Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced that his executive order prohibiting non-emergency medical work and elective surgeries, issued on April 23, will expire at midnight Thursday. He said the original order stemmed from concerns over personal protective equipment shortages along with the state’s efforts to ensure adequate bed space and supplies if COVID-19 cases surged and overloaded hospitals.
During the prohibition, Northam said, procedures were not postponed if such a delay would cause patients’ conditions to deteriorate.
“Together, we took the right actions,” Northam said.
Friday’s expiration will also allow dentists to resume non-emergency treatment, Northam said, and veterinarians also can resume their regular non-emergency practices. He credited the state’s veterinarians with helping free up protective gear needed to treat COVID-19 patients.
Virginia Dental Association President Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds said that dental practices and clinics across the state will use new guidelines and procedures from the VDA, the American Dental Association and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure protective gear and screening measures for patients, dentists and staff.
Reynolds said patients should expect social distancing measures in waiting rooms that may involve staggered appointments and even waiting outside in vehicles.
Dr. Mike McDermott, CEO of Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, said that hospitals and healthcare systems across the state had used Northam’s order to help prepare for any surge in COVID-19 cases as well as safety measures for non-emergency patients. With 5,000 hospital beds now available in the state, he said the time was right to resume elective and non-emergency services.
McDermott said the prohibition has caused about $200 million in impact to healthcare systems across the state.
“This wasn’t about money,” Northam said. “It was about safety.”
In other pandemic-related matters, Northam said the state is coordinating with student loan lenders to provide at least 90 days’ forbearance on federal and other types of student loans as well as waiving late fees. That will affect 200,000 Virginians with student loan debt, he added.
Testing capacity has expanded to where patients in low-risk categories are getting COVID-19 testing along with higher priority groups including first responders, the elderly and long-term care facility patients, Northam said.
Outbreaks in poultry plants in the Eastern Shore are also getting attention from state health officials and a CDC team of epidemiologists and contact tracers. Northam said that, with the Trump administration’s Defense Procurement Act order to keep meat and poultry processing plants open, health personnel are working to test more workers and ensure better safety procedures in those plants.
In Accomack County — the site of two large poultry plants — more than 200 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, Northam said.
Regarding calls from Southwest Virginia legislators and from other areas of the state seeing fewer cases than in Northern Virginia and other urban areas, Northam said he and state officials are discussing whether a phased reopening of those regions is a possibility.
Asked if the state were headed toward a May 8 reopening of businesses and a relaxation of his stay-at-home order, Northam said, “Our numbers haven’t flattened out yet.”
According to CDC guidelines, states should see a 14-day decline in the number of new cases before considering an economic reopening.