Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday said state efforts to get more protective gear for health workers and boost COVID-19 testing capacity have gotten Virginia closer to an economic reopening.
Since March 7, when Virginia’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported, the ability of hospitals and state and private labs to give and process tests for the disease have grown in daily numbers and shorter turnaround times for results, Northam said. Earlier limits on testing to high-risk groups such as first responders, health care workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been expanded to include lower-risk groups.
State COVID-19 testing work group chair Dr. Karen Remley added that the state is contracting with two more Virginia private labs and a North Carolina lab to boost test processing capacity.
Northam said that doctors in non-hospital practices and settings may have been reluctant to order COVID-19 testing for their patients, but they should now order those tests if patients show symptoms. Guidelines for treating COVID-19 patients in outpatient settings should be released next week, he added.
While nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been a common source of COVID-19 outbreaks in some parts of the state, Northam said state and local health department teams are working on point-prevalence testing of all residents and staff in a single day to help control further outbreaks.
Although his emergency order on business closings expires May 8, he said his staff and recently appointed business task force have been planning for a reopened economy along with the possibility of phased reopenings by region.
A preliminary look at guidelines for reopening will come Monday, Northam added.
“One of the points of conversation that we’ve had with our businesses, and they understand this, is that consumers need to be comfortable,” Northam said. “They need to be assured that when they re-enter a business that it’s safe.”
Asked if part of they reopening could include the state’s public schools reopening in August, Northam said it was a possibility “if we keep doing what we’re doing.”