Governor Northam Announces New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19

Includes limit of 25 individuals for in-person gatherings, expanded mask mandate, on-site alcohol curfew, and increased enforcement

RICHMOND—As COVID-19 surges in states across the country, Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to mitigate the spread of the virus in Virginia. While the Commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” said Governor Northam. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”

Governor Northam shared a new video to update Virginians on the additional steps the Commonwealth is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is available here.

The following measures will take effect at midnight on Sunday, November 15:

  • Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
  • Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor.
  • On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.

Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. While Southwest Virginia has experienced a spike in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all five of the Commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate over five percent. Although hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35 percent in the last four weeks.

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new contracts with three laboratories as part of the Commonwealth’s OneLabNetwork, which will significantly increase Virginia’s public health testing capacity. Contracts with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk will directly support high-priority outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five and sixth amended Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven will be made available here.

For information about COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Link to press release.

Virginia Department of Health Urges Caution Following Heavy Rains

(Richmond, Va.)— Following heavy rain events in parts of the Commonwealth this week, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds people to take precautions to avoid flooded areas, and once the sun comes out, be aware of potential health risks before you participate in recreational water activities.

Heavy rains can increase the risk of animal waste and the potential release of inadequately treated wastewater from wastewater treatment plants. Bacteria, debris, and other pollutants in rainwater runoff end up in rivers, lakes and streams, which can pose risks to human health and safety. Rain events also cause flooding and fast-moving waters, especially in low-lying areas.

The most common illnesses from contaminated water are gastrointestinal illnesses. This may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing microbiological organisms. Additionally, contact with contaminated water has the potential to cause upper respiratory (ear, nose, throat) and skin infections.

VDH recommends the following safety tips for people planning to swim, wade, kayak, canoe or go rafting in Virginia natural waters after heavy rain:

  • Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
  • Don’t swim if you have broken skin. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect wounds causing more serious illness.
  • Shower with soap and water after recreating in natural waters.
  • Don’t swim when you are ill.
  • Avoid swimming if dead fish are present.
  • Use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary risks if you encounter covered roads or fast-moving waters. The water may be deeper and moving faster than you think.

Residents or facilities that provide water to the public including campgrounds, restaurants, summer camps, or daycares with private wells or septic systems submerged by flood waters should also take extra precautions.

For more information and safety tips regarding private wells and septic systems visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/responding-to-an-emergency-affecting-your-private-well/.

To find the location of local wastewater treatment facilities, contact your local public works department.

To contact your local health department, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts/.

For more information regarding recreation water safety tips, including the Virginia Department of Health’s “Safely Enjoy Virginia’s Natural Waters” brochure, visit: www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

Contracts Awarded for Virginia’s OneLab Network to Expand Commonwealth’s Public Health COVID-19 Testing Capacity – Three laboratories will participate in a new, formalized effort to support priority public health efforts

The Department of General Services and Virginia Department of Health announced the awarding of contracts to three laboratories to participate in Virginia’s new OneLab Network to expand the Commonwealth’s public health COVID-19 testing capacity.

The Virginia Department of General Services (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) established the OneLab Network to formalize a coordinated COVID-19 laboratory testing system. The network will immediately increase testing capabilities directly to support priority public health efforts such as outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.

“We have said all along that it will take everyone working together to control the spread of COVID-19, and the OneLab Network does that by bringing together Virginia’s strong public health system with our clinical hospital and university lab partners to provide priority testing across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “We have come a long way in increasing our COVID-19 testing capabilities over the past several months, and the new OneLab Network will help ensure public health has continued access to high-quality testing and prompt results.”

Currently, the state is using multiple private vendors to also assist with laboratory capacity to meet the needs of the Commonwealth.

“Partnerships have been important throughout the pandemic response,” added Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “The investments made in the OneLab Network will help us meet our immediate needs in response to COVID-19 and will also help ensure that we have testing resources and capacity to respond to future pandemics and other public health threats by establishing a structure for collaboration.”

Following a competitive procurement, DGS awarded contracts to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk.

DCLS serves as the primary, or Tier 1, laboratory in partnership with the Fairfax County Health Department Lab. The three contracted labs, or Tier 2 labs, will offer a diverse catalog of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests. Each of the contracted labs will receive funding to help purchase testing instrumentation and supplies to guarantee diversity of available PCR tests, which is critical to reducing the impact of future supply chain disruption.

“Public health laboratories serve as the backbone of a national network that responds quickly to novel diseases, natural disasters, foodborne outbreaks, and other public health emergencies; however, they are not designed to provide the levels of testing needed to control the spread of a disease such as COVID-19,” said Denise Toney, Ph.D., Director of DCLS. “That’s what makes the OneLab Network such a unique and beneficial concept, where public health is working in collaboration with hospital and university partners to provide the level of testing needed to meet the public health challenges of today and tomorrow.”

The OneLab Network laboratories selected are positioned geographically within the state to provide rapid test results in their regions. Timely data is critical for prompt public health control measures, especially in high-risk congregate settings and communities across Virginia.

For more information on the OneLab Network or COVID-19, visit vdh.virginia.gov or dgs.virginia.gov.

VDH Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers to Help Local Officials Encourage Safe Voting Practices on Election Day

(RICHMOND, VA) – Hundreds of Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers throughout the Commonwealth have volunteered with the state to help provide Election Day support for in-person voting during Virginia’s COVID-19 public health emergency. MRC volunteers will help local election officials safely conduct in-person voting in their communities by encouraging appropriate COVID-19 precautions.

“We are very proud of Virginia’s residents who have volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic response. These trained and dedicated professionals have helped care for residents of nursing homes, tested people for COVID-19, worked countless hours at call centers and served in many other ways,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We recognize the importance of voting, and the MRC will be there to help protect the health of our residents exercising that important right at polling places.”

Virginia Department of Health (VDH) State Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Freeland and MRC staff have been making plans for Election Day efforts since the spring. “The Governor’s Office activated the Virginia MRC to ensure that voters could vote safely during the elections in May.  Since then, MRC volunteers have eagerly stepped up to serve for early and in-person voting.  Our teams are prepared and ready to make the November Election Infection Prevention deployment a safe experience for voters and poll workers,” said Freeland.

Statewide, 50 localities have asked for MRC assistance at more than 1,000 polling locations for Election Day, November 3. The Medical Reserve Corps expects to provide nearly 900 trained volunteers across the state to assist with the general election. Training has jointly been provided by the Virginia Department of Elections and VDH.

MRC volunteers will staff local polling places to encourage voters to use masks and hand sanitizer and to help staff and voters remember to maintain at least six feet of physical distance. They are also trained to spot opportunities to reduce transmission of germs, such as keeping doors propped open where possible to minimize the number of surfaces voters may touch, increase area ventilation and to safely enter and exit the building. Tips for Voting During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  1. Make a plan. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information on options for voting in Virginia.
  2. Wear a cloth face covering/mask, if you are able, at all times while voting.
  3. Exercise proper social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from other voters and poll workers. Consider staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not wearing cloth face coverings.
  4. Practice good hygiene.
    1. Do not use physical greetings, such as handshaking.
    2. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after voting. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
    3. Avoid touching your face and face covering.

For more information, see the Vote Safely section of this web page.

# # #

The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a force of dedicated volunteers who stand ready to support the community in the event of a public health emergency. If you would like to volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps in your community, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/mrc/.

Virginia Department of Health Announces New Outbreaks in Educational Settings Dashboard 

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 data website now includes an outbreaks in educational settings dashboard which shows a line list of outbreaks in Kindergarten-12th Grade Schools by school name with associated case numbers and deaths. It shows current and previous outbreaks of COVID-19 in specific schools in Virginia. The dashboard will help schools measure the extent to which the COVID-19 virus is spreading in their localities and guide possible responses to mitigate that spread.

“Fully re-opening our schools remains a priority as we work to slow the spread of COVID-19. Students have different learning styles, and for some, face-to-face interactions in a classroom are important to achievement. Educational settings also provide significant social benefits that cannot be overstated. By providing additional information on where outbreaks are occurring we hope to provide a broader picture of the impact of COVID-19 and help communities decide where to place resources to prevent and control outbreaks,” said M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A., Virginia State Health Commissioner. “Given the changing nature of the pandemic, we felt providing these data at this time poses no risk to public health investigations or to compromising patient anonymity.”

Outbreaks on this dashboard represent discrete outbreaks occurring at schools. Only cases associated with outbreaks are displayed and not the total number of cases that are students or staff but unrelated to the outbreak. The dashboard lists public and private schools. Only the outbreaks where transmission occurred at the school or school-sponsored events are included.

It is important to note that the presence of an outbreak at a school does not reflect a school’s ability to educate its students or to protect the health and safety of its school community. Schools and local health departments work together to identify best practices to prevent and control COVID-19 in schools and to promote a healthy learning environment for students and staff.

Each outbreak is investigated by the local health department. Public health professionals make recommendations on ways to prevent further spread of the virus to protect staff, students, and visitors. Educational institutions work collaboratively with public health to respond. To find out more about an outbreak and the steps being taken to control it, contact the educational institution. This dashboard meets the requirements of HB5048 and SB5081 of the 2020 Special Session Number One.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Virginia Department of Health Website Scheduled to be Offline Saturday, October 31 for Routine Maintenance

October 22, 2020

RICHMOND, VA — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will be conducting routine maintenance to the VDH external website (www.vdh.virginia.gov) on Saturday, October 31, 2020 between the hours of 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. During this time, the website as well as the COVID-19 data dashboards will be unavailable. VDH will continue to keep you updated throughout the scheduled maintenance on the expected recovery time or any issues that may increase system downtime.

For more information on COVID-19 during VDH website routine maintenance visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Virginia Department of Health Announces New Pandemic Metrics Dashboard – Data Offers New Information to Help Localities Determine Mitigation Measures

RICHMOND, VA — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) launched a new Pandemic Metrics Dashboard, which shows a visualization of COVID-19 community transmission by region. Updated weekly, this dashboard will show: data trends for COVID-19 in specific communities; where the COVID-19 virus is spreading; and assist local and state governments in determining additional mitigation measures.

“Communities across the Commonwealth are facing different challenges as we all continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “This pandemic dashboard provides data for communities to individualize and tailor response efforts to local needs. A community where cases are surging and hospital beds are filling up, for example, will require different response efforts from those in a community where cases are declining and hospital occupancy is low.”

CDC School Metrics tab will also be available within the dashboard. This tab uses metrics described by the CDC to guide decisions by school officials, taking into consideration the school’s ability to implement and adhere to key mitigation strategies to decrease transmission of COVID-19. VDH recommends local government and school officials work with local health districts to evaluate epidemiologic and other data to assess the extent of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) transmission within their region, its effect on the Commonwealth, and the ability of the healthcare system to function.  These data should then be interpreted within the context of the local jurisdiction.  VDH recommends that decisions to alter K-12 school programming, including decisions about in-person instruction, school dismissals or closures be handled at the most local level possible, considering both regional and local epidemiology, community characteristics, and local capacity.

“On behalf of the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions, I thank the Virginia Department of Health for making this dashboard available as a resource to inform local decision making to help schools navigate how and when to consider in-person, hybrid and virtual instruction,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said.

The education setting outbreaks dashboard will include aggregate outbreak data that breaks out the current “Educational” category of outbreaks for K-12, childcare and higher education setting sub-categories.

These dashboards will help communities measure the extent to which the COVID-19 virus is spreading in their localities and guide possible responses to mitigate that spread. However, each community is unique and appropriate mitigation strategies should consider the impact to the community and be based on the best available data. Decisions will vary on how and when to increase community mitigation and the following information is intended to guide decisions.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

HearSay with Cathy Lewis Featuring VDH’s Christy Gray

HearSay with Cathy Lewis

Sept. 2, 2020 – Check out National Public Radio’s program (in collaboration with WHRO radio), “HearSay with Cathy Lewis,” which featured the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Director of the Division of Immunization, Christy Gray, MPH, CHES, CHTS-CP. This segment covered state health policy and information regarding influenza vaccinations and the VDH’s vaccination response efforts to the pandemic.

Part of staying healthy and safe means staying up to date on your vaccinations and getting your flu vaccine each year,” said Christy Gray, director, Division of Immunization.Symptoms of flu are very similar to COVID-19, so I like to say, ‘Let’s take flu off the table.’

Local health departments are hosting flu shot clinics now. To learn more about a flu shot clinic near you, contact your local health department for more information: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-department-locator/.

Listen to the interview here: https://mediaplayer.whro.org/program/hearsay/e/hearsay-wednesday-september-2nd-2020.

Launch of Pediatric Coronavirus Serology Study and Interim Adult Serology Study Findings show an Estimated 2.4% of Adult Virginians Have Covid-19 Antibodies

August 13, 2020 – Governor Ralph Northam announced that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will conduct a pediatric coronavirus disease serology study in Northern Virginia. Interim results from Virginia’s ongoing adult serology study show an estimated 2.4 percent of adults statewide have antibodies to COVID-19. The new pediatric study, completed in collaboration with Inova Health System, will measure the proportion of children and teens with antibodies to COVID-19.

Northern Virginia was selected for this project due to the number of confirmed COVID-19 pediatric cases reported in the region. Northern Virginia’s population is also diverse in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and race, which provides an important comparison to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Inova Children’s Hospital will recruit up to 1,000 participants aged 0 – 19-years-old who live in Northern Virginia and seek care at participating clinical sites. Participants’ blood samples will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, which indicate that a person had a COVID-19 infection in the past.

VDH will use the information collected from this project to estimate the total number of children and teenagers that have been infected with the COVID-19 virus in Northern Virginia and statewide, including those who may have had mild or asymptomatic infections. VDH will also analyze children’s risk factors for COVID-19 infection, including age, underlying health conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, history of COVID-19 infection within households and childcare exposures. Preliminary results are expected by mid-September.

Read the full press release and Adult Study: Interim Results: www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/august/headline-859892-en.html.