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Governor, State Officials Hold Update On COVID-19 Preparedness

governor northam and state officials
Gov. Ralph Northam, Dr. Lillian Peake and state officials at Wednesday's update. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Gov. Ralph Northam and state health leaders held their first press conference on Wednesday about ways Virginia is preparing for the potential spread of COVID-19, the latest strain of the coronavirus.

The state has put together an Incident Command Team that’s leading efforts to prevent and tackle the virus. Dr. Lillian Peake, with the Virginia Department of Health, is heading the team.

“We're working very closely with the hospital association and other healthcare providers. We've been working with schools and other community partners,” Peake said. 

State officials say they have $3.6 million available to fund public outreach, staff increases for healthcare workers and first responders, and for equipment to protect them.

Three hundred and twenty-eight Virginians have been monitored for COVID-19. These are people who have either traveled to places where there have been outbreaks, or have been in contact with infected individuals. 

Dr. Denise Toney is the lab director at the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, the state’s public health lab. She said they currently have two test kits available, with the capacity to examine up to 120 samples from people who show symptoms of the illness. 

“The number of specimens that are submitted per patient dictates how many tests we can get out of an individual kit,” Toney said. “We only have the ability to order one test kit at a time. As soon as we receive our one kit, we are immediately placing our order for the next test kit.”

While the lab hasn’t run into any issues, state officials say the CDC is increasing testing capabilities nationwide. 

So far, 17 Virginians have been tested. While no results have come back positive, a few are still pending. 

The CDC is now recommending travelers avoid all non-essential travel to China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea — and postpone non-essential travel to Japan for older people, or those who have chronic medical conditions. Those returning from countries where the disease is spreading are also cautioned to stay home for 14 days after arrival. 

Northam said that, in the case of a breakout, the state will have measures in place to help vulnerable populations, like low-income residents, the homeless and elderly.

“We've expanded Medicaid that has helped us to, to allow individuals to go see providers,” Northam said. “We're having discussions to ensure that everybody in Virginia that needs access has access.”

Northam is urging residents against spreading misinformation. He instead advised that people regularly check the VDH and CDC websites for updates, guidance and more information on the virus. 

Health officials are also stressing the following precautions: 

  • Frequent hand-washing with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds

    Avoiding face contact to prevent the spread of germs

  • Covering coughs and sneezes 
  • Disinfecting touched surfaces and objects
  • Staying home when sick 
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