RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — During his latest coronavirus update, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia is one of a handful of states not seeing a large increase in coronavirus cases but he still has concerns about one region in particular.
The most recent data shows Virginia with 176,754 COVID-19 cases overall and 3,616 deaths, with 16 new deaths in the last reporting period.
The state’s overall rate of positive tests is just above 5 percent but, in Southwest Virginia, Northam said it’s nearing 8 percent. In some areas of the region, he said it’s closer to 9 percent.
“While our numbers look pretty good overall we have to consider the differences across regions of the state and we have to slide Virginia into the bigger national picture,” Northam said. “In our rural areas in particular, a small increase in cases can have a very large impact.”
Ballad Health, the only hospital system serving much of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, is sounding the alarm about an increase in COVID-19 patients near the state border. On Tuesday, Ballad reported 169 hospitalized patients — an all-time high for the system, according to our sister station WJHL. Of those patients, Ballad said 33 were in intensive care and 15 were on ventilators, representing an increase in both categories since Monday.
“Our public health experts are clear, the spread is driven in part by small family gatherings. I strongly urge everyone in the Southwest to look at these numbers and step up your precautions,” Northam said.
Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said gathering with extended family from different households are risky. Especially during the holiday season, he said those planning on coming together should wear masks, social distance and stay outside if possible.
Gov. Northam said he is not imposing additional restrictions in Southwest Virginia yet but he is watching the data closely. Northam was not specific about what regulations he’s considering but he emphasized that “one size doesn’t fit all.”
The warning comes ahead of Halloween weekend. Northam urged Virginians to make good choices.
“Some favorite Halloween activities are not cut out for social distancing,” he said. “Big crowds are a bad idea.”
Also on Wednesday, Northam announced a “dramatic expansion” of the Rebuild VA grant program. The state is broadening its eligibility criteria so that small businesses with fewer than 250 employees and less than $10 million in gross revenue can apply. The maximum grant amount is also being increased from $10,000 to $100,000 thanks to additional CARES Act funding.
“Small businesses and nonprofits are the backbone of our economy and they will be the backbone of our recovery,” Northam said.
Northam added that the state has received its first shipment of rapid COVID-19 tests after joining an interstate compact earlier this year. The 26,000 tests, which can be turned around in 15 minutes, are going to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. He said another shipment is expected soon.
Watch the full press conference below: