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Northam outlines reasons for additional measures

Moved by the images of mobile morgues for COVID-19 dead, Gov. Ralph Northam said that resonated with him as he weighed implementing measures in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus as the state and country hit record levels of cases.

While Virginia’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have risen, he noted during a press briefing Nov. 18 that it has not been as dramatic as what has been happening in other states. But, he said after discussions with state health commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver along with others from the Virginia Department of Health and within his administration, he moved forward with the measures he announced Nov. 13.

“I’ll tell you, what really affected me is seeing mobile morgues outside of hospitals, because there’s no place for the dead,” Northam said during his Nov. 18 news briefing. “We don’t need that to happen in Virginia.”

Northam placed restrictions on gatherings, expanded the state’s mask mandate, placed a curfew on on-site alcohol sales and drinking and increased enforcement of retail businesses on adhering to protocols.

As for other measures, Northam said, “all options are on the table.”

“If we do the right thing, they will keep those numbers down, we’ll keep the curve flat, and we’ll be able to move forward and await anxiously the vaccination,” Northam said, “and as soon as we can, get back to near normal.”

He said staying home for Thanksgiving this year “is an act of love.”

“While 2020 has been a tough and challenging year, and those challenges are not over, we can be grateful for where we are now and how far we’ve come together,” Northam said. “But I ask you, Virginia, to consider how you celebrate this holiday. Consider the risk to your family.”

Virginia reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases for three straight days this week — 2,677 reported Monday, followed by days with 2,125 and 2,071 reported cases. The Monday total, according to the state department of health, was due to the department “catching up” on reporting its numbers while its website was down for a few hours over the weekend. Still, the state’s incidence rate is the fourth-lowest in the United States.

Just twice had the state hit that level of cases reported in a single day. The seven-day moving average of cases has nearly doubled since Sept. 25, going from 774 to 1,489 Nov. 10, the latest day for which the average was available as of Nov. 18.

Outgoing Western Tidewater Health District Director Dr. Todd Wagner said Virginia Beach and Chesapeake are seeing sizable increases in COVID-19 cases. He told Suffolk City Council Nov. 18 that Suffolk and Western Tidewater has been lagging behind those localities by about seven to 10 days. The city’s seven-day positivity rate is 5.7%, while the state’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.1%.

Northam and Oliver, noting the work on the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations, were optimistic about the developments, with one that could be ready by the end of the year. The first phase of vaccinations, according to Wagner, would go to health care workers and first responders as the supply allows.

Wagner said the first of those getting vaccinations would have to get it twice — 21 to 28 days apart. He said a one-shot vaccination could be ready by February. He said the health district would be capable of handling the storage of the vaccines — the Pfizer vaccine in development needs to be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius.

“We’re ready to deliver that on our piece of it,” Wagner said.

Wagner noted that this council meeting would be his last, and that Portsmouth’s health district director, Dr. Lauren James, would be Western Tidewater’s interim director.

Northam said people should continue to wear their masks, stay socially distant and consider not going to large gatherings.

“We have been planning for distribution for months, and we will be ready,” Northam said. “This is wonderful news. It gives us all hope. It means a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think we can all agree that this has been a long tunnel.

“As a doctor, I have to caution that light is a few months away still. These vaccines will take time to distribute. Until then, we all need to be taking precautions. But we all need something to feel hopeful about and to look forward to, and the vaccine news is very promising.”