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Governor, Virginia Health Leaders Confirm: 9 COVID-19 Cases

Two women in lab gear working
Technicians at the DCCS laboratory. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

State health leaders confirmed that nine Virginians have now tested positive for the coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The only information officials would share about the latest presumed case is that it’s in Central Virginia’s Hanover County.

Gov. Ralph Northam and health leaders held a press conference on Wednesday about ways the state is working to contain the outbreak. 

Dr. Lilian Peake, with the Virginia Department of Health, said that affected localities also include Quantico, Virginia Beach, Loudon, Arlington, Fairfax, Ashland and Spotsylvania County.

“Several of these patients have had mild illness and they are all in stable condition at this time,” Peake said. “Coronavirus testing at the state lab is being prioritized for people who have respiratory symptoms and were in contact with a confirmed case, or traveled to an area where the virus is widespread.”

Peake leads Virginia’s Incident Command Team, the group leading efforts to tackle COVID-19, the disease caused by the latest strain of coronavirus. It emerged from Wuhan, China in December. She said testing for the disease is being done by the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, the state’s public health lab, as well as some private labs. 

Dr. Denise Toney, lab director at DCLS, said testing supplies are being closely monitored to ensure there are enough to meet the need as the disease becomes more widespread in Virginia. The CDC only permits labs to order one test-kit at a time — each kit has the capacity to test up to 120 patients.

“We have adequate testing supplies in house to be able to perform testing for 300 to 400 patients,” Toney said. “We are anticipating two additional kits to arrive today, which will increase our capacity to 500-600 patients.”

Officials said DCLS has not turned any patients away, but the department is only conducting tests on individuals who have gone through VDH screenings and been approved. 

“We do have some criteria in place to ensure that people who have the most risk of having been exposed and could be cases have priority for the testing,” Peake said. “If somebody does not meet those criteria, we are recommending that the clinicians try to work with the private labs to access testing.”

Northam said the state has expanded its testing criteria, labeling residents of nursing homes a top priority for immediate testing. He said the Incident Command Team is also working closely with nursing homes, hospitals, state schools and universities to prevent the disease from spreading further. 

“We have made plans for how state employees can telework and to ensure they have paid leave if they are affected,” Northam said. “We are working with the Bureau of Insurance to determine how Virginia health insurers may relax copays and testing costs related to COVID-19.”

Officials said that the state is working to increase measures to help vulnerable populations, like low-income and homeless Virginians. Dr. Karen Kimsey, the director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, said the department is making sure individuals enrolled in Medicaid have access to necessary healthcare. 

“The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to get health coverage for yourself and for your family,” Kimsey said. “We are placing a particular focus on the health and safety of our seniors and individuals who use long term services and supports because we recognize that this virus can hit this population especially hard.”

Kimsey said there are many Virginians who are eligible for Medicaid that have not yet enrolled. She urged residents to check their eligibility and apply for coverage — and to remember that Medicaid accepts applications year-round. 

A state of emergency has not yet been declared in Virginia. But Northam said the state is prepared to issue one if necessary. 

Officials with the Department of Transportation said they’re also taking necessary steps to prevent the disease and keep it from spreading. 

“The main focus has been on safety coordination messaging, disinfecting and making sure that we have the highest protocols in order,” Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said.  “As new information is made available, we're communicating that to our workforce and our customers.”

Valentine said the department is monitoring the disease as it spreads, and will adjust operations accordingly. So far, no bus routes have been affected — but Amtrak has cancelled trips between Washington D.C. and Boston. 

Northam added that the state has up to $10 million available to fund preventative and containment efforts related to the disease, including money to increase staffing of healthcare workers and first-responders — and for equipment to protect them.

Currently, there is not a medicine or vaccine available to treat COVID-19, only supportive care to ease the symptoms.

Health officials caution travelers returning from countries and states where the disease is spreading to stay home for 14 days after arriving. They’re also stressing for residents to take the following precautions: 

  • Frequent hand-washing, and avoiding face contact to prevent the spread of germs
  • Covering coughs and sneezes 
  • Disinfecting touched surfaces and objects
  • Staying home when sick 

Residents can check the VDH and CDC websites for updates, guidance and more information on the virus. VPM is providing continuing coverage on the outbreak.

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