State health commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver announced at a news conference that the first case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in southwest Virginia, the last region to report one.
“The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing, so we need to all do that,” Oliver said.
Schools across the state are already closed, as are many day cares. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has urged people older than 65 to self-quarantine and has set a 10-customer cap on restaurants, gyms and theaters.
“We’re hearing reports of some businesses being non-compliant,” Northam said at the news conference. He urged local authorities to step in and enforce the limits.
The governor also said he had directed the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine for takeout and delivery.
Officials acknowledged the toll the pandemic and associated shut-downs were having on Virginia workers, as many businesses close at least temporarily.
Altria Group on Thursday announced it was suspending operations at its plant in Richmond for two weeks after two employees contracted COVID-19. The tobacco giant, which also said its chairman and CEO has contracted the illness, said employees will continue to receive regular pay.
Megan Healy, Northam’s chief workforce adviser, said the state received about 14,000 unemployment claims between Monday and Thursday. Thursday alone, more than 6,000 claims came in, she said.
Healy said the state was taking steps, including expanding call centers and increasing server capacity to speed up the website where claims can be filed, to help smooth the process.
State health officials said dozens of COVID-19 tests were pending, and the number of confirmed cases is expected to increase.
Northam called it great news that the University of Virginia health system has developed and deployed its own testing.
UVA said it expects to have capacity for testing at UVA Hospital and all UVA clinics for patients who meet certain criteria. It is also working to “ramp up to support broader community testing,” a news release said.
Public frustrations over the difficulties getting tested for the new virus have been building since the first U.S. case was confirmed Jan. 20. Early missteps with test kits developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coupled with strict government criteria about who qualified for screening, have led to widespread reports of people struggling to get tested.
— Sarah Rankin (AP)