Still no Virginia cases of coronavirus, but state prepares for outbreak
Latest updates on statewide response to COVID-19
As of Wednesday afternoon, Virginia still has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has spread to 60 countries. However, as more cases are reported nationally, as well as nine deaths in the U.S., officials in Virginia are urging caution and taking preventive measures. So far, 17 people in Virginia have been tested for the virus; 14 have been found negative, and three are still awaiting results, though 106 people are under public health monitoring, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 80 people in 13 states have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and public health officials say it’s expected to spread further. (The first case in North Carolina was confirmed Tuesday.) On Wednesday, members of Congress reached an agreement on an emergency funding bill providing $7.8 billion for treatment and prevention, $13.3 million of which would go to Virginia from the CDC, according to a news release from U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure by the end of the week.
In a news release from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s office Wednesday, state officials gave these precautions against COVID-19:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Here are some of the latest announcements regarding preparations in Virginia as of Wednesday afternoon. We will update our coverage as more reports come in. (See earlier coronavirus coverage.)
State offices are creating public health plans in response to the virus, Northam announced Wednesday at a Richmond news conference with state public health officials.
Potential cases will now be tested at Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services instead of the CDC in Atlanta. Testing in Virginia will generate results more quickly, officials said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake is the incident commander in charge of the COVID-19 management team.
“Our team is tracking the virus and meeting daily to discuss the situation,” Peake said at the press conference. “The risk to Virginians right now is low. But this is a dynamic situation that is changing daily. Being able to test potential cases here in Virginia will help us protect public health by providing results more quickly, so we can prevent the spread of disease and protect our communities.”
Virginia’s public health and safety experts established an incident management team in January after scientists first identified the virus in Asia.
“While the risk is still low here in Virginia, state agencies are focused on preparation efforts, and we are encouraging Virginians to practice good hygiene measures and continue following updates from state and federal health officials,” Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said at the press conference.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association has established a resource webpage with Virginia-specific information about preparations and precautions related to the disease.
“Virginia hospitals have a significant role in emergency preparedness in the commonwealth,” Julian Walker, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association vice president of communications, said in a statement. “VHHA helps coordinate that work through VHEMP… [which] supports efforts by the commonwealth’s health care delivery system to prepare, respond to, and recover from natural and manmade disasters…Each health care coalition operates a Regional Healthcare Coordination Center (RHCC), a 24/7 operations center designed to be the coordination and communication hub for health care and community partners during a disaster.”
The website also includes videos and podcasts about the disease.
Virginia Tech released a statement Wednesday that the university is monitoring the risks of the disease to students, faculty and staff in the U.S. and abroad. Tech also has created a COVID-19 page for information regarding developments and risk assessments. Most other universities have alerts regarding the disease and advice for students, faculty and staff both here and abroad.
Tech is also monitoring assessments of health risk in countries that do not have CDC travel advisories.
“Should any students wish to return home before the end of the semester, academic departments will work hard to ensure that they have are given an opportunity to complete their coursework,” Cyril Clarke, executive vice president and provost, said in the release.
The University of Virginia also has a page with coronavirus updates, and it has canceled all outbound study-abroad programs scheduled over spring break, U.Va. announced Tuesday. The decision was based on the CDC’s recommendation March 1 that universities reconsider travel during the break.
U.Va. also said in a statement that officials are in “close, regular communication with those students who are currently abroad on exchange and other programs, regarding how to monitor and assess their current situations based on conditions in the country they are visiting.”