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Virginia's Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, Dr. Laurie Forlano, spoke with WHRV's Gina Gambony on Friday, April 24.

Gina Gambony Thank you, Dr. Forlano, for spending a few minutes with us.

Laurie Forlano Thanks for having me.

GG People started talking about reopening businesses basically since Governor Ralph Northam shut things down. Tell us what difference it makes to keep some businesses closed through May 8 and continue the stay-at-home order through June 10, especially in light of the fact that Georgia just did open up businesses.

LF So here in Virginia, obviously it's important to plan ahead. So we are having those conversations right now. We'd like to see a downward trend in cases before we go into that first phase of reopening. We want to see decreased cases. We want to make sure we have increased testing capacity. We want to ensure that our health departments have the teams they need to investigate cases and do the contact tracing. And we want to make sure most importantly, that our health care system is ready and has the capacity to respond, because when we start reopening parts of Virginia, we would expect some increases in cases sometimes, and we need to be prepared for that. I also think, no matter what businesses reopen, and when, we may have to get used to kind of this "new normal" as individuals. We're going to have to keep wearing those cloth face masks and maybe choosing our gatherings or our outings a little more carefully, about what's really important to participate in and make some hard decisions for a little while. And stay the course.

GG And a lot of that has to do with individuals making choices. You were previously the state epidemiologist, and I'm wondering if human behavior, even maybe human psychology, is taken into account in the study of the spread of diseases like the coronavirus?

LF That's an interesting question. I definitely think behavior change and psychology plays a role in any kind of disease prevention efforts. Even things like smoking prevention or, you know, eating healthy. These are behavior changes that are that are hard to make. I'm actually pretty impressed at how quickly people have adopted these behavior changes. And in the United States, I don't think we're used to wearing masks when we go out and I see a lot of people adhering to that precaution. We're very grateful for that and public health and I know that our healthcare sector is too. That helps prevent the spread of disease. People I know are adhering to washing their hands more frequently. I know they're tired of hearing us telling them to do that, but it's just so important. The behavior change is hard. I think we're doing a pretty good job and data is showing that it's working. So again, I think we really need to stay the course here. And that's what's right for Virginia right now.

GG As you know, there have been some protests around the country, including in Richmond, regarding impatience with the restrictions. Do you talk in the health department about your messaging about how you're going to convince people to remain vigilant over the long haul, even though they're tired of it? Some people are particularly bristling against it.

LF I can understand why people are just tired in general. I think these are hard things we're doing and the sacrifices that we're making are not small. What I try to think about is the big sacrifices that healthcare workers are making right now. They are putting their lives on the line for us. So, I think staying home and avoiding gatherings and wearing a mask and these hard choices we're having to make about when to open businesses, those are all to protect all of us, and to protect our health care workers. We're all making sacrifices right now. Right now in the moment where we are in the pandemic in Virginia, I think keeping businesses closed right now for the governor's orders is what makes sense. And we're watching the data closely to figure out when we can make that choice more safely.

GG Now, we're talking about opening businesses, but some people are thinking about opening their mail and opening packages, opening items that we purchase at the store. What advice do you have specifically about that? It's something that that I think about every time I get my mail.

LF I think what we should focus on is the people and less on the stuff. So yes, this virus can live on surfaces. We know that. We are To know that it can live there for a little while, and if you touch that surface and then maybe inadvertently touch your mouth or your nose, that's just a vehicle of transmission. I don't think that's the primary mode of transmission. What we need to focus on is the person-to-person spread. Washing your hands is hands down, the best thing you can do right now. So if you're receiving mail, obviously, we have to open our mail and our packages, wash your hands after you do that. Dispose of those items quickly. Wash your hands again. Washing your hands throughout the day is important. And keeping your distance from others is really the most important measure to take right now.

GG And not having people coming into workplaces--we're trying to continue that maybe even longer than the stay-at-home order, is that true? Keeping people who don't have to come into work not coming in?

LF I think you're asking about teleworking and remote working. Yeah, I think where that can be done and where businesses can still operate like that. The health department actually is doing a lot of teleworking, at least centrally. In the field, they need to go into work physically to support the response. But remote working is a great strategy right now. It's definitely something we're all getting used to. But we are definitely keeping our operation open and learning how to work together remotely. And I do think those measures may need to be in place for for a little bit more time.

GG The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) director Robert Redfield says that we may have a harder time with the coronavirus this winter than we do now. Can you shed any light on that? What he means by that and why?

LF I believe his comments were related to the kind of the confluence of a flu season and coronavirus at the same time. So here in the United States, at least here in Virginia, the first case we saw was early March when flu season is still around but starting to trend downward. So in the wintertime, when flu season and COVID-19 could be happening simultaneously, yes, that's definitely something we need to think about and prepare for, for a variety of reasons.

GG Do you think that anything could happen in the same way it happened with the Spanish Flu, where the second wave in the fall was worse than the first?

LF I think that's a scenario we really need to think about. I think it's definitely possible, particularly if we relax things too soon. What we do is watch that data closely to help us know, well, maybe we need to, you know, take some more tight restrictions, maybe we need to pay more attention to those cloth masks right now or stay home a little bit more frequently. So watching that data point really closely, to know when we need to kind of relax or restrict and take precautions accordingly.

GG And until we get a vaccine, we're going to be watching closely.

LF Right. So without a vaccine or specific treatment, these social strategies or community mitigation strategies are really what's most important. For more information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, please visit our website at

GG That's Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health at the Virginia Department of Health. Dr. Forlano, thank you so much for taking time with us.

LF Thank you.