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Governor: Elective medical procedures can resume

Gov. Ralph Northam said elective surgeries and dental procedures will be allowed to resume Friday as his executive order banning them expires.

He issued the executive order last month to create needed capacity to care for COVID-19 patients and preserve a limited supply of personal protective equipment. But he declined to extend the order, saying the state has slowed the spread of COVID-19 enough for the elective procedures to start again.

“Together we took the right actions, and they have been successful,” Northam said at his press briefing Wednesday. “We slowed the spread of this virus. … Now, hospitals and dental facilities are prepared to restart non-emergency procedures safely.”

He said guidelines are in place to protect patients and health care workers, and to preserve enough PPE.

The Virginia Dental Association issued new guidelines to its members Tuesday — its priorities being to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission, preserve people’s oral health, minimize dental emergencies at emergency departments and support dental workers in resuming their work safely.

VDA President Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds said the longer dental practices stay closed, “the more likely that our patients’ untreated dental diseases will progress, increasing the complexity and cost for treatment.”

Veterinarians will also be able to allow to provide their full array of services, Northam said.

Speaking about poultry and other meat processing facilities around the state, he said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun deploying teams to poultry processing plants and had met with local health and worker safety teams. He mentioned this while also acknowledging President Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to stay open. Northam said his main concern was protecting worker safety, and added that he hoped the order signals that the federal government will take an expanded role in keeping meat processing employees safe and providing personal protective equipment.

“If we declare that workers at meat processing plants are essential, then it is imperative that we continue to support their health and well-being,” Northam said.

State Agriculture Secretary Bettina Ring said the CDC guidelines recently released apply to meat and poultry processing facilities, and said the additional assistance of the federal government will allow the state to look at best practices and apply them statewide. She noted that most processing facilities are inspected at the state level, though some are inspected at the federal level, she said.

Northam also announced that the state would begin sharing COVID-19 case data by ZIP code, something it had previously declined to do. State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, who stated at Monday’s briefing that patient privacy was the main reason behind not sharing more detailed data, said the new data would be available within the next several days.

Across the state, there have been 14,961 positive cases of COVID-19 reported to the Virginia Department of Health, with 522 deaths as of Wednesday.

In the Western Tidewater Health District, there have been 384 positive cases of COVID-19 — 154 in Suffolk, 115 in Southampton County, 96 in Isle of Wight County and 19 in Franklin – and 15 people have died. Across the district, 2,139 people have been tested for COVID-19.