Northam targets coronavirus spread in nursing homes, prisons

With nursing homes and long-term care facilities struggling to prevent the
spread of the coronavirus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has created task
force to ensure these facilities have sufficient resources, including
staff and personal protective equipment, to protect their residents, the
governor said at a news briefing Friday.

The task force will be headed by Dr. Laurie Forlano, the deputy
commissioner of population health at the Virginia Department of Health,
and will be made up of members of the Northam administration and public
health experts. The task force also will track data at long-term care
facilities, including the number of deaths and outbreak trends.

“We’re very committed that these facilities continue to get the funding
they need and the supplies they need to protect the people that live there
and to protect themselves and their staff,” Forlano said at the news
briefing. “We also want to ensure open communication between our local
health departments and these facilities in a given area.”

Out of the 82 outbreaks of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Virginia,
45 of them have occurred at nursing homes and long-term care facilities,
Forlano said. Ten percent, or 525, of the total number of reported
positive cases of the coronavirus in Virginia are in nursing homes and
long-term care facilities, she said.

At Friday’s news briefing, Northam also said he has proposed an amendment
to the state budget that would give the Virginia Department of Corrections
the authority to release prisoners who have one year or less in their
sentences and who have demonstrated good behavior and are viewed as not
posing a threat to society.

The General Assembly, when it reconvenes on April 22, is expected to vote
on the amendment. In the meantime, Northam has instructed the Department
of Corrections to work on re-entry planning for the people who will be
released from prison if the General Assembly passes the amendment. Fewer
than 2,000 state prisoners have one year or less remaining in their

Given concerns about the coronavirus, the House of Delegates, when it
reconvenes on April 22, is expected to meet outside under a tent and the
state Senate is expected to meet at the Science Museum of Virginia in
Richmond where the lawmakers are expected to have more space to practice
social distancing.

On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reported that the number of
deaths resulting from the coronavirus rose to 121, up from 109 on
Thursday. Cases of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 illness,
increased from 4,042 to 4,509. Virginia’s positive cases include 772
hospitalizations, up from 685 on Thursday.

The state’s highest number of deaths so far has occurred in central
Virginia, with 44. In Virginia’s northern region, where nearly half the
positive cases of the coronavirus have been reported, there have been 40
reported deaths. The state’s eastern region has reported 24 deaths, many
of them in the Peninsula Health District.

Dr. Norman Oliver, state health commissioner, said Friday the Virginia
Department of Health is preparing to start reporting deaths from the
coronavirus by individual health district. Currently, the health
department only reports deaths by the five regions of the state.

Northam said 13,000 people have signed up to volunteer for the Virginia
Medical Reserve Corps, a group of volunteers who can support the state in
the event of a public health emergency such as the coronavirus crisis.
Half of the people who have signed up to volunteer have medical training.

Nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students are encouraged to apply
to be a part of the volunteer corps, Northam said. The medical corps also
needs non-medical volunteers to handle activities such as logistics and
communications. Members of the public who are interested in volunteering
for the Medical Reserve Corps should visit

Northam noted that Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond announced
Thursday that it has developed a way to clean N95 masks that are in short
in hospitals across the country. VCU is using ultraviolent radiation to
decontaminate and clean masks so that they can be re-used.

“VCU is not the only hospital system or university to explore this method.
But we’re proud to have them innovating in this way right here in
Virginia, ” Northam said. “I hope other hospital systems will reach out to
VCU for information on how to do the same thing. … Being able to clean
and re-use them could be a game-changer for our doctors, nurses and

On Monday, the Northam administration plans to bring data specialists who
are working on coronavirus models to Richmond to meet with the press and
explain their modeling. The governor said his administration still has not
set up a time and place where the data specialists will gather.

When asked at the news briefing why he might not be demonstrating the same
amount of hope expressed by President Donald Trump during his daily news
briefings, Northam said he wants to return to normalcy as quickly as
possible. But he said government officials also must deal with reality.

“I’m a doctor. I understand the importance of keeping people healthy. So
I’m looking at the data,” he said. “I would always want to provide people
with hope. Because once you take someone’s hope away, you have taken away
their will to live.”

“But I’m also a big believer in telling the truth and letting people know
what we’re up against,” Northam added. “This is a biological war that
we’re fighting here in this country. And we need to take it seriously. And
we need to, as best we can, use the science and the data when we provide
these guidelines.”


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