One year later: 8News looks back at Virginia’s initial response to COVID-19


RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) — March 4, 2020.

A room inside the state’s Patrick Henry Building was packed with maskless state employees, press, health experts and officials from the governor’s administration.

A pandemic peeked around the corner, but one message was repeated often that Wednesday morning.

“Virginia is not an area where the virus is spreading in the community right now” – Dr. Lilian Peake, state epidemiologist.

“We don’t have any cases, but we are preparing to deal with anything that comes down the pike. – Dr. Norm Oliver, state health commissioner.

“Coronavirus is serious, and we are taking it seriously” – Governor Ralph Northam

At that press conference on Coronavirus and the state’s plan to respond, response stakeholders stood shoulder to shoulder, shook hands and assured Virginia was ready to respond.

Reality changed by the end of the month with a stay-at-home order.

One year later, a different story: masks, and social distancing.

A mere handful of Virginians had been tested for COVID-19, but produced no positive results. 

However, Virginia could finally tests citizens in-state without sending samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab in Atlanta.

“Having the test available here means we can turn it around in just hours,” Dr. Oliver said at the time.

Dan Carey, the state’s secretary of health and human resources, said Northam’s administration expected to spend $3.6 million to mobilize efforts over the upcoming 90 days, and an additional $6.5 million would be available if needed.

“We know that we can turn to those financial sources if, and when we need them. That is not limiting activity now,” he said.

Virginia’s Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane said “the governor and his team has all the resources available to him to be able to do this effectively, and efficiently over the short period of time, and over whatever this course takes, over the next year or so depending on how things materialize.”

Before mask-wearing became a part of daily life, State Epidemiologist Lilian Peake and Governor Northam detailed their initial recommendations to cut back on potential community spread of disease.

“Until there’s a vaccine the key strategy to preventing the spread is keeping sick people separate from people who are not sick,” Dr. Peake said.

“Wash your hands with soap and water, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, stay home if you feel sick and avoid touching your face,” Northam said.

By mid-March, social distancing was encouraged, a statewide stay-at-home order swiftly followed on March 30th.

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