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Northam Resumes Normal COVID-19 Briefings

A woman speaks at a podium
Rita Davis, Counsel to the Governor, addresses a question regarding an injunction placed against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond. (Screenshot by VPM)

Gov. Ralph Northam gave his first full coronavirus briefing since the breakout of protests over the killing of George Floyd. The governor began by calling for a moment of silence in honor of Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost 9 minutes.

Northam said he had been in conversation with police chiefs from around the state, and that he hoped he would also get a chance to talk to activists and community leaders as well. “This is an opportunity for serious reform, and we have to be serious about how we do it,” Northam said. “This includes listening and learning from wise and thoughtful people.”

Northam announced the appointment of Curtis Brown as state coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Additionally, Northam announced that he would appoint Jamal Hudson to fill a vacancy on the State Corporation Commission. Hudson previously served as director of government affairs for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The governor also announced three new appointments to the Virginia Crime Commission: Larry Boone, chief of the Norfolk police department and member of the Virginia African-American Advisory Board; Larry Terry, director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at UVA; and Lori Haas, senior director of advocacy at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The governor indicated that based on state metrics, Richmond and Northern Virginia, which have delayed their entry into Phase 2 of re-opening, could do so as soon as this Friday.

Northam also announced guidance for schools as they move into “phase two and beyond.”

“All VA schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” Northam said. “These phases will allow in-person instruction, but slowly. We’ll start with small groups, and we’ll allow each school division the flexibility it needs to respond to the needs of its own locality.”

Restrictions will include smaller class sizes, expansion of remote-learning options, and a state-reviewed plan detailing compliance with coronavirus measures.

Dr. James Lane, superintendent of Public Instruction, announced that all special education and childcare programs would be reopened effective immediately, and that all localities which had moved into phase 2 would be allowed to resume summer camps, as well as preschool through 3rd grade and English learner programs. Lane reiterated that in-person instruction for all students would resume when localities moved into phase 3, albeit with the adoption of staggered schedules and other protective measures.

Lane opened his remarks by acknowledging racism both historic and contemporary, declaring that Virginia must address long-standing issues. “We must eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps, we must have culturally relevant standards and practices, and I am committed to eradicating racism from our schools and communities,” Lane said.

Clark Mercer, the governor’s chief of staff, outlined the governor’s guidance on the resumption of youth sports programs. The state is applying two main standards: no intentional contact and no shared equipment. Indoor venues will be limited to 30% of their normal capacity or 50 people, whichever is less; likewise outdoor venues will be limited to 50% or 50 people.

Dr. Norm Oliver gave an update on state coronavirus data, including a flood of new data from a testing center which had not previously submitted electronic records. Oliver also shared race and ethnicity data that showed the coronavirus continues to have a disproportionate impact on people of color.

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