This column was submitted by State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36).
The last two weeks brought us two executive orders and one consistent message from our Governor: Stay. At. Home.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam issued an order extending school closures, closing all entertainment and personal care venues and businesses, and restricting access at certain non-essential businesses. This Monday, the Governor further restricted public gatherings after Virginians continued to appear in large groups at the beaches and a few restaurants.
It is important to understand that this disease can be transmitted before carriers develop symptoms. It also appears to transmit without physical contact. The majority of individuals diagnosed with this virus are under age 50. While people under 50 tend to be less at risk for death, if one person under 50 infects 20 other people, the chain of transmission ultimately results in more deaths. Continuing to socialize with others is incredibly selfish.
On Tuesday, the Commonwealth reported 230 new confirmed infections. At that daily rate with no acceleration, the number of confirmed cases in Virginia could double in five days. With new testing coming on line, we are still in the process of getting this crisis under control. In addition, much testing takes 4-6 days to return results, plus people are often not symptomatic for a period of time. The results we are seeing today could be a result of social activity that occurred 1-2 weeks ago.
A model put out by the University of Washington predicts that Virginia will see a peak in early May with 3,400 beds needed including 512 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds. In Virginia we have 329 ICU beds available.
Executive Order #55 which was issued on Monday does a few things. First, it directs everyone to stay at home unless engaging in nine excepted activities such as getting food, medical attention, taking care of family members or going to work – if you place of employment is still open, can meet the requirements of the other Executive Order and you cannot telecommute, and a few other categories. It also says it is acceptable to engage in outdoor activity provided that you can comply with social distancing requirements.
The new order closes Virginia’s beaches to everything except exercising and fishing. It prohibits all in-person higher education classes such as what was occurring at Liberty University, and any stays at campgrounds under 14 days. It clarifies that any gathering, public or private, of less than 10 persons are prohibited. Violations of most provisions of the order are a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to twelve month in jail and $2,500 fine and is enforceable by state or local law enforcement.
In the meantime, the Commonwealth is attempting to procure more testing, but are severely limited by competing demands of 49 other states and 130 other counties, and a lack of federal coordination. The Commonwealth has developed some independent testing capacity at our university hospitals and private hospital systems, but the sources of reagents needed to manufacture the tests is limited and equipment manpower to process the results is being acquired. Therefore, testing availability continues to be limited. The Commonwealth is making contingency plans for a surge on hospital resources and the National Guard has been activated, but not deployed.
Virginia is also working on implementing the resources created by the recent federal stimulus act to enhance unemployment benefits, deploy housing assistance, and food resources that are administered at the federal level. Given Virginia’s balanced budget requirements, reprogramming massive parts of our budget without tax increases is relatively difficult, but we are also preparing to make adjustments as we approach the Reconvened or Veto Session on April 22.
This week, the Fairfax County General Assembly Delegation collectively donated $5,000 to area food banks. Please consider doing so yourself. Please consider volunteering for the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps if you are able at https://vvhs.vamrc.org/.
You can find complete information on my blog at scottsurovell.blogspot.com or the state’s new website www.virginia.gov/coronavirus. If you have any questions about government assistant, small business programs, questions about the executive orders, or any policy ideas, please contact my office at 571.249.4484 or email me at email@example.com.