RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s “COVID-19 Action Plan” rolled out on Thursday extends a limited emergency order to help Virginia hospitals while shifting the state’s strategies on masking, testing and vaccinations.
Youngkin’s executive order doubles down on measures Governor Ralph Northam announced at the end of his term. The order temporarily suspends regulations, giving hospitals more flexibility to increase bed capacity, tele-medicine and staff. It will expire on Feb. 21, 2022 unless it’s amended or rescinded sooner.
“I believe this executive order is critical to addressing the staffing crisis that we are having across Virginia,” Youngkin told reporters during an appearance in Roanoke.
Departing from CDC guidelines, Youngkin is discouraging mass testing for pre-screening and asymptomatic individuals. He said healthy individuals with mild symptoms should stay home and use discretion on testing.
For now, Youngkin said rapid tests should be prioritized for certain groups like students, health care workers, nursing homes, those over 65, people with high-risk health conditions and their caregivers, as well as patients following the advice of their healthcare providers.
Youngkin’s plan calls for expanded availability once testing supplies increase. Youngkin will direct the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to speed up orders of rapid tests and to work with the White House to expedite the distribution process for tests being sent to Virginia.
“One of my frustrations is that we do not have a ready supply of tests and I think we should and so we have accelerated an order of 500 thousand tests and we have placed another order for another 500 thousand tests,” Youngkin said.
The initiative also calls for unused tests at state agencies and other facilities to be sent to schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
After the emergence of omicron amid holiday season, cases have continued to increase in the commonwealth. Despite having nearly 70 percent of people fully vaccinated, Virginia has seen record daily counts in December and January. After having thousands of cases per day in November, the Virginia Department of Health has reported tens of thousands of new cases on multiple days.
On Thursday, VDH reported a little over 14,000 new cases.
The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) called Youngkin’s order “a welcome and necessary step” in a statement on Thursday. The association has been tracking the commonwealth’s hospitalizations, ventilator usage and total available beds.
“In the past month, Virginia hospitals have encountered some of the most challenging circumstances seen since the pandemic began. A rapidly escalating surge has led to record-setting hospitalizations that are straining the capacity of the health care delivery system, its staff, and resources,” VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton said in a statement.
Youngkin’s emergency order will allow nurses and other health care professionals outside of the state to practice in Virginia, expand overtime hours and availability for personal care workers and distribute the commonwealth’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). The order also permits therapeutics to be distributed at Virginia hospitals that do not have on-site pharmacies.
Youngkin’s plan reiterates his opposition to vaccine mandates and pledges to revamp education efforts to get more shots in arms. It calls for hosting 120 COVID-19 vaccine events across Virginia and having more mobile vaccine units in rural areas. Youngkin also plans to work with other governors “to identify and utilize best practices on vaccine education,” according to his plan.
The roll out comes as backlash continues to Youngkin’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates. Youngkin still isn’t saying how it will be enforced.
“I feel very strongly that the courts will uphold this and this will not be a decision about needing to enforce it,” Youngkin said. “This is a decision about what’s right for parents and children.”