$2.2 billion in federal funding headed to state agencies
Finance secretary says state expects $1B revenue loss in second quarter.
Next week, Virginia officials will allocate about $2.2 billion in federal stimulus funds to state agencies, which are sending requests to the governor’s office through Monday, Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne announced Friday.
So far, of the $3.1 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act given to Virginia, $650 million has been allocated to localities for costs related to the process, with distribution expected June 1, Layne said. Other funds were sent to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) for personal protection equipment and COVID-19 testing kits, totaling about $878 million of the $3.1 billion total. The remainder, about $2.2 billion, will go to the state’s agencies.
Layne said at Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday coronavirus news conference that the state expects to incur a $1 billion loss in revenue for the second quarter, in part because of the governor’s decision to delay the state tax deadline from May 1 to June 1, as well as decreased sales tax revenue from business closures. Virginia ABC store sales remained a bright spot for the state, Layne noted.
“Now we’ll see how the economy is going to respond as we open up,” Layne said, referring to most localities’ progression into Phase One of the governor’s reopening plan Friday. Layne added that as the state has more economic data in the next couple of months, it will be able to “re-forecast” Virginia’s economic outlook.
In other news, Northam expects to make an announcement Monday regarding restrictions on beach use, which currently is limited to people exercising or fishing. Virginia Beach city officials have said that they’re working with the state on the possibility of opening beaches to sunbathers and swimmers by Memorial Day weekend, which Northam confirmed.
Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, said the Virginia Department of Health has received about 4,000 applications for 1,000 contact tracing jobs, which will allow the state to track the spread of COVID-19. VDH is in conversation with health district directors about their needs, particular those with large numbers of non-English speakers who will need to be contacted by tracers fluent in their languages.
Oliver said that he also has spoken with Petersburg’s mayor and city manager about the public health order he issued this week, requiring that the city turn on water for a few dozen residents, but he has not yet decided whether to rescind the order, with the expectation that the city would allow the residents’ water to remain on. “I hope to very shortly,” he said.
Northam also faced more questions about the state’s decision to combine two different types of COVID-19 tests in its testing data without distinguishing between antibody tests and molecular, or PCR, tests, reported in a Richmond Times-Dispatch story Sunday. Health officials at Harvard and Johns Hopkins University said the practice was inadvisable and possibly misleading. Earlier in the week, the state broke out the combined test data and the PCR-test data alone, showing that the percentage of positive tests were 13.4% including all tests, and 15% for PCR tests alone. Antibody tests, which judge whether a person has had COVID-19, amount to about 15,000 of the total 184,000 tests taken statewide since the outbreak, Northam said.
Northam said at Friday’s conference that he “became aware on Monday that the two tests were aggregated,” and that he told VDH officials to report the numbers separately, which occurred on Friday’s daily dashboard update. “I took issue with the way it was being reported,” the governor added. “I take ownership of that. We’re making improvements every day. I’m proud of my team.”
The state also began reporting health districts’ percentage of positive tests Friday, breaking down the statewide statistics that show a 15% positive rate compared with the total number of PCR tests given. VDH had been working to provide this data publicly before this week, said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey, but hurried it after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney requested the city’s testing information earlier this week.
As of Friday, the state’s localities — with the exception of the Northern Virginia region, the city of Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore — have entered Phase One, which allows partial reopening of some “nonessential” businesses closed in March. Northam noted that he was still open to listening to localities that have concerns about businesses and public behavior but had not yet heard from any asking him to rescind Phase One in their city or county.
Responding to a question about Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, who said he would decline to enforce public-health measures, Northam issued a warning: “I don’t think that’s a good idea, and we’ll deal with that.”