Northam to ask state lawmakers for May elections delay
May 5 races would appear on Nov. 3 ballot
Gov. Ralph Northam has asked the state legislature to push May 5 elections to the Nov. 3 ballot, he announced Wednesday at his regular coronavirus news conference. The General Assembly, which must approve any rescheduling of an election, will take up the matter when it reconvenes April 22 in Richmond, Northam said.
All absentee ballots for May elections will be discarded, the governor said, and voters will have the opportunity to cast their votes in November.
Also, primaries will be held June 23, two weeks after they were scheduled, a shift the governor can make unilaterally. Some Virginia Republicans voiced displeasure after Northam issued his stay-at-home order through June 10 last month, saying it would interfere with June 9 primary elections.
The governor also announced that restaurants with ABC licenses would be allowed to sell mixed drinks to go starting Thursday, to help the businesses boost their bottom line while dining rooms are closed.
At the news conference, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver turned the spotlight on the high percentages of black and Latino people in Virginia who have tested positive for COVID-19 — although Oliver noted that the state has racial data only for 47% of cases recorded because testing facilities don’t always pass along racial and ethnic demographics to private labs. Such disparities also have been noted in other states, but Oliver said Virginia is just one of 12 states that records any racial and ethnicity data in its COVID-19 cases. VDH collects this data with every case, he added.
Of Virginia’s 1,381 cases with racial and ethnic demographic data available as of Wednesday, 28% are black patients and 12% are Latino, Oliver said; only 19.9% of Virginia’s population is black, according to U.S. Census estimates for 2019, and 9.6% is Latino. Also, Oliver said, 14 of Virginia’s 75 COVID-19 deaths were black patients, and three are Latino — although, again, the state does not have racial or ethnic data for about half of the fatal cases, so the percentages could potentially be higher or lower.
The state’s unified command team for the coronavirus emergency, Oliver added, has a racial equity group focusing on vulnerable parts of Virginia’s population, including black and Latino communities, which by and large have higher risk factors.
Higher concentration in urban areas, lack of access to health care and higher rates of underlying medical issues like diabetes, obesity and hypertension all contribute to more COVID-19 cases, Oliver said. Also, there are higher percentages of Virginia’s racial minority groups who work in positions that have less opportunity for teleworking and social distancing, he said.
The health equity group, which is about to launch a targeted communication campaign in black and Latino communities about avoiding the spread of COVID-19, Oliver said, is “historic for Virginia and, in fact, historic for the entire country.”
Meanwhile, Northam said he expects a shipment of personal protection equipment from Asia to arrive in a few days, the first shipment in a $27 million contract with Norfolk-based Northfield Medical Manufacturing LLC.
Despite “limited direction from the federal level” and Virginia receiving only 10% of PPE it requested from the federal stockpile, Northam said he was “proud” of the 430,000 N95 masks, 1.5 million gloves and other protective wear that Virginia has been able to send to hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities so far.
None of these facilities in Virginia have run out of PPE, the governor noted, although many have voiced concern with him about running low, as the state prepares for a potential surge in cases in the next several weeks.
“Every governor has been on their own,” Northam said, echoing comments from both Democratic and Republican governors who have asked for more federal assistance during the crisis.