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COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise in Southwest Virginia

Governor Northam at podium
At a press conference Tuesday Gov. Northam expressed concern over an increase in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Virginia. (Screenshot of VPM video)

Although statewide numbers on COVID-19 remain stable at roughly 1,000 new cases per day, Gov. Ralph Northam said there’s been a sharp increase in Southwest Virginia.

During his Tuesday briefing, Northam said the increase is especially alarming, “since Southwest Virginia has fewer people with fewer hospitals and fewer ICU beds,” than densely populated areas like Northern Virginia, which has also seen increases. Northam attributed the rise to a lack of social distancing and mask wearing.

The governor also announced a continued decline in cases in Hampton Roads, even after lifting additional restrictions he’d imposed in late July.

Northam also gave an update on the COVIDWISE app, saying it has been downloaded by an estimated 12% of Virginia residents between the ages of 18 to 65. A recent study from the University of Oxford estimated that 60% of the population needs to download exposure apps to stop the spread of COVID-19, but that they’ll be effective at reducing infection and deaths even if only 20% of people download them.

To stabilize housing during the pandemic, utility disconnections were paused by the State Corporation Commision. Northam said he “really appreciated that. This has helped us protect public health and keep families safer at home.”

That moratorium expires tomorrow. Northam said he’s asked for it to be extended through October 5 while the General Assembly works on a legislative solution.

Northam gave updates on federal aid and the National Guard. He announced the authorization of $42 million in CARES Act funding to distribute protective supplies, and said the National Guard collected nearly 106,000 testing samples from April to July: “They are a critical part of our pandemic response.”

Before taking questions, Northam gave an update on voting and election day. Absentee voting is up this year, with over 790,000 requests for absentee ballots already in. Voters will be able to mail in their ballot with pre-paid postage and check for delivery, or return them to drop-off locations, listed on local registrar websites.

In-person voting begins this Friday at registrar’s offices across the state, and Northam said voting in-person will be safe, with enhanced sanitization, social distancing measures and the use of face coverings.

Editor’s Note: Northam also noted that this is Suicide Prevention week, and highlighted the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline . That phone number is 1-800-273-8255. For the Veteran/Military Crisis line, press #1.

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