Cafeteria worker, Estell Swain, center, loads food packs along with school nurse, Mary Hovermale, left, as cafeteria manager David Anderson, right, distributes meals to students at Fairfield Middle School Wednesday March 18 , 2020, in Richmond due to caronavirus. Henrico county public school system is distributing lunches for low income students. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Estell Swain, Mary Hovermale, David Hoverdale
Cafeteria worker, Estell Swain, center, loads food packs along with school nurse, Mary Hovermale, left, as cafeteria manager David Anderson, right, distributes meals to students at Fairfield Middle School Wednesday March 18 , 2020, in Richmond due to caronavirus. Henrico county public school system is distributing lunches for low income students. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The number of cases in the Commonwealth has increased to over 75

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s confirmed cases of the new coronavirus rose to more than 75 Wednesday as schools and many businesses remained shuttered and a ban on large gatherings reshaped daily life.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who spoke at what has become a daily news conference with other top leaders, did not announce any new restrictions in Virginia’s fight against the global pandemic. Across Virginia, much of the state’s workforce has been encouraged to work from home, and state officials have asked anyone 65 or older or anyone with chronic health conditions to self-quarantine.

“This is a very stressful and concerning time for every Virginian,” Northam said. “It is likely to remain so for some time.”

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said he expected the number of positive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, to continue increasing. Virginia has had two deaths so far.

Among the cases are three “outbreaks,” which health officials define as two or more cases that can be traced to a common exposure, Oliver said. Two outbreaks are in Richmond and the third is in James City County, where Oliver said there are 17 confirmed cases and health officials are tracing more than 300 contacts for those cases.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, like pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus, which has now infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

State officials announced Wednesday that they would be sending guidance to child care providers statewide, some of which have remained open, about how to comply with the governor’s directive that no more than 10 people gather in one place.

The Department of Social Services is also “reaching out” to the health care community to assess the need for additional child care among providers, commissioner Duke Storen said.

Storen asked that parents who are not “essential personnel” to stay home with their kids to free up additional capacity at child care centers.

Virginia currently has the capacity to test between 260 and 360 patients at state labs and is expecting additional testing materials from the federal government this week, officials said.

Separately Wednesday, health care provider Sentara announced it was suspending drive-through coronavirus screenings in eastern Virginia two days after they began. It said it took that step because its supply of tests was running low.

“We know that COVID-19 is a critical concern for our communities, so we are actively working with state and federal officials to get more testing supplies,” Sentara said in a statement.

Northam, who last week ordered all K-12 schools to close through at least March 27, said he had not yet decided whether that closure would be extended.

The governor urged Virginians to donate blood, noting that the Red Cross was experiencing a shortage, and to request an absentee ballot for upcoming local elections in May.

— Sarah Rankin (AP)

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