Northam will let localities keep tighter COVID-19 restrictions when state reopens

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he’ll let localities maintain tighter coronavirus restrictions as the state prepares to start loosening regulations next week.

On Monday, the governor set May 15 as a tentative start-date for Virginia to move to ‘Phase One’ of the reopening process. Northam said he’s since spoken with leaders in Maryland and D.C. about concerns that Northern Virginia may not be ready.

“We realize the greater Washington area is one we need to pay particular attention to,” Northam said. “We’re still a week a half away from the 15th but if they have concerns and they want to raise that floor we’ll work with them.”

Northam said he’ll have the final say on what localities will do.

In general, the governor said next steps depend on testing, tracking and isolating new cases. On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health said the state is completing 6,500 tests each day–still short of their 10,000 daily target.

“To increase testing we don’t just need kits. That’s certainly an important part of it but we need the people to perform those tests and to send them to labs,” Northam said.

Northam said the state has largely been relying on Virginia’s National Guard for man power and logistical expertise.

At the end of May, federal funding for the National Guard under Title 32 status is set to expire. Northam is asking President Donald Trump to extend that aid through August.

“It is clear we’ll continue to need this help,” Northam said. “The National Guard regularly provides assistance in emergencies and this is the greatest emergency that we have seen in many years.”

Without an extension, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins said funding will fall to the state at a time where budgets are strained.

“We believe the request will be granted and it’s important to Virginia and our response. If it were not granted, the members of the National Guard would still be able to respond,” Hopkins said.

The Virginia National Guard has about 570 personnel actively working or ready to support Virginia’s COVID response.

“Our top priority is providing additional capacity for COVID test sample collection and mask fit testing at long term care and correctional facilities, which are some of our most vulnerable population,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Williams.

According to VDH, about 100 long-term care facilities are interested in point prevalence testing, a process in which all staff and residents are tested at the same time. VDH says 2 to 3 facilities can be covered each day.

The latest COVID-19 figures have yet to be updated by the Virginia Department of Health due to a “technical issue.” On Tuesday, Virginia reported more than 20,000 cases of the coronavirus and 713 deaths.

WATCH: Wednesday’s full coronavirus briefing with Gov. Northam, state officials

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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