoms, she said.
Northam said his staff is working on getting medical supplies from Virginia-based businesses. There's a shortage of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves for health care professionals.
To that end, Northam also suggested hospitals reschedule elective procedures to preserve supplies.
He also said Virginians should rely on telehealth services, if available.
"Every one of us has a job to do to fight this virus. That is why it is so, so critical that everyone stay home as much as possible," he said.
"I also know that some people are not listening, and I want you to know you are putting every single one of us in Virginia at risk. Social distancing is not congregating on a crowded beach," the governor added.
Medical Professionals Are COVID-19 Testing Priorities, Governor Says
Gov. Ralph Northam said Saturday medical professionals who have come in contact with patients with COVID-19 and people living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities will be prioritized for testing.
"We want to make sure they're protected so we can ensure the continuity of care," said Laurie Forlano, deputy commissioner for population health with the Virginia Department of Health. "We are focusing on testing those who are involved in clusters of respiratory illness where flu has been ruled out, with a priority for health care facility outbreaks.
Northam issued an executive order Friday relaxing the state's Certificate of Public Need process, which determines and limits hospital capacity in the state. Under the order, nursing homes and hospitals will be able to add beds to treat COVID-19.
"They can work quickly to respond to the needs of this fast-changing situation," Northam said.
Attorney General Mark Herring published an opinion Friday saying public bodies in Virginia, like city councils and school boards, can meet electronically if the meeting's business pertains to the COVID-19 emergency.
"Public bodies should ask themselves, is the action we're taking truly essential?" Northam said during his daily update press conference. "If not, they should defer it until they meet in person again. We're not throwing out public accountability and transparency measures because there is an emergency. Bad policies can happen that way. The regular features of public meetings remain critical."
Northam said he is taking his earlier order of a 10-person limit in resturants and other businesses seriously. He said ignoring the limit can lead to a misdemeanor charge.
"This is real and I am taking it seriously," he said.
More Cases Of Coronavirus In Virginia
Every region of the state has at least one confirmed case of the virus. Portsmouth, Gloucester County, Norfolk, Chesapeake and the Eastern Shore are among areas in Eastern Virginia that have seen their first cases.
There are three outbreaks of the virus across the state, meaning some cases can be traced back to a single source, Health Commissioner Norm Oliver has said. Two outbreaks are in the Richmond area and one is in James City County according to the health department.
Oliver said during a daily news confernence Friday the state currently has more than 1,000 tests for the virus. He emphasized that healthcare providers must screen people for symptoms before testing them due to test kit shortages.
"We have to have some criteria to screen patients before testing. Otherwise, those thousand tests will be used up quite rapidly," he said.
Oliver added the state health department recently received nearly 200,000 respirators and a stock of surgical masks, gloves and other equipment. The state is distributing the supplies to first responders and healthcare providers.
Officials hope to acquire more equipment from a national stockpile for emergency public health situations.
"We're looking at a lot of possibilities to expand personal protective equipment," Oliver said.
Northam said during a news conference that some businesses are not complying with a statewide 10-person limt at restaurants, theaters and fitness centers. He said he expects local authorities to enforce the limit.
"The whole purpose of all this is...to slow down the spread of the virus so that we don't overburden our capacity to take care of sick invdividuals at our hospitals," Northam said.
In an effort to limit the spread of the virus to children, officials are directing childcare providers to keep the number of kids and staff in one classroom to 10. With schools closed and childcare center capacity limited, the state wants people working from home to avoid sending children to daycare. Childcare centers should be for people who are "essential workers" and unable to stay home with their children, Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen has said.
Officials also said Friday the economic fallout from virus is worsening. Unemployment has spiked with the state receiving 16,000 unemployment claims Thursday. Virginia's total claim number before Thursday was 14,000.
In order to minimize the economic impact, Northam has said the federal Small Business Administration will make more small businesses in Virginia eligible for loans up to $2 million with low interest. The SBA website has application details.
Sentara Expands Drive-Thru Testing
Sentara has opened two more drive-thru screening and testing sites in Hampton Roads for COVID-19.
The new sites at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton and Military Circle in Norfolk join existing locations at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital and Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center
The hospital system previously closed all of its Hampton Roads sites because testing supplies were running low. Sentara says it has since acquired more testing kits.
Officials ask that people only come to the sites if they have at least two symptoms associated with the virus. It can cause a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Drive-thru testing will be open on a day-by-day basis as supplies allow. You can track updates at www.sentara.com/coronavirus.
Virginia Beach Will Release Some Nonviolent Inmates To House Arrest
Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle decided recently he would release 60 nonviolent inmates who have fewer than 90 days left to serve of their sentence to house arrest.
It's the next phase in dealing with COVID-19 in the city's jail, Stolle said.
“The coronavirus is presenting an unprecedented challenge to public safety, especially here in the jail, where we have hundreds of people living in close contact. This is an inherently high-risk population, especially given our number of sick, elderly and immunocompromised individuals," he said in a press release.
"For them, a coronavirus diagnosis could be a death sentence. It is my responsibility to do everything in my power to protect the health and safety of every person inside this jail, including the deputies who go home to their families at the end of the day."
The jail had 1,338 inmates before releases started. Stolle's decision helps reduce the number and free up space for new admissions, who now have to spend 14 days in quarantine to reduce spread of the coronavirus.
Inmates serving time for nonviolent misdemeanors with fewer than 90 days are eligible for release. Inmates serving time for their third drunken driving charge or any domestic violence charge will not be released.
“I would never compromise public safety or release someone who poses a threat to our community,” Stolle said. “But now is the time for us as a society to decide who we are mad at and who we are afraid of and only incarcerate those we’re afraid of.”
Northam Announces New Measures To Address Crisis
Gov. Ralph Northam announced changes to state policy on health care, child care, corrections and even motor vehicle inspections to address impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in Virginia. Among the measures:
- People who receive COVID-19-related medical services and certain other treatment covered by Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) will not have co-payments.
- Medicaid patients will be able to obtain 90-day supplies of some prescription drugs, instead of the 30-day supply limit allowed under the previous rules.
- More people will qualify for full-day daycare under Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program.
- The Virginia Department of Corrections has suspended all transfers from local and regional facilities and all in-person visits.
- State police will halt enforcement of safety inspections for motor vehicles for the next 60 days.
The governor also said the state is now banning gatherings of 10 or more people.
"We understand that the 10-person standard will have an impact on a number of businesses across our society. It means that all restaurants, malls, fitness centers and theaters must significantly reduce their capacity in compliance with this 10-person standard or close," the governor said. "Restaurants are encouraged to continue take-out options."
Northam's order follows similar guidance from the Trump administration.
States and cities across the country have already mandated that restaurants and bars close and only accept take-out or delivery. Northam said he hasn't issued a similar order because many Virginians obtain their meals from such establishments.
Virginia Health Commissioner Norm Oliver said recent cases indicate there are signs of community transmission of the virus. Officials have been unable to track such cases to one source.
"For those young folks who think they're not affected by this, I want to underscore what the Governor said how social distancing on your part will protect our elderly," Oliver said.
He added there is a case in a long-term nursing facility, Westminster Canterbury Richmond. State officials are investigating the case and trying to prevent the spread of the infection to other facility residents. An outbreak of the virus at a nursing home in Washington State has already killed more than 12 of its residents.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services has called on nursing homes to restrict visitors to only essential health personnel and cancel all communal meals.
The state website has more information on these new policies.
Anti-Price Gouging Laws Begin
Gov. Ralph Northam's emergency declaration means the state's anti-price gouging laws go into effect, a release from the Attorney General's office said.
The law prohibits people charging "unconscionable prices" for things like water, ice, cleaning products, food, medicine and hand sanitizer.
Prices are considered "unconscionable" if it "grossly exceeds" the price charged for the same thing in the 10 days leading up to the emergency declaration, according to the Attorney General's Office.
“When you’re trying to make sure that you and your family have all the necessities in order to protect yourselves against illness, the last thing you want to deal with is a scam or exorbitant price for a needed service or product," Attorney General Mark Herring said in the release.
"The sad reality is that there are unscrupulous folks out there who will take advantage of public health crises in order to make more money."
Possible price-gouging should be reported to Herring's office online or by phone at (800) 552-9963.
Governor Declares State Of Emergency
Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.
He also said the state is trying to find a way to help people find out if they contracted the virus more quickly.
“It is clear that the CDC supply chain is, in fact, limited,” Northam said of the national Centers for Disease Control. “We are looking at developing our own test kits. There are also private labs in Virginia authorized to run these tests.”
He noted the state can’t control what the private labs do and offered few details on how the state could create its own tests.
WHRO reporters Sam Turken and Mechelle Hankerson, producers Jonah Grinkewitz and Paul Bibeau and Morning Edition host and producer Gina Gambony contributed to this reporting.