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Northam announces state of emergency

Person speak at podium while another translates to ASL
Gov. Ralph Northam declares another, limited state of emergency to help Virginia manage the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam, in his last address on Virginia’s COVID-19 response, declared a limited state of emergency in an effort to help hospitals increase bed availability and staffing.

Virginia followed national trends over the holidays and into the new year, setting a record for most new cases reported with 26,157 on Jan. 8. Before late December 2021, the one-day high was just under 10,000 cases. And while community spread picked up, many struggled to find tests or chances to take them.

Northam says it became clear that another state of emergency was needed when hospitalization numbers broke records set this time last year, “when vaccinations were just starting.”

“I watch the numbers every day, and I’m in close contact with our health systems,” Northam said. “They need our help.”

The order is limited in time and scope. According to legal counsel for the governor, it applies to four state agencies - the departments of Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Medical Assistance Services, and Health Professions - and will be in effect for 30 days.

Those departments were given power to waive certain regulations in efforts to secure more hospital beds and workers. And practitioners with an out-of-state license will be allowed to practice in Virginia.

The order also allows a wider range of healthcare workers to administer vaccines in a variety of settings.

Northam thanked healthcare workers for their efforts over the last 22 months, but made sure to edit his own description of their work: “I say tirelessly but it’s not really the right word - because they are tired.”

He encouraged Virginians to only go to the hospital when they need to in order to reduce stress.

School systems around the state have struggled with staffing; several Virginia Beach schools are going virtual this week, and Richmond Public Schools made it through a day of in-person instruction with 160 teachers out last Thursday. Northam said despite that stress, there were no plans for a statewide return to virtual learning.

“Our students learn best in the classroom. That’s where they’re safest,” Northam said. He encouraged parents to get their kids - 5 and older - vaccinated.

This was Northam’s 70th and final COVID-19 update as governor of Virginia. He’s set to leave office later this week. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is also encouraging Virginians to get the COVID-19 vaccine - but he opposes the federal vaccine mandate and promises to lift Virginia’s public-school mask mandate.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.