WATCH: Gov. Northam says Virginia needs to expand testing to reopen

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) –Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia doesn’t have enough coronavirus testing to begin easing restrictions. 

Vice President Mike Pence said over the weekend that there is sufficient testing capacity currently for every state to move forward to ‘phase one’ of the federal roadmap for reopening the economy.

When asked if that’s the case in Virginia at a press conference on Monday, Northam said, “The answer is no, we don’t, but we’re improving that everyday.”

Northam said he’s been getting mixed messages from the White House. Last week, President Donald Trump endorsed a rally to reopen Virginia on Twitter one day after announcing guidelines that require states see a 14-day decline in cases before moving to ‘phase one.’

For the first time since coronavirus was detected in Virginia, the state has seen a decline in new cases for three days in a row. Gov. Northam warned that the state has yet to reach its peak. 

“I really don’t need people protesting to encourage me to open up our economy any sooner than we can do safely and responsibly,” Northam said. “This is the time for all of us to work together and be part of the solution.”  

The governor said a newly appointed testing work group, led by former health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley, will focus on coordinating public and private labs statewide.

“Our job with this working group will be to help ensure everyone knows how they fit into a coordinated statewide testing plan,” Remley said.

“What we’ve realized is now that we have increased capacity we are not using it as we should,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey. 

The governor said the group will specifically increase testing sites, expand testing criteria, decrease turn-around time for results and address supply shortages currently limiting the amount of tests that can be completed. 

“Testing isn’t just about the test itself,” Northam said. “Labs might be able to run tests but until doctors have enough swabs to do the test and we have enough supplies to safely transport the tests we cannot meet the need.” 

Gov. Northam said the state is expecting more support from the CDC in the coming weeks. He said the agency will, in part, be sending teams to each state to focus on testing vulnerable populations.

After initially raising concerns about the lack of national guidance on testing, Northam said the White House is now planning on using the Defense Production Act to force companies to manufacture testing supplies. Northam said he’s not sure when President Trump will make it official.

VDH is also sending out a letter to physicians statewide, instructing them to test patients that previously would’ve been “presumed positive” based on symptoms alone. Health officials say this will help paint a more accurate picture or the virus’s spread. 

Northam’s Administration has yet to set a standard for the ideal number of tests per day. The governor said that’s another thing the work group will be tasked with. 

When asked about concerns that more testing will inevitably lead to an increase in positive cases on paper, Northam said his administration is also tracking the ratio of total tests to positive cases daily.

On Monday, the VDH reported 56,735 people have been tested for the novel coronavirus so far.

The governor also announced Monday that VDH will be sharing new information in its daily update numbers. The new data will include showing the number of hospitalizations, as well as the race and age of patients in specific localities.

VDH Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said 77 of the 139 outbreaks in the state are in long term care facilities. She added the state plans to come out with guidance on if families should take their loved ones out of a long term care facility during the pandemic.

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