RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – At his last coronavirus press conference before leaving office, Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency to relieve pressure on Virginia’s hospitals.
It comes after the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) recently reported a new record for daily hospitalizations – up nearly 200% across Virginia in the past month–as cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are also increasing.
The surge of largely unvaccinated patients is prompting several hospital systems to suspend non-emergency care.
Northam said his executive action will give hospitals more flexibility to increase bed space and staff. These measures were in place earlier in the pandemic but they expired along with Northam’s broader State of Emergency declaration last summer.
The VHHA asked the Northam Administration to reinstate those steps in a letter in August 2021 and doubled down on those calls in an interview in October. Without action from the governor’s office, the VHHA renewed its push in another letter on Dec. 30, 2021.
“Why now? Because last week the daily census numbers in hospitals across the state hit record highs. That breaks a record set one year ago in January 2021 when vaccinations were just starting,” Northam said. “Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care.”
The limited emergency order is effective immediately and will remain in effect for 30 days, according to Northam’s Spokesperson Alena Yarmosky.
“I want everyone to know that we don’t expect this to continue indefinitely. In fact, modeling from UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute suggests that we’ll see this wave of hospitalizations peak in early February. That is why this emergency order will last for thirty days,” Northam said.
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin gets sworn in on Saturday, Jan 15. An aide for Northam said Youngkin’s pledge to end state-level mask and vaccine mandates was a key factor in the timing of these new tools.
While Youngkin has the power to reverse Northam’s final pandemic executive action, his transition team appeared to endorse the order on Monday. In a statement, transition aide Devin O’Malley said Youngkin too has been in close communication with hospitals and that it is clear medical providers are continuing to experience a historic staffing crisis.
“Governor-elect Youngkin supports the use of tailored executive action that removes staffing barriers and provides healthcare providers the flexibility in order to deliver high-quality care and give overworked medical professionals the relief they need,” the statement continued.
Specifically, Northam’s order authorizes state agencies to waive certain regulations, allowing hospitals to increase licensed bed capacity as necessary to meet patient needs. It also mandates local Medical Services Agencies to work with hospitals to coordinate transports and discharges based on available space.
Northam is once again allowing out-of-state providers with an active license to practice in Virginia and providing liability protections for healthcare workers “who act in good faith to protect patients.” Additionally, he’s expanding who can administer a coronavirus vaccine and granting more flexibility for physicians assistants, as well as nursing aides in long-term care facilities.
In a statement, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians thanked Northam for providing necessary relief to emergency departments and hospitals statewide.
“We also encourage Virginians in need of a COVID-19 test to use one of the many new community testing sites statewide, as emergency departments have only a limited supply and test only high-risk, symptomatic patients,” the statement furthered. “By the way: Get vaccinated and boosted. When you do, you avoid ever coming here with serious symptoms and you’ll keep ERs open to your neighbors and friends who truly need us.”
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News for updates.