Southwest Virginia Needs to Make Changes, Northam Says, Before the State Steps In

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Dogwood Staff
October 28, 2020

Governor urges residents to practice social distancing, takes no action to enforce life-saving guidelines.

RICHMOND-Nobody wants to put restrictions back in place, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday. However, if COVID-19 cases continue to spike in areas like Southwest Virginia, that option is on the table.

During a press conference Wednesday, Northam pointed to the southwest region’s current COVID-19 spike as the reason for Virginia’s overall rise in infections. However, the governor did not take any action to mitigate that spread either on a statewide or local level. 

“In other states and other countries, they are re-imposing restrictions to get case numbers under control. Nobody wants to have to do that, but this virus remains a very real threat,” Northam said. “We’re keeping an eye on this and are in conversation with our local leaders and health officials in that region about potential actions they can take to mitigate community spread.”

Despite a dramatic fall from 193 reported cases to just two since Friday, overall the southwest region’s number of infections have climbed since March, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

The number of reported cases across the Commonwealth also sharply dipped over the last few days. However, Virginia’s infection rate as a whole has remained high since it spiked in June. There are currently 176,754 cases of the virus in the Commonwealth. Out of that number, 1,345 were reported in the last 24 hours. A total of 3,616 Virginians have died as a direct result of contracting the virus. 

What caused the spike?

“We’re monitoring it very closely. The positivity rate is over 8% and if it continues to trend upward we know what’s causing those numbers and we’ll make modifications,” Northam said. “And if we need to make more restrictions, we will. But I would just reiterate that one size won’t fit all in different areas in Virginia.”

The governor did not respond to questions related to what those restrictions might include, or how the government will determine which localities within the region require intervention. 

According to Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, southwest residents caused the spike by holding more small family gatherings. When people living in different households get together and don’t practice social distancing, that causes a problem, Carey said.  

“We need to keep that distance if you’re not in the same continuous household,” Carey said. “We talked to our contract tracers and they tell us it was a group of four or five people who had dinner but they didn’t have the distance, they didn’t use masks.” 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spells out their recommendations when it comes to gatherings. People need to stay at least six feet apart and wear masks, the CDC’s guidelines state. Also, people need to avoid sharing things like plates or cups during the event.

Spike causes problems in hospitals

During the press conference, Northam repeatedly praised Virginians. He claimed that the Commonwealth has been a model for other states battling the pandemic. 

“Virginia, you have been doing a great job these past eight months. Our numbers show that. And on behalf of the Commonwealth, I thank you. But we all need to keep doing the right thing,” Northam said. 

Unfortunately, this is not true. Cases of the virus across the Commonwealth spiked in June, and though it has fluctuated, the state’s average number of cases is not trending downward

According to the CDC, the rate of new cases per 100,000 people in Virginia over the last eight months has risen and fallen alongside the rate of new cases per 100,000 people across the United States, meaning that Virginia is not doing better in its response to the virus pandemic than the rest of the country. 

If you are interested in contacting Northam about his decision to continue moving forward with the Commonwealth’s reopening plan, you can reach his office at 804-786-2211 or email him here.

Meg Schiffres is Dogwood’s associate editor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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