Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced he will extend a ban on nonemergency surgeries for another week, even as a group representing more than 100 hospitals in the state asked him to allow the ban to expire on Friday.
Northam imposed the ban last month in an effort to reserve capacity in the state’s healthcare system for coronavirus patients and personal protective equipment such as face masks for providers treating those patients.
In a letter Thursday, Sean Connaughton, chief executive officer of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, urged Northam to lift the ban on elective procedures, saying hospitals in the state have enough capacity now to treat both coronavirus patients and elective surgery patients.
Connaughton said an estimated 60,000 Virginians have had their nonurgent inpatient and outpatient medical procedures canceled over the past month. He said 15,000 procedures will be canceled for each additional week of the ban.
“We are concerned that continuing to delay their care while we have available capacity to address and/or stabilize their conditions will have long-term negative impacts on health across the Commonwealth,” Connaughton wrote.
Northam, however, said the ban will remain in place until May 1 while he and state Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver continue to evaluate how to safely ease restrictions on nonessential medical procedures and the availability of personal protective equipment.
“We have increased our supply of PPE, but before we allow elective surgeries to resume, we must first be assured that the doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are fighting this virus or conducting emergency surgeries have the necessary supplies,” Northam said in a news release.
Hospitals have continued to treat emergency patients and to perform essential surgeries.
Inova Health System, the largest healthcare system in northern Virginia, told WRC-TV in Washington that it has been forced to lay off more than 400 workers. Most of the 427 layoffs come from “non-clinical management positions,” according to the report.
Inova, like other hospitals, has lost significant revenue from the ban on elective surgeries.
Also on Thursday, new data released by the U.S. Department of Labor showed that more than 84,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims last week.
The number of new claims filed in Virginia was released Thursday. Claims had dropped by nearly 20% from the previous week, when nearly 105,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims.
But the number is still a huge increase compared to filings before the coronavirus outbreak began pummeling the state last month, forcing nonessential businesses to shut down. Since March 15, nearly 500,000 people have filed for jobless benefits in Virginia.
Nationally, 4.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week. Over the last five weeks, approximately 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about one in six U.S. workers.
In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has come under growing pressure from Republican leaders and business owners to begin the process of reopening Virginia, a month after he ordered nonessential businesses to close and residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.
Last week, Northam extended his order to keep nonessential businesses closed through May 8. The order covers restaurant dining areas, fitness centers, hair salons, museums and a host of other recreational and entertainment businesses.