RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam provided an update on the state’s COVID-19 response and election readiness. He also requested an extension of the ban on utility shut-offs, which was later granted by the State Corporation Commission.
Northam said Virginia’s overall percent positivity rate is at 6.8 percent, which he called “good news” after a consecutive decline of 12 days. Still, Northam said the commonwealth continues to see roughly a thousand new cases being reported each day.
As coronavirus cases come down in Hampton Roads–previously a hot spot–Northam said he’s shifting his attention to Southwest Virginia. The largely rural region has the highest percent positivity rate in the state at 8.1 percent, though Central Virginia isn’t far behind.
“Since Southwest Virginia has fewer people and fewer hospitals with fewer ICU beds this continues to be concerning to us,” Northam said.
Northam noted that temporarily tightening restrictions in the Eastern region appeared to be effective but he’s not currently considering doing this elsewhere.
“I continue to remind everyone in Virginia to keep doing things we know work,” Northam said.
The Governor urged people to download the state’s exposure notification app called COVIDWISE. He said more than a half a million adults have done so to date, representing an estimated 12 percent of Virginians between the ages of 18 and 65.
Health officials have said the app relies on widespread use to work. They were originally hoping to see at least 50-60 percent of adults download it.
“This tool has great potential to help us curb the spread of this virus,” Northam said.
Also on Tuesday, the governor announced his intention to extend Virginia’s utility moratorium, which was previously set to end on September 16. The SCC later approved the new expiration date of October 5.
“These are important steps to help families keep the lights on while facing economic hardship,” Northam said.
Customers who have entered into an extended payment plan will continue to be protected from service shutoffs if they remain current or enter into individualized new repayment plans with their utility company.
The extension gives the General Assembly time to finalize their budget and pass legislation to more permanently address the issue.
With the first day of voting coming up on Friday, the governor said the state is already seeing a surge in absentee ballot requests.
“Seven weeks before Election Day, we have already surpassed absentee demand from four years ago. We know that demand will continue to go up,” Northam said.
Under a new state law, Virginians no longer need an excuse to vote absentee, though people can still vote in person.
For the first time, people will be able to submit their ballots at drop boxes in every locality. Those who choose to vote by mail will be provided pre-paid postage. Virginians can also track their ballot online to make sure it’s received.
“I want Virginians to know your vote is safe and it will count,” Northam said.
The governor said voters should expect a slight delay in the election results–possibly a few days–due to the record number of mail-in ballots.
“I think Virginia will be fairly quick compared to other states. We can actually count absentee ballots as they come in rather than waiting until the night of the election,” Northam said.
Watch the full press conference here: