Governor

Governor Northam Launches COVIDWISE Exposure Notification App to Help Contain COVID-19

Virginia is first-in-the-nation to use Apple-Google Bluetooth framework to protect personal privacy

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” said Governor Northam. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community, while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity. 

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and the download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

Governor Northam Declares State of Emergency in Advance of Hurricane Isaias

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to impact parts of coastal Virginia starting on Monday, August 3, 2020. 

“Hurricane Isaias is a serious storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia as early as this weekend,” said Governor Northam. “This state of emergency will ensure localities and communities have the assistance they need to protect the safety of Virginians, particularly as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions, monitor local weather forecasts, and stay alert.”

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts. While the track of Hurricane Isaias is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia could see impacts and therefore must prepare for the possibility of flooding, high winds, and potential storm surge that could come along with a tropical storm or hurricane.

Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health. 

The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is actively monitoring the situation and coordinating resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness efforts with local, state, and federal officials.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Nine is available here.

Recommendations for Virginians  

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.
  • Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.
  • Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Governor Northam Urges Virginians to Prepare for Hurricane Season Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Agencies and cabinet members participate in preparedness exercise to test hurricane readiness, plan for disaster response during ongoing health crisis

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam is reminding all Virginians to prepare now as peak hurricane season approaches and the Commonwealth continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, the Governor and his cabinet joined state local public safety agencies for a virtual exercise to test Virginia’s hurricane readiness and address the challenges of managing disaster response and recovery efforts during the ongoing health crisis.

“Hurricane season brings added challenges this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are committed to ensuring that Virginians know their risks, get prepared, and stay informed,” said Governor Northam. “Our administration remains actively focused on planning for simultaneous emergencies, and we will continue to adjust our plans as needed to protect public health and keep the Commonwealth safe. As our government agencies prepare for the possibility of a complex incident involving a major natural disaster amid virus outbreaks, it is also important that individuals and businesses make sure they are ready as well.”

One of the key statewide coordination efforts is the development of the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which highlights preparedness, response, and recovery actions in the event of tropical weather in coastal areas of the Commonwealth. This year’s guide includes pandemic considerations such as updating kits to include sanitation and personal protective supplies and following public health guidance. The Commonwealth is also preparing to adjust operations to ensure the delivery of critical services while adhering to social distancing guidelines and keeping people safe from storm impacts.

“As public safety professionals, the staff at our state agencies are accustomed to managing multiple issues at once, and are specifically trained in hurricane response,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “I have confidence in our preparedness efforts and ask that Virginians also take the time to plan for the hurricane season.”

The traditional Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, and forecasters are projecting an above average season—there have been eight named storms so far this year, and the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall in Texas on July 25.

Virginians know the devastating impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and recognize these threats are not isolated to coastal areas. High winds, flooding, and tornadoes have also caused significant damages to inland communities. Hurricanes can be unpredictable in terms of timing and scope, and this year, it is particularly vital to prepare for hurricane season in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This exercise was extremely beneficial, not only in strengthening our overall hurricane coordination efforts, but in identifying limitations and risks due to COVID-19 and operating in a more dispersed, virtual environment,” said Curtis Brown, State Coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Understanding how we can enhance our preparedness, especially to support our most at-risk populations, is critical to the success of any disaster response and recovery.”

Governor Northam is calling on all Virginians and those visiting the state to prepare now by knowing your risk, purchasing flood insurance, developing a family communication plan, and making an emergency kit. It’s important to know what to do to protect yourself, your loved ones, your business, and your community.

  • Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone.
  • Complete a family communication plan. Prepare for how you will assemble and communicate with your family and loved ones. Identify meeting locations and anticipate where you will go. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on family communications plans is available here.
  • Check your insurance coverage. Remember, there may be a waiting period for a flood insurance policy to become effective, and be aware that not all hurricane-related losses, such as flooding, are covered under traditional policies. Now is the time to review your coverage and contact your insurance agent for any changes. If you are not insured against floods, talk to your insurance agent or visit floodsmart.gov. If you are a renter, now is the time to ensure you have adequate coverage to protect your belongings.
  • Make an emergency kit. Assemble an emergency kit that includes nonperishable food, water, medication, sanitary supplies, radios, extra batteries, and important documents. Learn more about building an emergency supply kit here.
  • Stay informed. Identify where to go for trusted sources of information during emergencies. Check with your local emergency management office to sign up for alerts that go directly to your phone or email. Be sure to monitor local news for watches and warnings in your area and follow directions of local officials. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.

There are many resources available to assist with hurricane planning efforts. Learn more about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats at vaemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Governor Northam Announces $644.6 Million in Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund Dollars Distributed to Local Governments

Second round of payments completes allocation of funding Virginia received under federal CARES Act, provides a total of $1.3 billion to localities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth will distribute $644.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to local governments in its second and final round of allocations. These payments represent the remaining 50 percent of local allocations and do not include $200.2 million that Fairfax County received directly from the federal government. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) established the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to provide funding to states and eligible units of local government navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia received approximately $3.1 billion as its share of the $150 billion CRF. While the CARES Act does not require that states distribute funding to local governments with populations less than 500,000, the Governor recognizes that cities and counties of all sizes have expenses related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and directed these federal dollars to localities.

“Virginia was one of the first states to provide such a large share of its federal aid directly to local governments,” said Governor Northam. “We are committed to making sure localities of all sizes get the assistance they need to respond to COVID-19 and keep Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne sent a memorandum to cities and counties in Virginia on May 12, 2020 outlining the distribution of the first round of allocations to local governments, totaling $644.6 million. Once the second and final round of payments are disbursed, the Governor will have distributed 100 percent of the local allocations the Commonwealth received under the CARES Act, providing a total of $1.3 billion to localities.

“Local governments are responsible for spending the money they receive, and we need them to step up and make sure that these federal dollars are going to the right places,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “Localities must be able to demonstrate to taxpayers that they are spending these funds wisely.”

Similar to the first round, the second round of funding will be allotted proportionally based on population. Consequently, the second round of allocations will be equivalent to the amount each locality received in the first round on June 1, 2020. The Secretary of Finance issued an updated memorandum to cities and counties regarding the second and final allocation of federal CRF dollars. The updated memorandum, which includes the distributions by locality, is available here.

To receive the second allocation, localities must submit a new certification form and complete an online survey regarding the use of their CRF dollars. After these two documents are completed and submitted, the Department of Accounts will initiate the transfer of funds to the local Treasurer. Localities can expect to receive the transfer from the State Comptroller within five business days following confirmation of receipt of the completed documents.

The CARES Act requires that CRF dollars only be used to cover costs that (1) are necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, (2) were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act) for the state or government; and (3) were incurred during the period of March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020.

Current federal rules prohibit state and local governments from using the CRF to replace lost revenues and address significant budget shortfalls. State and local government officials have requested that this restriction be lifted in future stimulus packages, or that additional federal funds are provided to address the loss of state and local revenue.

The Governor previously announced $246 million to support the state’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, including $205 million in federal CARES Act funds. Governor Northam also allocated an initial $50 million to launch the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program and help Virginians who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia also recently unveiled a $70 million economic recovery fund to assist small businesses and nonprofit organizations whose normal operations were disrupted by the ongoing health crisis.

The Commonwealth has distributed more than $600 million to K-12 schools and higher education institutions and $70 million to assist child care facilities in providing services for essential personnel. Virginia also allocated $85 million in CARES Act funding to support child nutrition programs, and $219 million for the Pandemic EBT program through the Department of Social Services.

 

Governor Northam Signs Legislation to Ease Transitions for Military Families

New laws improve expedited licensure process for military spouses

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed legislation to expedite the occupational and professional licensure process for military spouses during a special ceremony that kicked off the quarterly Virginia Military Advisory Council meeting.

Joining the Governor at today’s event at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond were Blue Star Families CEO and Board President Kathy Roth-Douquet, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, State Senator David Suetterlein, Delegate Rodney Willett, and Delegate Carrie Coyner. Watch the video of today’s event here.

“As an Army veteran and as a Virginian, I am committed to ensuring the Commonwealth continues to provide an environment where our veterans and military families can thrive,” said Governor Northam. “Complex rules about license equivalence and the portability of certifications too often result in the unemployment or underemployment of military spouses. This legislation will enable the spouses of the men and women who serve our country to maintain their professional licenses and continue their careers in Virginia with a streamlined and simple process.”

Governor Northam was also joined by representatives of the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission to sign a Regional Intergovernmental Support Agreement that will improve the delivery of resources to their military installations in Northern Virginia. The support agreement strengthens the partnership between the Department of Transportation, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region – Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to find opportunities for the use of transportation goods and services throughout the Northern Virginia region.

Virginia’s existing expedited application process for military spouses requires licensing boards to determine if a military spouse’s out-of-state license is equivalent within 20 days and issue an automatic one-year temporary license, affording the spouse the opportunity to begin finding employment immediately upon settling into their new communities. This legislation and process address the issue of portability of the professional and occupational licenses of military spouses.

“Taking care of military families is of the utmost importance to us,” said Delegates Rodney Willett and Carrie Coyner, and Senator David Suetterlein. “We are grateful for the opportunity to assist our service members, their families, and for being able to improve upon Virginia’s existing professional and occupation licensure process. This legislation expands access to transitioning service members, our National Guardsmen, and all of the military spouses of our neighboring states and Washington, D.C.”    

House Bill 967, sponsored by Delegate Rodney Willett and Senate Bill 981, sponsored by Senator David Suetterlein, improve Virginia’s expedited licensure process for the spouses of military service members assigned to installations and residing in the Commonwealth by:

  • Expanding access and eligibility to the spouses of service members in all surrounding jurisdictions;
  • Expanding access to the spouses of National Guardsmen who are active on federal orders to deploy oversees;
  • Expanding eligibility to the spouses of recently transitioned service members; and
  • Granting the Commonwealth’s licensing boards greater authority to determine a substantially equivalent license.
     

“This enhanced process will help our military spouses find employment opportunities quicker and without the stress of worrying if their credentials will carry over to Virginia,” said Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos L. Hopkins. “Implementing innovative ways to support our military families is one of the reasons Virginia continually ranks as one of the best states for service members, veterans, and their families.”

“Military spouses were hobbled before COVID-19, and our research forecasts that military spouse unemployment and underemployment rates could climb upwards of 30 percent and 77 percent, respectively, as we emerge from this public health and economic crisis,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families. “That’s why the expansion of Virginia’s expedited licensure policy is so key—it removes a critical barrier to military spouses working in the fields of their training. We are grateful to Governor Northam and the Virginia legislature for taking action on this important issue.” 

According to the United States Department of Labor, more than 34 percent of all military spouses in the labor force require an occupational or professional license. The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the Department of Health Professions administer the process of granting professional licenses for all professions regulated under Title 54.1 of the Code of Virginia. Additional information about the licensure process for military personnel and their spouses is available here.



Virginia Adopts First-in-the-Nation Workplace Safety Standards for COVID-19 Pandemic

In the absence of federal guidelines, newly adopted workplace safety rules will help protect Virginia workers from the spread of COVID-19

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the adoption of statewide emergency workplace safety standards in response to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. These first-in-the-nation safety rules will protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth. The actions come in the absence of federal guidelines.

“Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a living, especially during an ongoing global pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “In the face of federal inaction, Virginia has stepped up to protect workers from COVID-19, creating the nation’s first enforceable workplace safety requirements. Keeping Virginians safe at work is not only a critical part of stopping the spread of this virus, it’s key to our economic recovery and it’s the right thing to do.”

Newly adopted standards require all employers to mandate social distancing measures and face coverings for employees in customer-facing positions and when social distancing is not possible, provide frequent access to hand washing or hand sanitizer, and regularly clean high-contact surfaces. In addition, new standards require all employees be notified within 24 hours if a coworker tests positive for the virus. Employees who are known or suspected to be positive for COVID-19 cannot return to work for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests. 

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board voted today to approve an emergency temporary standard on infectious disease prevention after Governor Northam directed the creation of enforceable regulations in May. These temporary emergency standards will remain in effect for six months and can be made permanent through the process defined in state law.

“As a top state for workforce development, it should be no surprise that Virginia is also the first in the nation to establish such a robust set of emergency workplace safety regulations,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Our workers are our greatest asset, and I am confident that these temporary standards will provide Virginians with the peace of mind they need to return to work and fuel the Commonwealth’s economic recovery.”

“Keeping Virginia’s economy moving forward has never been more important, and keeping our workers safe is critical to sustained economic recovery,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “COVID-19 is unfortunately going to continue impacting our everyday lives, and these regulations will provide for safer, more predictable workplaces for Virginians.”

“The Commonwealth’s new emergency workplace safety standards are a powerful tool in our toolbox for keeping Virginia workers safe and protected throughout this pandemic,” said C. Ray Davenport, Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. “Many employers have already enacted these evidence-based practices, and we are committed to working collaboratively with those who have not to ensure they are in compliance with the new emergency temporary standard.” 

The emergency temporary standards, infectious disease preparedness and response plan templates, and training guidance will be posted on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry website at doli.virginia.gov. Workers who feel unsafe in their workplace can file a formal complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration here.

Virginia Issues Year-End Revenue Report

Total General Fund revenue collections increased 2.0% over prior year, but $236.5 million below official forecast

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia ended fiscal year 2020 with a deficit of approximately $236.5 million in general fund revenue collections. While the shortfall was expected due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the state’s economy and budget, it is smaller than anticipated, and overall, revenues increased 2.0 percent over fiscal year 2019.

“COVID-19 has created both a health crisis and an economic crisis, and we have to box in this virus before we can fully address its fiscal impacts,” said Governor Northam. “While I am pleased that our revenue shortfall is less than initially expected, we know this pandemic will continue to negatively affect our state’s finances as long as this virus is with us. We must all keep taking steps to protect public health so we can continue our economic recovery and ensure the Commonwealth remains on strong financial footing.”

Total revenue collections rose by 2.0 percent in fiscal year 2020, behind the forecast of 3.1 percent growth. The main drivers of the revenue shortfall were payroll withholding and sales taxes—these two sources contributed $351.5 million to the deficit. Nonwithholding income tax payments—mainly from 2019 tax returns—were on target and income tax refunds contributed positively to the bottom line revenues by $146.3 million. Total revenues were $3.1 billion in June, a 26.7 percent increase, as the due date for payments from individuals and corporations was extended to June 1. 

“While this is good news as it relates to the final fiscal year 2020 projected shortfall, I am concerned that payroll withholding fell 2 percent and retail sales declined by 7 percent for the months of April, May, and June contributing to a $496.5 million shortfall in the fourth quarter,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “We were helped by prior year income tax payments and current year payroll withholding and sales tax revenues not falling as much as initially anticipated.  But the fact remains, the Commonwealth has had a significant contraction in jobs and those effects on payroll withholding and the ability for consumers to spend is an obvious concern going forward into fiscal year 2021 for the state budget.” 

In reviewing the State Comptroller’s report on the preliminary revenue shortfall, the Commonwealth will conduct an interim forecasting process with an updated economic and revenue outlook for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. These forecasts will be released on August 18 at the Joint Money Committee meeting.

Analysis of Fiscal Year 2020 Revenues
Based on Preliminary Data

  • Total general fund revenue collections, excluding transfers, fell short of the official forecast (Chapter 1283) by $236.5 million (1.1 percent variance) in fiscal year 2020.
    • The 30-year average general fund revenue forecast variance is plus or minus 1.6 percent.

  • Payroll withholding and sales tax collections, 85 percent of total revenues, and the best indicator of current economic activity in the Commonwealth, finished $351.5 million or 2.1 percent behind the forecast.
    • Payroll withholding growth of 3.0 percent was behind the forecast of 4.7 percent growth.

    • Sales tax collections increased 3.5 percent as compared to the annual forecast of 7.4 percent.

    • Fourth quarter results show that payroll withholding fell 2.0 percent and sales tax revenues fell 7.0 percent.

  • Nonwithholding income tax collections finished the year in line with expectations, down 4.3 percent. 2019 tax year final payments due June 1 were ahead of expectations; however, estimated payments due in June for 2020 were below expectations.
  • Individual income tax refunds were a positive to the forecast, as the average check size did not increase. Tax refunds were $146.3 million below expectations and is a positive to the bottom line.

  • Corporate income tax collections increased 7.2 percent for the year, behind the annual forecast of 9.3 percent mainly due to the lower than expected payments in the April to June period.

  • A complete analysis of all final receipts for revenue sources, including transfers, will not be available until the Joint Money Committee meeting on August 18.

Governor Northam Launches Rent and Mortgage Relief Program to Assist Virginians Facing Eviction or Foreclosure

 
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), which will provide $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for households facing eviction or foreclosure due to COVID-19. RMRP will provide short-term financial assistance on behalf of households in the form of rent and mortgage payments.
 
“Expanding access to safe, affordable housing has been and will continue to be a top priority of my administration, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” said Governor Northam. “The Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program will help Virginians experiencing financial instability as a result of this unprecedented health crisis by preventing evictions and foreclosures and keeping Virginia families safely in their homes as we battle this virus.”
 
The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will administer the $50 million program through a variety of partners, including nonprofit organizations and local governments, which will receive upfront funds that they will distribute on behalf of eligible households. Individuals and families receiving funding will also be connected to housing counseling and receive other technical assistance.
 
Eligible households must demonstrate an inability to make rent or mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly rent or mortgage must be at or below 150 percent Fair Market Rent (FMR), and eligible households must have a gross household income at or below 80 percent of area median income (AMI).
 
“Safe, stable housing is essential for public health,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “As we continue to secure funding for rent and mortgage assistance, this $50 million investment will serve the most vulnerable Virginians while providing a roadmap for future relief.”
 
To ensure RMRP funding assists households most in need, the program will complete targeted outreach to communities of color across Virginia. Before the pandemic, analysis from RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University found that minority communities had higher eviction rates, even after controlling for income, property value, and other characteristics. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on people of color.
 
“DHCD delivers programs through our partners that are closest to the Commonwealth’s communities, and our team is deeply appreciative of the local and regional network that has rapidly developed this program to assist in meeting this critical housing and health need,” said DHCD Director Erik Johnston. “We urge all tenant advocates, landlords, lenders, philanthropy, local governments and faith communities to partner with your local program providers to ensure that these funds stretch as far as possible to Virginians most in need of this assistance.”
 
The program will also give precedence to households without other federal and state eviction or foreclosure protections. From June 29 to July 20, priority will be given to households with current gross incomes equal to or below 50 percent of AMI. After July 20, households with current gross incomes at or below 80 percent of AMI will be also be included. In addition, households with an unlawful detainer action dated prior to June 8 will be given top consideration.
 
To identify the local RMRP administering organization for a household and to conduct a self-assessment for eligibility, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility or call 211 VIRGINIA by dialing 2-1-1 from your phone. Tenants and homeowners are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent and mortgages on time if they are able. Visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources.
 

Governor Northam Prohibits Congregating in Bars, Stresses Caution As Virginia Moves to Phase Three

With cases rising in other states, Virginia will maintain current restrictions on bar seating, congregating

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that bar seating will remain prohibited in restaurants as the Commonwealth moves into Phase Three at midnight tonight. While key health indicators in Virginia are improving, the Governor made clear that he is taking a cautious approach and is prepared to implement tighter restrictions if needed.

To reduce the likelihood of patrons gathering in bar areas without observing social distancing guidelines, bar seating and congregating areas of restaurants will remain closed except for those passing through. Restaurants may use non-bar seating in the bar area, as long as a minimum of six feet between tables is provided.

“I am watching what is happening in other states—we are taking a cautious approach as we enter Phase Three and maintaining the current restrictions on bar areas,” said Governor Northam. “In Virginia, our hospitalization rates have fallen, our percentage of positive tests continues to trend downward, and we are conducting more than 10,000 tests each day. We want these trends to continue, but if our public health metrics begin moving in the wrong direction, I will not hesitate to take action to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Virginia is currently averaging more than 10,400 tests per day—exceeding Governor Northam’s goal—and hospitals continue to report ample supplies of personal protective equipment. The percentage of positive tests has dropped to six percent from a high of 20 percent in mid-April. The number of Virginians hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test has declined significantly over the past several weeks, and more than 1,200 contact tracers are presently working throughout the Commonwealth.

Despite these positive trends, Governor Northam is monitoring increases in several states, and taking proactive steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. Governor Northam also continues to remind Virginians that they are safer at home, especially if they are high-risk or vulnerable. All Virginians must continue to comply with the statewide face covering requirement in indoor public spaces, and Virginians are strongly encouraged to:

  • continue teleworking if possible
  • wash hands regularly
  • maintain six feet of physical distance when outside of home
  • get tested immediately if you have COVID-19 symptoms

     

Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven is available here. Read the order in Spanish here.

Sector-specific guidelines for Phase Three can be found here. View this document in Spanish here.

Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Governor Northam Announces 20 New State Historical Highway Markers Highlighting Black History

Markers include student winners from Governor’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest

RICHMOND––In recognition of Juneteenth, Governor Ralph Northam today announced 20 newly approved state historical highway markers that address topics of national, state, and regional significance in Virginia’s African American history. The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the markers at its public quarterly meeting on June 18. Five of the 20 new markers were suggested by students across the Commonwealth in the Governor’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

“The Commonwealth’s storied past is complicated and painful, but it is important to step up and tell a more inclusive story.” said Governor Northam. “As we elevate Juneteenth, celebrating and acknowledging the contributions of our Black communities and history is a critical and imperative step forward––especially through historical markers that are highly visible across Virginia.”

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced Juneteenth as a paid state holiday and proclaimed the day in observance across the Commonwealth.

“We have overlooked or dismissed the important contributions of Black Virginians for far too long when telling Virginia’s history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “That’s why Governor Northam proclaimed Juneteenth a state holiday, and why the Department of Historic Resources remains committed to the preserving and proclaiming Black history. These markers are important and highly visible symbols of our efforts to ensure historic justice and address inequities across the Commonwealth.”

The forthcoming markers highlight people, places, or events tied to African American civil rights, education, health, or Civil War and Reconstruction-era history.

“The purpose of the highway marker program is to educate the public by presenting an objective and truthful version of history,” said Director of the Department of Historic Resources Julie Langan. “It is past time for Virginians to more fully understand and appreciate the experiences and many contributions of African Americans who shaped the Virginia of today. Yesterday’s actions by the Board of Historic Resources couldn’t be more timely or fitting.”

The markers about matters of national consequence include:

  • “Stingray Point Contraband” (Middlesex County) tells of six enslaved men who fled potential impressment into the Confederate army during the Civil War.
  • “Barbara Rose Johns (1935-1991)” (Prince Edward County) notes that at age 16, Johns led a student walkout to protest conditions at Farmville’s segregated and “vastly inferior” Robert Russa Moton High School. The resulting NAACP lawsuit seeking to end segregation, Davis v. Prince Edward, was the only student-initiated case consolidated into U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in which the court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional.
  • “Calvin Coolidge Green (1931-2011)” highlights Green’s leadership in integrating New Kent County. His efforts resulted in the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Green v. New Kent Co., which determined that localities must swiftly integrate public schools and hastened school desegregation nationwide.
  • “Wyatt Tee Walker (1928-2018)” recalls that this Petersburg pastor served as chief of staff for several years to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The first full-time director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Walker helped organize major civil rights protests including the Birmingham (Alabama) Movement and the March on Washington.

The Barbara Johns and Wyatt Tee Walker markers resulted from the Black History Month Historical Marker Contest that Governor Northam announced in February. The contest encouraged schools to feature a different African American historical marker each day of February, provided teachers with resources to guide history discussions, promoted Black History Month events around the Commonwealth, and initiated a competition for students to submit ideas for new historical markers to the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. Over 285 students submitted ideas, including more than 60 students who suggested a marker be erected for Barbara Johns.

"As the leaders of tomorrow, it is critically important for students to develop a deeper understanding of Black history in the Commonwealth over the past 400 years," said Secretary of Education, Atif Qarni. "The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest gave students and educators alike an opportunity to research local heroes, and celebrate the incredible contributions Black and brown individuals have made to Virginia history. I am so proud of the educators and students who are helping us tell a more complete Virginia story through their participation in this contest."

Three other markers submitted by students were approved:

  • “Camilla Ella Williams (1919-2012)” spotlights this Danville native, an operatic soprano, who became the first African American woman to secure a contract with a major opera company in the United States. An international touring soloist, she performed in Danville to raise funds for civil rights demonstrators, and sang the national anthem at the March on Washington before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • “Ona Judge (ca. 1773-1848)” (Fairfax County) recalls this woman born into slavery at Mount Vernon. After George Washington became president, Judge escaped during one of Washington’s many extended residences in Philadelphia to perform his presidential duties. She successfully resisted Washington’s attempts to recover her and ultimately married and raised a family in New Hampshire.
  • “Sergeant William H. Carney (1840-1908)” born into slavery in Norfolk, later gained his freedom and settled in Massachusetts around 1856. In 1863, he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and fought at Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. In May 1900, he received the Medal of Honor for his actions while experiencing heavy fire and serious wounds during the battle, which the 54th led.

In addition to the Johns and Green markers, three others center on advances in education for African Americans, focusing on specific schools. The “Campbell County Training School” and “Prospect School” (Scott County) were built with plans and funds provided by the Julius Rosenwald Fund, one of the most successful programs to support universal schooling for Black students during the Jim Crow era. Long before the Rosenwald initiative, one of the first African American schools in Shenandoah County opened in Strasburg by 1875. After a fire destroyed the school in 1929, the county built a new one, “Sunset Hill School.”

Two markers relay stories about African Americans in the pre-Civil War era. “The African Preacher (ca. 1746-1843)” recalls the African-born John Stewart, who ended up enslaved in Nottoway County. After becoming a licensed Baptist preacher, known for his “wisdom and oratory” and community leadership, Stewart so impressed his white neighbors that they contributed to purchasing his freedom. “Spy Hill African American Cemetery” discusses a burial ground in King George County that emerged by the mid-1800s with the graves of enslaved plantation laborers.

Post-Civil War, Reconstruction history grounds five markers. Two of those signs—“Little Zion Baptist Church” (Orange County) and “Westwood Baptist Church” (City of Richmond)—speak to the statewide trend during Reconstruction of African Americans exercising newfound autonomy to establish churches separate from white congregations. 

Three markers recount places that arose during Reconstruction. One sign for the City of Richmond, “Central Lunatic Asylum,” and one for Dinwiddie County, “Central State Hospital Cemetery,” discuss the origins and burial ground of Central State Hospital, the nation’s first stand-alone mental hospital for Black patients. The settlement of emancipated African Americans in the northern Shenandoah Valley’s Clarke County is the subject of “Bristow,” a community that originated in 1869, one of about 20 county villages emancipated people established or settled in.   

The only documented lynching of a black woman in Virginia, where more than 100 lynchings were recorded between 1877 and 1950, is relayed in the marker “Charlotte Harris Lynched, 6 March 1878” (Harrisonburg).

Twentieth-century history is the domain of two markers. “Burrell Memorial Hospital” tells about the founding in 1915 of the Roanoke area’s first hospital for Black patients. “John Chilembwe (ca. 1871-1915)” is about the leader of the first major African uprising against colonial authorities in present-day Malawi. A British Official Commission later asserted that a main cause of the revolt resulted from Chilembwe’s education in the United States, at Lynchburg’s Virginia Seminary.

The full text of the markers is available here.

“This is another win for the Commonwealth,” said Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Dr. Janice Underwood. “To move Virginia forward, it is vital that we prioritize telling a more complete narrative of our story. The extraordinary individuals represented in these markers are Black lives that mattered. In real time, we are building a road map for the country as millions across the nation reflect about Black oppression and the systemic reforms necessary for healing, reconciliation, and racial equity.”

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most of which are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), except in those localities outside of VDOT’s authority.

More information about theo Department of Historic Resources' Historical Highway Marker Program is available here.

Governor Northam Announces $246 Million to Support Response to COVID-19 in Long-Term Care Facilities

~ Directs increased public reporting, CARES Act funding for facility testing requirements ~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new guidelines and testing requirements for reopening long-term care facilities, and outlined how the Commonwealth will direct $246 million, primarily from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, to support long-term care facilities in their response to COVID-19. In addition, the Governor is directing the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to make public facility-specific data regarding COVID-19 cases and deaths associated with long-term care facilities.
 
“The lockdowns of long-term care facilities to protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19 have been hard on residents and their families,” said Governor Northam. “These actions will help support long-term care facilities as they ease those restrictions, while keeping their residents safe and ensuring that the public gets accurate information on the spread of this virus in these facilities.”
 
On May 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined reopening criteria for nursing facilities. These criteria include a recommendation that all facilities conduct a baseline testing survey, and that facilities with outbreaks test residents and staff weekly. VDH’s state-specific guidelines for nursing home reopening require licensed nursing homes, certified skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and certified nursing facilities (NFs) to conduct baseline and ongoing testing of all facility staff and residents while those facilities are in the first phase of the reopening process. Testing recommendations for latter phases of the reopening process are under development and will be informed by what is learned in the initial part of reopening. 
 
Virginia will spend an additional $246 million in new funding to support nursing homes and assisted living facilities in addressing staffing shortages, increasing infection control measures, and purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as complying with the new testing requirements. The majority of funding will go to nursing facilities, which receive Medicaid payments. More than $56 million is provided for periodic testing of nursing home residents and staff. During the reconvened session in April, Governor Northam and the General Assembly agreed to increase Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes by $20 per resident per day, to help support facilities.
 
This additional funding includes $152 million from the Provider Relief Fund that long-term care facilities have received for COVID-related expenses. While assisted living facilities have not benefited from this fund thus far, there is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that these facilities should receive federal funding to offset their costs. Assisted living facilities will receive $20 million in support, nearly doubling state funding for these facilities, in recognition that these facilities are also experiencing additional costs and have not had the federal support that nursing facilities have received. 
 
Because a majority of outbreaks in the Commonwealth have occurred in long-term care facilities, VDH, in partnership with the Virginia National Guard, has supported long-term care facilities in conducting “baseline” or point prevalence surveys (testing all residents and staff in the same time period). VDH has a goal to complete these baseline surveys of all Virginia nursing homes by July 15, 2020. 
 
Governor Northam also announced that, given the changing nature of the pandemic in Virginia, he is directing VDH to release the names of individual long-term care facilities (nursing facilities and assisted living facilities) that have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak.  
 
VDH has previously released aggregate data about outbreaks in long-term care facilities, given their responsibility to protect patient and facility anonymity under the Code of Virginia. However, due to the widespread nature of this pandemic, it is now unlikely that releasing facility information would compromise anonymity or discourage facilities from participating in a public health investigation. Recently released data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also been inconsistent, creating public confusion. 
 
Facility-specific data can be found here.
 

Governor Northam Announces New Recovery Marketing Aid for Tourism Businesses

Virginia Tourism Corporation to award up to $500,000 in marketing funds to address impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that new recovery marketing funds are available to destination marketing organizations (DMO) across the Commonwealth that have been heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program, which is administered by the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), will provide up to 50 grants to DMOs of up to $10,000 each.

“The coronavirus pandemic had an immediate and devastating impact on our tourism industry,” said Governor Northam. “When it is safe to resume travel, we want to equip Virginia destinations with the tools they need to support and promote the diverse communities that travelers love to visit. There will be a lot of demand for leisure travel, and the WanderLOVE Recovery Grants will help towns and cities across our Commonwealth position themselves as an ideal getaway when visitors are ready to get back on the road.”

Tourism is one of the Commonwealth’s largest economic engines, with visitors to Virginia spending more than $26 billion in 2018, supporting 235,000 work opportunities and contributing $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenue. The tourism and hospitality industries have also been among the hardest-hit by the pandemic, experiencing decreased revenue and job loss, along with the temporary closure of many tourism-related businesses. A revived tourism economy can help spur new economic activity and inject critical funds back into Virginia communities.

Based on industry research, in-state and drive-market road trips will be the first to return as restrictions are lifted in Virginia and across the country. Travelers will be seeking safe, close-to-home destinations that allow for social distancing and access to open spaces, specifically beach, outdoor, and rural experiences. 

“Tourism is an instant revenue generator for the Commonwealth, and a major contributor to our economy,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The pandemic has had catastrophic effects on tourism nationwide, and these grants will help get Virginia back on its feet as a premier travel destination.”

WanderLOVE, a new integrated summer campaign created by VTC, will provide travel inspiration for road trips, outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns, and its signature LOVEworks program. Grant recipients will be equipped with creative assets and a toolkit to implement in their own marketing. 

Applications for the DMO WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program open on June 18, 2020 and will close on July 2, 2020. Awardees will be announced by July 15, 2020. Grants are open to any of Virginia’s 114 recognized DMOs. Funds must be used for recovery marketing and may be used for participating in the VTC co-ops, local advertising, out-of-state marketing, and other allowable items. DMOs may apply for DMO Recovery Grants here

While the DMO WanderLOVE Recovery Grant Program is only open to eligible DMO partners, VTC’s traditional Marketing Leverage Program (MLP) grants will open to all Virginia tourism industry partners in August 2020. More information on that program is available here.

Governor Northam Outlines Phase Three Guidelines to Lift Additional Public Health Restrictions

Virginia will continue to closely monitor key health metrics to determine when to safely move to next phase

FAIRFAX—Governor Ralph Northam today presented the third phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue easing public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The Commonwealth does not yet have a targeted date for entering Phase Three.

Ahead of his bilingual COVID-19 press conference, the Governor met with local Latino leaders and community activists in Northern Virginia to discuss the issues they are facing in fighting this virus. Latino Virginians make up 45.3 percent of the cases for which Virginia has demographic data, and 35 percent of hospitalizations—even though Hispanic and Latino people make up about 10 percent of the Commonwealth’s population.

As many states are experiencing a surge in new infections, Virginia’s case counts continue to trend downward. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of individuals hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to decline as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the key health indicators laid out in April.

“Our Phase Three guidelines will help Virginia families and businesses plan for what the next stage of easing public health restrictions will look like in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “While we may not have the same spike in infections that many states are seeing right now, Virginians need to remain cautious and do the things that we know reduce transmission: wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. This virus is still with us, and we must continue to adapt our lives around it and ensure we are keeping our vulnerable communities safe.”

In Phase Three, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing and teleworking, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals allowed in social gatherings will increase from 50 to 250 people. All businesses should continue to follow physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place. 

Restaurant and beverage establishments are required to maintain six feet of distance between tables, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 75 percent occupancy, and recreation and entertainment venues at may operate at 50 percent occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 persons. Swimming pools may also expand operations to free swim in addition to indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction. Overnight summer camps will remain closed in Phase Three.

Phase Three guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase Two guidelines are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Read the Phase Three guidelines in Spanish here.

View the slides from today’s presentation here.

Governor Northam to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday

Will give state workers this Friday off, propose legislation to make state holiday permanent

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he intends to mark Juneteenth as a permanent paid state holiday, starting by giving state employees a day off this Friday, June 19. Virginia has long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation, but the date has not previously been considered a state holiday.

Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, finally heard that the Civil War had ended, and learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had made them free nearly two years earlier.

“Since 1619, when representative democracy and enslaved African people arrived in Virginia within a month of each other, we have said one thing, but done another,” said Governor Northam. “It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us. It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to Black communities, this is not just your history—this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward.”

“This is a big display of progress and I am grateful for Virginia for leading the way,” said performing artist Pharrell Williams, a Virginia native, who participated in the announcement. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are acknowledged.”

This announcement comes days after Governor Northam announced the state will remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee located on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Earlier this year, Governor Northam also successfully proposed ending a state holiday that celebrated Confederate generals and making Election Day a state holiday in its place.

“State holidays are a statement of dates we think are important to all people,” said Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn. “Making Juneteenth a state holiday raises its significance and will help educate Virginians on the meaning of Juneteenth in the history of our country and our Commonwealth.”

“Juneteenth is a time for reflection, conversation, and action,” said House Minority Leader Charniele Herring. “A Juneteenth state holiday is an important step toward affirmation of Black history in the Commonwealth.”

“As we work to make changes in our systems, symbols matter too,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. “I support adding Juneteenth as a state holiday, to ensure that the ending of slavery is commemorated and celebrated.”

“After years of work by many people, there is momentum and will to truly change our systems to make them more equitable to African-American people,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “A state holiday commemorating the day Black people learned they were free helps ensure that all Virginians learn about, and value, how significant that event was in the history of this country.”

“There are many steps Virginia can take to advance justice and equity, and that includes adding a state holiday to mark an event that was critical in the lives of millions of Black people,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Governor Northam Provides Guidance for Reopening Higher Education Institutions

Virginia’s public and private degree-granting institutions to develop plans to bring students back to campus, resume in-person instruction

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued guidance for Virginia public and private higher education institutions as they develop plans to safely reopen their campuses and resume in-person instruction. This guidance document was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Health, and was informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Governor is directing all of Virginia’s colleges and universities to create detailed reopening plans that demonstrate compliance with this new guidance.

“Virginia has one of the best and most diverse systems of higher education in the nation and each institution will take on this challenge in a way that meets their unique mission, location, circumstances, and student bodies,” said Governor Northam. “A safe, responsible reopening of Virginia’s college and university campuses is critical, especially for students who depend on our campus communities to provide valuable resources that they do not have access to at home.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. Secretary Qarni, Deputy Secretary Fran Bradford, and staff from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard a wide range of perspectives including parents, students, faculty, student affairs specialists, college access program staff, and more.

“At their best, Virginia higher education institutions are engines of economic and social mobility for the students they serve and the communities they are embedded in,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Virginia’s colleges and universities create space for dialogue about hard issues and promote new ideas that are critical to moving the Commonwealth forward. For all of this to be possible, students, faculty, staff, and families alike need to know that our institutions are prioritizing the health and safety of campus communities. Transparency and accountability is critical in this process.”

Virginia’s higher education reopening guidance is among the first in the nation, and is one of the most comprehensive accounts of criteria that should be considered when reopening a college or university campus. The document requires institutions to meet certain public health conditions in order to reopen their campuses, and to develop plans to address the following considerations:

  • Repopulation of the campus
  • Monitoring health conditions to detect infection
  • Containment to prevent spread of the disease when detected
  • Shutdown considerations if necessitated by severe conditions and/or public health guidance
     

For more information, read the guidance document available here. This document is also available in SpanishChineseKoreanVietnameseArabic, and Tagalog.

“With this robust guidance document, Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities can begin the hard work necessary to reopen their campuses,” said Peter Blake, Director of SCHEV. “While life at our colleges and universities will change, the energy, creativity and commitment shown by faculty and staff ensures that the learning experience will not be sacrificed. SCHEV stands ready to support institutions in developing strategies to serve students more effectively, without sacrificing the highest public health standards.”

Institutions must submit comprehensive reopening plans SCHEV, who will review their plans for compliance to relevant guidelines. Plans may need to be updated as guidance evolves, especially in the areas of testing, contact tracing, and symptom tracking. Institutions are encouraged to post their reopening plans publicly.

Governor Northam Announces $66.8 Million in Emergency Education Relief Funding

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia schools will receive $66.8 million through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to expand distance learning opportunities, fund services for students disproportionately impacted by loss of class time, and provide financial assistance to higher education students and institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This funding will help Virginia provide high-quality instruction and continue the delivery of services for K-12 and higher education students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “We are prioritizing this federal assistance to help address learning gaps caused by school closures, expand and improve internet connectivity, increase access to robust distance learning programs, and help students in need of additional financial assistance complete their postsecondary education and training.”

The GEER Fund, which was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, gives states the flexibility determine how best to allocate the emergency assistance to meet their educational needs.

Governor Northam is distributing $43.4 in GEER funding for the following PreK-12 priorities:

  • $26.9 million to support short-term and long-term initiatives expanding high-speed internet access to all communities in the Commonwealth, including providing laptop computers and Mi-Fi devices for students without home internet access;
  • $10 million to expand early childhood education and child care programs in the Commonwealth, especially for children with academic and social-emotional needs;
  • $3.5 million to support the expansion of the Virtual Virginia online learning program to provide content for elementary and middle school students; allow teachers in all school divisions to use the platform to create, edit, and share content as well as provide personalized virtual instruction for all students; and expand the Virtual Virginia Professional Learning Network, in partnership with the Virginia Society for Technology, to ensure that educators and technology-support personnel have the capacity and skills to meet the demand for quality online learning; and
  • $3 million to cover unfunded costs for the continuation of school-based meals programs while schools remain closed, including hazard pay for school nutrition staff.
     

“These initiatives will support efforts of PreK-12 schools to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable students and increase the capacity of local divisions to continue instruction and critical support services during future emergencies,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “We will also allocate flexible funding to our institutions of higher education that will allow colleges and universities to address the unique needs of their students. We trust they will maintain a focus on equity by distributing funds and services to students who are facing monumental challenges due to the pandemic.”

Approximately $23.4 million—one third of GEER funds—will be distributed throughout Virginia’s higher education system, with $18.3 million allocated to public and private four-year institutions and Richard Bland College. Of this funding, $14.5 million will be allocated to four-year public institutions and Richard Bland College, and $3.8 million will be allocated to private, four-year Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) eligible institutions. All of these institutions will use the one-time funding to address immediate student financial needs, cover health and safety costs associated with COVID-19, and support activities that make online learning more accessible and equitable.

GEER funds totaling $4.9 million will be distributed to the Virginia Community College System to support the following initiatives:

  • One-time funding to address immediate student financial needs;
  • Last-dollar scholarships for displaced adults who enroll in stackable credential programs leading to jobs in targeted industry sectors; and
  • Initiatives to extend internet access into parking lots on or adjacent to the 40 campuses to provide help connect students who do not have internet subscriptions at home.
     

The Governor will also distribute $175,000 of GEER funds among Virginia’s five higher education centers, which provide access to college degrees and job training for in-demand careers located in parts of the Commonwealth with fewer college and university resources. 

GEER funding has been made available in addition to $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the federal CARES Act. This included $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $343.9 million for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

In addition to allocating funding directly to every local school division, the ESSER K-12 funding includes a $23.9 million state set aside to fund state-level initiatives. In Virginia, these funds will be used to meet the needs of schools in regard to special education, instruction and assessment, student social and emotional health, and COVID-19-related health and safety in school buildings and facilities.

More information on the ESSER state set aside funds will be made available through the Virginia Department of Education in the coming weeks. 

Governor Northam Shares Guidance for Phased Reopening of PreK-12 Schools

Back to school plan informed by collaborative process, outlines steps for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a phased approach that allows Virginia schools to slowly resume in-person classes for summer school and the coming academic year. The K-12 phased reopening plan was developed by the Office of the Secretary of Education, Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Education and is informed by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

All PreK-12 schools in Virginia will be required to deliver new instruction to students for the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of the operational status of school buildings. The PreK-12 guidance is aligned with the phases outlined in the Forward Virginia blueprint and provides opportunities for school divisions to begin offering in-person instruction to specific student groups.

“Closing our schools was a necessary step to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of staff, students, and our communities,” said Governor Northam. “Our schools have risen to the occasion and found ways to provide remote learning opportunities, keep students engaged, continue serving meals for children who otherwise would have gone hungry, and support students and families through an immensely challenging time. Resuming in-person instruction is a high priority, but we must do so in a safe, responsible, and equitable manner that minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus and meets the needs of the Virginia students who have been disproportionately impacted by lost classroom time.”

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) convened numerous and diverse stakeholders through the Return to School Recovery Task Force, the Accreditation Task Force, and the Continuity for Learning Task Force this spring to inform strategies for reopening. Secretary of Education Atif Qarni held 35 strategy sessions with diverse groups of education stakeholders between May 29 and June 8 to gather their recommendations on how different reopening scenarios would impact their respective roles. The Secretary and his team engaged 800 individuals in these conversations, and heard from a wide range of perspectives including English language learners, parents of students with special needs, career and technical education centers, early childhood educators, students, school nutrition workers, private school leaders, bus drivers, school psychologists, the Virginia High School League, counselors, nurses, and more.

“These plans are informed by a range of perspectives and will help ensure that we prioritize the social emotional well-being of all of our students, their families, and educators as we go back to school this summer and fall,”  said Secretary Qarni.  “In-person learning is most essential for special education students, English language learners, young children, and other vulnerable students who depend upon the structure, in-person connection, and resources our school communities provide.”

Local school divisions will have discretion on how to operationalize within each phase and may choose to offer more limited in-person options than the phase permits, if local public health conditions necessitate. Entry into each phase is dependent on public health gating criteria, corresponding with the Forward Virginia plan. School divisions will have flexibility to implement plans based on the needs of their localities, within the parameters of the Commonwealth’s guidance.

The opportunities for in-person instruction in each phase are as follows:

  • Phase One: special education programs and child care for working families
  • Phase Two: Phase One plus preschool through third grade students, English learners, and summer camps in school buildings
  • Phase Three: all students may receive in-person instruction as can be accommodated with strict social distancing measures in place, which may require alternative schedules that blend in-person and remote learning for students
  • Beyond Phase Three: divisions will resume “new-normal” operations under future guidance

     

Beginning with Phase Two, local divisions and private schools must submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education that include policies and procedures for implementing Virginia Department of Health and CDC mitigation strategies. State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA has issued an Order of Public Health Emergency that requires all Virginia PreK-12 public and private schools to develop plans that demonstrate adherence to public health guidance. Public schools must also outline plans to offer new instruction to all students regardless of operational status.

Detailed information on each phase can be found in the guidance document available here.

VDOE has also developed comprehensive guidance to aid schools in planning for a return to in-person instruction and activities. “Recover, Redesign, Restart” can be found here.

“School will be open for all students next year, but instruction will look different,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “The phased, hybrid approach allows PreK-12 students to have valuable class time and face-to-face interaction with their peers, while prioritizing health and safety by ensuring physical distancing measures are maintained. This plan keeps equity at the forefront by giving divisions the opportunity to deliver in-person instruction to those who need it the most.”

In every phase, PreK-12 schools must follow CDC Guidance for Schools, including social and physical distancing, enhanced health and hygiene procedures, cleaning and disinfecting measures, and other mitigation strategies. These precautions include, but are not limited to:

  • Daily health screenings of students and staff
  • Providing remote learning exceptions and teleworking for students and staff who are at a higher risk of severe illness
  • The use of cloth face coverings by staff when at least six feet physical distancing cannot be maintained
  • Encouraging the use of face coverings in students, as developmentally appropriate, in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained

Governor Northam Announces Phase Two Guidelines to Further Ease Public Health Restrictions

Phase Two expected to begin Friday June 5, Northern Virginia and Richmond to remain in Phase One

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures. 

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.

Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.

Virginia Receives USDA Approval to Join SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that for the first time, more than 740,000 Virginians who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be able to pay for their groceries online and have them delivered, after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Virginia to participate in an innovative online purchasing pilot program. 

“This continued public health emergency has made access to healthy, affordable food challenging, particularly for Virginians who live in food deserts, have disabilities, or face transportation barriers,” said Governor Northam. “Allowing Virginia families who receive SNAP benefits to purchase groceries online and have them safely delivered to their homes will give vulnerable populations additional flexibility to put food on the table without putting themselves at unnecessary risk.”

The program will launch statewide in Virginia on Friday, May 29 with online shopping access available through the Amazon and Walmart online platforms. Retailers interested in participating the program can find more information and apply by contacting USDA. Transactions will take place using SNAP customers’ secure Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for fees of any type, such as delivery, service, or convenience fees. 

“With so many Americans already opting to stay safe at home by ordering their groceries online, it’s only right that we make every effort to ensure our most vulnerable families are also able to take advantage of these services,” said United States Senator Mark R. Warner. “After having pushed USDA to approve Virginia’s participation in the SNAP online purchasing pilot program, I’m glad to know that many more families in the Commonwealth will soon be able to access nutritious food without requiring them to leave their homes.”

“I’m grateful that following our request, the USDA has approved Virginia’s inclusion in the SNAP online purchasing pilot program,” said United States Senator Tim Kaine. “Especially at this time of great food insecurity, it’s critical that Virginians have the resources they need to safely access food.”

The pilot, which was mandated through the 2014 Farm Bill, was designed to test the feasibility of allowing USDA-approved retailers to accept online transactions. The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) administers SNAP in the Commonwealth.

“Agencies and leaders across the Commonwealth are constantly collaborating on innovative ways to meet the needs of individuals, families and communities during this pandemic,” said VDSS Commissioner S. Duke Storen. “Addressing the adaptive needs of Virginians right now, particularly expanding access to food, remains at the forefront of everything we are doing.”

Additional information about SNAP benefits in Virginia is available on the VDSS website.

Commonwealth Deploys Artificial Intelligence-Powered Online Tool to Help Virginians Self-Screen for COVID-19

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginians can now use COVIDCheck, a new online risk-assessment tool to check their symptoms and connect with the appropriate health care resource, including COVID-19 testing.

“If you are feeling sick or think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it is important that you take action right away,” said Governor Northam. “This online symptom-checking tool can help Virginians understand their personal risk for COVID-19 and get recommendations about what to do next from the safety of their homes. As we work to flatten the curve in our Commonwealth, telehealth services like this will be vital to relieving some of the strains on providers and health systems and making health care more convenient and accessible.”

COVIDCheck is a free, web-based, artificial intelligence-powered telehealth tool that can help individuals displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19 self-assess their risk and determine the best next steps, such as self-isolation, seeing a doctor, or seeking emergency care. This resource assists in identifying users who are at higher risk of COVID-19 and can help individuals find a nearby testing site. It is not to be used in place of emergency medical care. Virginians can visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck to learn more and use COVIDCheck.

COVIDCheck users who say they are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 are screened for occupational and medical risk factors and are given one of five care levels in accordance with the Virginia Department of Health’s categories.

“Because COVID-19 can affect people differently and cause illness ranging from mild to severe, this personalized assessment tool can help people sort through symptoms and decide if they need to seek medical care,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “While COVIDCheck is not a substitute for medical advice, it can help people decide what steps to take next to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the community.”

By answering a series of questions, an individual can receive a personalized, real-time self-assessment with information and recommendations on what to do next. The recommendations, based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include advice on when to contact a medical professional or seek emergency care, next steps for care based on zip code, and permission to follow up with the individual in three days to see how the person is doing.

“We’re proud to partner with the Commonwealth of Virginia to mobilize our AI-powered health assistant to provide the most accurate and helpful information to all Virginians during this vital time,” said Andrew Le, MD, CEO and cofounder of Buoy Health, which developed COVIDCheck. “And as the Commonwealth cautiously continues its phased approach to reopen, our primary goal at Buoy is to empower its residents to make the best decisions about their health so that they may re-enter society in a responsible way—for themselves, their loved ones, and the Virginia community-at-large.”

Buoy is a digital health company developed out of the Harvard Innovation Labs by a team of doctors and data-scientists, aimed at providing personalized clinical support through technology to individuals the moment they have a healthcare concern. Buoy helps remove the fear and complexity that often confronts people as they enter the system by navigating and engaging patients intelligently. The all-on-one technology is able to deliver triage at scale with transparency, connecting individuals with the right care endpoints at the right time.

Governor Northam Announces Education Work Group to Help Guide Process for Safe, Equitable Reopening of Schools

Education stakeholders will develop recommendations to ensure continuity of learning and address the needs of all Virginia students

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a diverse set of education stakeholders participating in the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Education Work Group to help chart a path forward for determining how schools can safely reopen later this year.

The group is comprised of representatives from Virginia’s public and private early childhood, K-12, and higher education systems, and includes teachers, superintendents, parents, college presidents, state agency personnel, special education advocates, museum directors, and student perspectives. This wide variety of education stakeholders represent the whole of Virginia’s education system and come from every region of the Commonwealth.

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni formed the work group and chaired its first meeting on April 23. Since then, the work group has been focused on developing recommendations to align policies throughout the Commonwealth’s preK-20 education system and ensure continuity of learning.

“I am deeply grateful for Virginia’s educators, administrators, school nutrition workers, support staff, parents, and students for the ways they have adapted to new learning environments over the past two months,” said Governor Northam. “As we make decisions about the path forward, this panel will help ensure that we are best supporting rural students, English language learners, students of color, and students with special needs. School closures have been necessary to protect health and safety, but lost class time has a disproportionate impact on Virginia’s most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged students. That’s why equity will remain at the forefront as we determine when and how we can safely and responsibly return to in-person learning.”

The work group is chaired by Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and is staffed by Deputy Secretary Education Fran Bradford, State Council of Higher Education Director Peter Blake, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. These four individuals comprise the steering committee for the COVID-19 Education Work Group.

“As we begin to think about how Virginia’s education system can operate in the summer and fall, it is crucial that we have the advice of a diverse, thoughtful group of education leaders,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This group will use their expertise to guide our approach and help ensure that all voices are heard and all recommendations are made through the lens of equity.”

Members of Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group include:

Steering Committee

  • Atif Qarni, Secretary of Education, Chair of COVID-19 Education Work Group  
  • Fran Bradford, Deputy Secretary of Education for Higher Education and Museums
  • Peter Blake, Director, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
  • Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Virginia Department of Education
     

Work Group Members

  • Jenna Conway, Chief School Readiness Officer, Office of the Governor
  • Holly Coy, Assistant Superintendent for Policy, Communications, and Equity, Virginia Department of Education
  • Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health, Virginia Department of Health
  • Jennifer O. Macdonald, Director, Division of Child and Family Health, Virginia Department of Health
  • Dr. Lynn Clayton Prince, Director of Special Education, Powhatan County Public Schools and President-Elect, Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Pam Simms, Program Director, Gladys H. Oberle School
  • Dr. Donna Henry, Chancellor, University of Virginia’s College at Wise and Chair, Council of Presidents in Virginia
  • Dr. Michael Rao, President, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Taylor Reveley, President, Longwood University
  • Dr. Makola Abdullah, President, Virginia State University
  • Dr. Sharon Morrissey, Senior Vice Chancellor, Virginia Community College System
  • Dr. John Downey, President, Blue Ridge Community College
  • Dr. Eric Williams, Superintendent, Loudoun County Public Schools
  • Dr. Jared Cotton, Superintendent, Chesapeake Public Schools
  • Dr. Dennis Carter, Superintendent, Smyth County Schools
  • Kathy Burcher, Representative, Virginia Education Association   
  • Melinda Bright, Representative, Virginia Education Association
  • Dr. Travis Burns, Principal, Northumberland High School and President, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Dr. Andrew Buchheit, Principal, T. Clay Wood Elementary School and President, Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals
  • Ann-Marie Ward, Council Treasurer, Virginia Parent Teacher Association
  • Pamela Croom, President-Elect, Virginia Parent Teacher Association
  • Teddy Martin II, Member, Henry County School Board and Regional Chair, Virginia School Boards Association
  • Karen Corbett-Sanders, Chair, Fairfax County School Board
  • Grace Creasey, Executive Director, Virginia Council for Private Education
  • Robert Lambeth, President, Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia
  • Dr. Larry Stimpert, President, Hampden-Sydney College
  • Dr. Tiffany Franks, President, Averett University
  • Dan Gecker, President, Virginia Board of Education
  • Marianne Radcliff, Representative, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
  • Jared Calfee, Executive Director, Virginia21          
  • Rich Conti, Director, Science Museum of Virginia
  • Dr. Betty Adams, Executive Director, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center
  • Ingrid Grant, Member, Governor’s African American Advisory Board
  • Hyun Lee, Member, Governor’s Asian Advisory Board
  • Diana Brown, Member, Governor’s Latino Advisory Board
  • Ashley Marshall, Chair, Virginia Council on Women
  • Shan Lateef, Rising Senior, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and Governor’s STEM Phenom Award Winner
     

On March 13, Governor Northam directed all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for a minimum of two weeks in response to the spread of COVID-19. On March 23, Governor Northam was one of the first governors in the country to issue a statewide order closing schools for the remainder of the academic year. The Virginia Department of Education established the Continuity for Learning (C4L) Task Force consisting of more than 120 teachers, leaders, and collaborating educational partners across Virginia to help school divisions to develop and implement continuous learning plans in partnership with local county health departments, families, staff, and local boards of education.

Virginia’s COVID-19 Education Work Group will develop recommendations on key issues schools must address before reopening and help determine how to ensure continuity of learning for Virginia students from cradle to classroom to career. After this guidance is developed, the work group will transition to focus on long-term recovery plans to include addressing learning gaps and social emotional needs of students resulting from school closures.

In the coming weeks, Governor Northam will outline a roadmap for Virginia schools, colleges, and universities to return to in-person learning in a safe, equitable, and responsible manner. The data-driven and science-based approach will include recommendations from the COVID-19 Education Work Group, and will be coordinated with the Forward Virginia plan to gradually ease public health restrictions. The Forward Virginia plan is grounded in federal CDC guidelines, and includes specific goals to contain the spread of the virus through increased testing, contact tracing, and ensuring adequate medical capacity.

Governor Northam Announces Phase One Guidelines to Slowly Ease Public Health Restrictions

Phase One will begin no sooner than Friday, May 15

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam signed Executive Order Sixty-One and presented a detailed framework for the first phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Phase One guidelines will be implemented when the data meets the public health criteria outlined by the Commonwealth. The new executive order modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Fifty-Three and Executive Order Fifty-Five and establishes guidelines for Phase One.

The Governor’s phased approach is grounded in science and data and includes mitigation strategies to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus through enhanced safety practices. The plan allows localities to consider delaying implementation of Phase One guidelines based on local conditions.

“I am proud of the millions of Virginians who have stayed home and helped to flatten the curve, but our work is not done,” said Governor Northam. “These guidelines represent one step forward in a gradual process, establishing the necessary modifications to business operations to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for employees and customers. When we move into this first phase, it will be important for Virginians to act cautiously—especially our most vulnerable populations, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.”

Under Phase One, the Commonwealth will move to a Safer at Home strategy, which continues the ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people and maintains recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and wearing face coverings. All businesses should make modifications to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitization of high contact surfaces, and provide enhanced workplace safety measures. 

Retail establishments will be allowed to operate at 50 percent occupancy, restaurant and beverage establishments may offer outdoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, personal grooming services may begin operating with one patron per service provider, and fitness centers may offer outdoor exercise services. Campgrounds may also begin taking reservations for short-term stays.

Places of worship have had a 10-person limit and have been allowed to hold drive-in services allowed. In Phase One, drive-in services may continue, and services may be held inside at 50 percent capacity. Specific guidelines for religious services can be found here.

Many of the restrictions put in place by Executive Order Fifty-Three will remain in place in Phase One. Entertainment and public amusement venues will remain closed and beaches will continue to be open only for exercise and fishing. Childcare centers remain open for children of working families. Overnight summer camps will remain closed in Phase One.

See more about the changes in Phase One below:

Phase One guidelines for specific sectors are available here or at virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia.

View the graphs and slides from the Governor’s presentation here

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-One and Order of Public Health Emergency Three is available here.

Governor Northam Announces Expansion of Payment Relief for Student Loan Borrowers

Borrowers are encouraged to contact their loan servicer immediately

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia has secured relief options for more than 200,000 Virginians with privately held student loans. The payment relief is the result of a new initiative by Virginia and several other states to work with the major private student loan servicers to expand on protections for federal student loan borrowers through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Virginians are facing unprecedented hardships as a result of this ongoing public health crisis, and student loan borrowers should not have to deal with the added pressure of how they are going to make their loan payments,” said Governor Northam. “This initiative will provide an important financial lifeline and repayment flexibility to Virginia residents who were not eligible for relief under the CARES Act.” 

The federal CARES Act provided much-needed relief for students with federal loans, including the suspension of monthly payments, interest, and involuntary collection activity until September 30, 2020. However, millions of student loan borrowers with loans made by private lenders and federal loans not owned by the U.S. Government were left out. 

Under this initiative, Virginians with commercially-owned Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans, Perkins loans, or privately held student loans who are struggling to make their payments due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible for expanded relief. Borrowers in need of assistance must immediately contact their student loan servicer to identify the options that are appropriate to their circumstances. Relief options include:

  • Providing a minimum of 90 days of forbearance

  • Waiving late payment fees

  • Ensuring that no borrower is subject to negative credit reporting

  • Ceasing debt collection lawsuits for 90 days

  • Working with borrower to enroll them in other borrower assistance programs, such as income-based repayment

These options will provide short-term relief for borrowers with significant changes in their income, which is advisable over the option of non-payment which can lead to default. Borrowers should note that these solutions will impact the terms and conditions of the loans. Before exercising these options, carefully consider the impact of the interest that accrues during the 90-day forbearance and how it will extend the repayment schedule for the loans.

“Borrowers did not have a choice in whether their FFEL loans were held by the federal government or by the commercial lender, and yet 65 percent of all FFEL loans are not eligible for the CARES Act relief,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “The principle of equity demands that we provide relief for all federal borrowers, regardless of whether the federal government or a commercial lender backs the loan.”

The Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is responsible for helping Virginia student borrowers understand their rights and responsibilities. The Student Loan Advocate serves as a liaison between student loan borrowers and loan servicers or other agencies, helping them explore repayment options and aiding in the resolution of complaints against loan providers.

“As a result of this collaboration with servicers, lending institutions for privately held loans, and several other states, we are pleased to expand the relief options for Virginia’s student loan borrowers who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Virginia’s Student Loan Advocate Scott W. Kemp.

Other states in the initiative include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington.

Private student loan servicers providing relief include:

  • Aspire Resources, Inc.
  • College Ave Student Loan Servicing, LLC
  • Earnest Operations, LLC
  • Edfinancial Services, LLC
  • Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation
  • Lendkey Technologies, Inc.
  • Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri (MOHELA)
  • Navient
  • Nelnet, Inc.
  • Scratch
  • SoFi Lending Corp.
  • Tuition Options, LLC
  • United Guaranty Services, Inc.
  • Upstart Network, Inc.
  • Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA)
  • Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC)

Borrowers can visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid or call Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243 or 1-800-730-8913 (TDD) to determine the types of federal loans they have and who their servicers are. Borrowers with private student loans can check their monthly billing statements for contact information. Borrowers can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.

Borrowers experiencing trouble with their student loan servicer or looking to better understand the implications of these relief options are encouraged to contact Virginia’s Student Loan Advocate at studentloan@schev.edu or (804) 786-2832.

For additional information about relief options for federal loan borrowers, visit schev.edu/studentloan.

Governor Northam Acts to Ensure Liability Protections for Healthcare Workers

Executive order reinforces statutory liability protections for healthcare providers during COVID-19 emergency

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty, which reinforces certain existing statutory liability protections for Virginia healthcare workers. Due to COVID-19, public and private healthcare providers are operating with limited resources and may be forced to serve patients outside of conventional standards of care.

“Virginia’s healthcare workers are heroes,” said Governor Northam. “We must ensure that they can continue to provide high-quality and compassionate care during this tremendously challenging time.” 

Virginia’s code offers protections for healthcare workers and first responders in cases of emergency. This order clarifies that these statues protect healthcare workers operating during the COVID-19 crisis. Nothing in this order prevents liability in the case of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty is available here.

Governor Northam Unveils Blueprint for Easing Public Health Restrictions

‘Forward Virginia’ blueprint informed by diverse health and business stakeholders, includes testing, tracing, and PPE priorities

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today presented the “Forward Virginia” blueprint, which will help guide the Commonwealth on when to safely begin easing public health restrictions. The blueprint includes a phased approach that is grounded in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and has specific goals to contain the spread of the virus through increased testing, personal protective equipment and supplies, and medical capacity.

“We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and builds public confidence,” said Governor Northam. “Businesses know that customers will return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. Our blueprint for the path forward is data-driven and provides clear guidance, so Virginians will know what to expect and understand how we will decide to when to lift certain public health restrictions.”

Virginia is looking at a wide range of public health data. The Governor emphasized that key indicators will include a 14-day downward trend in confirmed cases as a percentage of overall tests and in reduced COVID-19 hospitalizations. While hospitalization rates have largely stabilized in the Commonwealth, confirmed cases continue to rise.

The Forward Virginia blueprint includes the following priorities:

TESTING AND TRACING

To ensure the continued safety of Virginians, the Commonwealth aims to test at least 10,000 individuals per day. Karen Remley, former Commissioner of Health and current co-chair of Virginia’s Testing Work Group, outlined a four stage approach to meet this goal prior to safe reopening. The expanded testing plan includes hiring contact tracers, who will support local health departments in identifying individuals who may be exposed to COVID-19 and helping them self-isolate.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical to ramping up testing, ensuring the safety of healthcare staff, and expanding the medical workforce. Virginia’s PPE pipeline is improving, and hospitals are successfully managing their supplies. The Governor cautioned that safely easing restrictions will require an ongoing stable PPE supply chain across all sectors of healthcare, and ensuring that the supply is regularly replenished.

Virginia has ordered 17.4 million N95 masks, 8.3 million surgical masks, 17.1 million gloves, 1.7 million gowns, and 1 million face shields. This includes a contract signed jointly with Maryland and the District of Columbia for 5 million N95 masks.

Governor Northam announced that a second shipment from Northfield Medical Manufacturing is scheduled to arrive today and will be promptly distributed. The latest shipment includes 3 million nitrile exam gloves, 100,000 N95 masks, 500,000 3-ply procedure masks, and 40,000 isolation gowns.

HOSPITAL CAPACITY AND STAFF

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are largely stable across Virginia, even as case counts continue to rise. To ensure continued capacity as Virginia move towards “Phase One” of easing restrictions, Governor Northam yesterday extended the ban on elective surgeries through May 1 and expanded the ability of physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement.

The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) continues to recruit and deploy medical and non-medical volunteers to bolster the work of local health departments, hospitals, and healthcare providers. The MRC currently has over 16,500 trained volunteers, more than halfway to Virginia’s goal of 30,000.

PHASE ONE OF EASING RESTRICTIONS

Governor Northam outlined key benchmarks Virginians can expect in the first phase, which will begin no sooner than two weeks from now to allow for a 14-day downward trend in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Phase one includes continued social distancing, teleworking, limits on travel and public gatherings, and recommended use of face coverings. Any easing of restrictions will be informed by public health experts, members of the Governor’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, state and local officials, and other stakeholders.

The Commonwealth is developing two sets of guidance: one with broad based recommendations for all businesses, and another with industry specific recommendations for public-facing businesses like restaurants and non-essential retail. The guidance will be provided to businesses in early May.

The slides from today’s presentation are available here.

Governor Northam Extends Ban on Elective Surgeries, Closure of DMV Offices

Virginia State Police also directed to take additional administrative action under expanded executive directive

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today extended the current ban on elective surgeries by one week, until May 1, and the closure of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) public-facing offices by two weeks, until May 11. Virginia State Police are directed to continue suspending the enforcement of motor vehicle inspections and take several additional measures through July 31.

The ban on elective surgeries will continue while the Governor and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA continue to evaluate, in conjunction with hospitals and other medical facilities, how to safely ease restrictions on non-essential medical procedures, and the availability of personal protective equipment.

“My top priority is protecting public health, and that includes ensuring that our frontline medical staff have the equipment they need to stay safe as they treat Virginians who are sick,” said Governor Northam. “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. We are working with medical facilities on plans to ensure that we can resume elective surgeries safely and responsibly.”

The public health emergency order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient. The order also does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs. The full text of Public Health Emergency Order Two as amended is available here. View the Frequently Asked Questions Guide here.

Hospitals continue to treat emergency patients and perform essential surgeries, and Virginians should feel safe going to hospitals if they are experiencing a medical emergency, such as a heart attack. Governor Northam also amended Executive Order Fifty-Seven to allow licensed physician’s assistants with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement. The text of the amended executive order is available here.

Governor Northam also extended Executive Directive Seven, which closed Virginia’s 75 DMV offices and its mobile units to the public and extended the validity of driver’s licenses and vehicle credentials that were due to expire. Today’s action decrees that those credentials will be valid through July 31. Virginians who need to renew a license or vehicle registration are encouraged to do so online. Read the full text of Executive Directive Seven here.

Governor Northam expanded Executive Directive Eight, directing the Virginia State Police to suspend enforcement of the time period in which new Virginia residents must get a driver’s license or register their vehicles, the expiration of temporary license plates, and the time period in which temporary residents may operate vehicles with out-of-state plates. This directive continues the suspension of enforcement of motor vehicle inspections by Virginia State Police. While local law enforcement may still issue citations for expired vehicle inspections, Governor Northam encourages them to refrain from doing so during this pandemic. The directive is in effect until July 31. Read the full text of Executive Directive Eight here.

Governor Northam Announces Expansion of ‘Virtual Virginia’ to Support Distance Learning During School Closures

New resources available for K-12 schools and teachers

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a dramatic expansion of Virtual Virginia, the Virginia Department of Education’s existing online learning system, to allow every teacher in the Commonwealth to host virtual classes while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. These resources include a platform that enables all Virginia public school teachers to share lessons and activities with their students through June 30.

“While there is no perfect substitute for in-person classroom instruction, this is an unprecedented public health crisis and we must do everything we can to ensure all children have equitable learning opportunities,”  said Governor Northam . “I want to thank our educators, school administrators, and superintendents for their extraordinary efforts to keep students connected and learning. The expansion of Virtual Virginia will help ensure that the closure of schools and interruption of formal instruction this spring does not lead to a widening of achievement gaps.”

Virtual Virginia will expand its offerings to include elementary and middle school content as an option for students to learn content missed this spring. Courses will begin in May and the new course content will be available to any school division that enrolls students and teachers in the program, at no cost to the division.

Virtual Virginia content can be loaded onto devices for use by students in homes without sufficient internet access to support online learning. The expansion does not affect the more than 6,000 students already enrolled in one or more of Virtual Virginia’s 81 high school-level courses.

“The expansion of Virtual Virginia will provide additional options for school divisions to present the instruction and content that they are unable to provide this spring in traditional classroom settings,”  said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane . “Access to the Virtual Virginia platform will be especially helpful for teachers and students in school divisions without robust distance learning systems.”

The expansion of Virtual Virginia is the third major action the Commonwealth has taken within the last week to mitigate the impact of school closures on students.

Today, Monday, April 13, marks the launch of “VA TV Classroom” by four Virginia public media stations. Blue Ridge PBS, VPM, WETA, and WHRO Public Media worked closely with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to create the programming to provide teacher-led, on-air instruction aligned with the Commonwealth’s academic standards for students who are unable to access other distance learning options.

In an effort to support Virginia educators, VDOE established the Continuity for Learning (C4L) Task Force consisting of more than 120 teachers, leaders, and collaborating educational partners across Virginia. Working with the C4L Task Force, VDOE launched Virginia Learns Anywhere, a hub of resources and recommendations to reinforce much-needed structure while also empowering individual teachers to support students in learning remotely. The C4L Task Force encourages divisions to develop and implement continuous learning plans in partnership with local county health departments, families, staff, and local boards of education.

Virginia Learns Anywhere includes a guidance document for teachers and schools on providing equitable learning opportunities for students and preventing the widening of achievement gaps and meet the social and emotional needs of students while schools are closed. Sample instructional modules cover essential knowledge and skills for all content areas and grade levels and provide recommendations on integrating the skills and attributes known as the “5 C’s” (critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship) into distance learning.

A comprehensive list of resources, guidance, and support documents for K-12 public schools in Virginia during the COVID-19 school closures is available here. Find answers to frequently asked questions here.

Governor Northam Signs New Laws to Support Virginia Workers

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed nearly two dozen new laws to support working Virginians, including legislation to combat worker misclassification and wage theft, ban workplace discrimination, and prohibit non-compete covenants for low-wage workers.

The Governor proposes to increase the minimum wage starting May 1, 2021, and to advance prevailing wage, collective bargaining, and project labor agreement legislation then as well. This will ensure workers get the support they need while allowing greater economic certainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a safe and well-paying job,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws will support workers and help our economy rebound as quickly as possible from COVID-19. I am grateful for the General Assembly’s ongoing partnership as we address these critical issues.”

In addition, Governor Northam is proposing amendments to prohibit apprenticeship discrimination on the basis of gender identity and to create a work-sharing program to support workers impacted by COVID-19.

Governor Northam signed the following bills:

Combatting Worker Misclassification

  • House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 744, sponsored by Delegate Jeion Ward and Senator Jeremey McPike, respectively, authorize the Department of Taxation to oversee investigations into suspected cases of worker misclassification and levy penalties as appropriate. A 2012 report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) estimated that at least 214,000 Virginians were misclassified as “independent contractors” by their employers.

  • House Bill 984 and Senate Bill 894, sponsored by Delegate Karrie Delaney and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, create a private cause of action for a misclassified worker to bring civil action for damages against his or her employer.

  • House Bill 1199 and Senate Bill 662, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran and Senator Jennifer Boysko, respectively, protect employees or independent contractors who report misclassification from employer retaliation. Employers that are found to have engaged in retaliatory action will be subject to a civil penalty up to the value of the employee’s lost wages.

  • House Bill 1646, sponsored by Delegate Paul Krizek, requires contractors to properly classify all workers as employees or independent contractors. This law gives the Board of Contractors the ability to sanction contractors who are found to have intentionally misclassified workers.

Banning Workplace Discrimination

  • House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 712, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Senator Jennifer McClellan, respectively, protect workers from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This law prohibits pregnancy discrimination, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth, and creates a private cause of action for workplace pregnancy discrimination.

  • House Bill 1049, sponsored by Delegate Mark Levine, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a number of areas of law, including employment, public contracting, and apprenticeship programs.

Combatting Wage Theft

  • House Bill 123, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages lost to wage theft. If a court finds an employer has knowingly failed to pay an employee’s wages, the court may award the employee reasonable attorneys’ fees in addition to triple the amount of wages due.

  • Senate Bill 838, sponsored by Senator Adam Ebbin, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages. Additionally, this new law makes general contractors liable and subject to penalty for wage theft, under certain conditions. 

  • House Bill 336 and Senate Bill 49, sponsored by Delegate Marcia Price and Senator Lionell Spruill, respectively, give the Department of Labor and Industry expanded authority in investigating wage theft complaints.  

  • House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Delegate Marcia Price and Senator Lionell Spruill, respectively, protect employees who report wage theft or institute proceedings against their employer from retaliation.  

Additional Worker Protections

  • House Bill 330 and Senate Bill 480, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg and Senator Bill DeSteph, respectively, prohibit employers from entering into a non-compete contract with any of their low-wage employees. This new law also creates a private cause of action for a low-wage employee to bring a lawsuit against an employer who tries to enforce a non-compete covenant.

  • House Bill 798, sponsored by Delegate Karrie Delaney, protects workers from retaliation from their employer for reporting violations or suspected violations of state law.

  • House Bill 1201 and Senate Bill 380, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran and Senator Jeremy McPike, respectively, allow localities to include criteria in their “invitation to bid” to determine whether a bidder who is not prequalified by the Virginia Department of Transportation is a responsible bidder. This new law will support workers and help local contractors find the best trained and safest workers for their projects.

Governor Northam proposes amendments to these bills: 

  • Senate Bill 548, sponsored by Senator John Edwards, addresses qualifications for unemployment insurance. In light of the current economic crisis, Governor Northam amended this legislation to authorize a work-sharing program in Virginia. Work-sharing programs can help businesses avoid laying off their employees by permitting them to reduce their employees’ hours and allow affected employees to collect reduced unemployment benefits in the form of short-time compensation. The federal CARES Act offers funding incentives for states to build work-sharing programs of this sort.

  • House Bill 1252, sponsored by Delegate Don Scott, prohibits a sponsor of a registered apprenticeship program from discriminating against an apprentice or applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age (if older than 40), genetic information, or disability. Governor Northam amended this legislation to also include protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. 

  • House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Delegate Jeion Ward and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, raise the minimum wage. Under the Governor’s amendments, the minimum wage would increase beginning May 1, 2021. 

  • House Bill 833 and Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, address payment of “prevailing wages” by contractors doing business with certain government bodies. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.

  • House Bill 582 and Senate Bill 939, sponsored by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, permit localities to enter into collective bargaining agreements with local employees. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.

  • House Bill 358 and Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Delegate Alfonso Lopez and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, authorize state and local bodies to require project labor agreements for construction, manufacture, maintenance, or operation of public works. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.




 

Governor Northam, University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute, RAND Corporation Present Infectious Disease Modeling on Impact of COVID-19 Mitigations in Virginia

Modeling suggests social distancing efforts have slowed the spread of the virus in the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam, in partnership with researchers from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute and the nonprofit RAND Corporation, released new infectious disease modeling on the impact of COVID-19 mitigations in Virginia.

Current models presented during a briefing held yesterday show that social distancing efforts beginning in mid-March have paused the growth of the COVID-19 epidemic in the Commonwealth. While data and testing remain limited, current trends suggest that Virginia’s statewide hospital bed capacity will be sufficient in the immediate future.

“We are proud to be working with some of the top minds in the country on these projections,” said Governor Northam. “While the data is limited, we can draw a few key conclusions: First, social distancing is important, and it’s working in Virginia. Second, while we continue to work closely with our hospital systems and other health care partners to prepare for a potential surge in acute cases, we are optimistic about our statewide hospital bed capacity. Finally, it’s clear we need to be responsible about how we ease restrictions, so we can keep Virginians safe and protect public health.” 

“From the beginning, Governor Northam has made it clear that everything we do must be grounded in science, public health expertise, and data,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “These models change every day, but we can use various models to help inform a range of outcomes we may be facing so we can make sure that Virginia is ready for all possible scenarios. Like every other state and many other countries, we are preparing for how we can move forward in a way that does not trigger another medical surge.”

Key takeaways from infectious disease models developed by the UVA Biocomplexity Institute include:

  • Current social distancing efforts starting March 15 have paused the growth of the epidemic in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In this scenario, “paused” growth means that the rate of new cases is holding steady rather than increasing.

  • Current trends suggest that Virginia’s statewide hospital bed capacity will be sufficient in the near future.

  • Lifting social distancing restrictions too soon can quickly lead to a second wave.

To understand the impact of COVID-19 mitigations in Virginia, the UVA Biocomplexity Institute developed a model of the pandemic that incorporates disease dynamics such as transmissibility and incubation period as well as population density and social behavior. The Institute modeled five potential scenarios, exploring slowing growth vs. pausing growth with social distancing in place until April 30 and June 10 compared to no mitigation.  

“Currently, it appears as if the Commonwealth of Virginia is tracking with the pause scenario, which means that the residents of Virginia are doing an excellent job with mitigation,” said Bryan Lewis, Research Associate Professor for the Network Systems Science and Advanced Computing division for the Institute. “Even without perfect projections, we can confidently draw conclusions. We know that social distancing is working and lifting restrictions too early can lead to a second surge. We will continue to improve our models as more data become available. We plan to incorporate outcomes specific by age, integrate the role of seasonality, and analyze mitigation techniques such as a Test-Trace-Isolate approach.”

The UVA Biocomplexity Institute has been on the forefront of epidemic modeling and mitigation since 2002, supporting the U.S. federal government and other countries through several epidemics, including planning for H5N1, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the MERS outbreak of 2012, and the Ebola outbreaks of 2014 and 2019. Institute researchers have worked in partnership with U.S. government agencies since early 2020 to inform evidence-based decision making for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Several groups have produced models to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic might progress and to explore potential policy options,” said Carter Price, a senior mathematician at the RAND Corporation. “Each of these models has strengths and weakness, and they are likely to evolve as more and better data become available. We are helping the leadership of the Commonwealth of Virginia assess the different models so that policy can be made with the best available information.”

Additional information, including slides from yesterday’s briefing are available here. The full video of the briefing is posted here.

Governor Northam Signs Sweeping New Laws to Expand Access to Voting

Legislation expands early voting, makes Election Day a state holiday

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed landmark new laws to repeal Virginia’s voter ID law, make Election Day a state holiday in Virginia, and expand access to early voting.

“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” said Governor Northam. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.”

Governor Northam signed these bills:

  • House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 111, sponsored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Senator Janet Howell, respectively, allow early voting 45 days prior to an election without a stated excuse. Virginia currently requires voters who wish to vote absentee to provide the state with a reason, from an approved list, why they are unable to vote on Election Day.

  • House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey and Senator Mamie Locke, respectively, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot. Voter ID laws disenfranchise individuals who may not have access to photo identification, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.  

  • House Bill 108 and Senate Bill 601, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey and Senator Louise Lucas, respectively, make Election Day a state holiday, which will help ensure every Virginian has the time and opportunity to cast their ballot. In order to maintain the same number of state holidays, this measure repeals the current Lee-Jackson Day holiday, established over 100 years ago to honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

  • House Bill 235 and Senate Bill 219, sponsored by Delegate Joshua Cole and Senator David Marsden, respectively, implement automatic voter registration for individuals accessing service at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or the DMV website.

  • House Bill 1678, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey, extends in-person polling hours from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

“We need more access to the ballot box, not less,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I am so proud to be a part of new laws that expand access to voting and make our Commonwealth more representative of the people we serve. Today is an historic day.”

“Our democracy relies on equal access to the ballot box,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “I’m grateful to the Governor for his partnership in breaking down barriers to voting, and ensuring all Virginians have the opportunity to exercise this fundamental right.”

“Virginia’s photo ID law was designed to make it more difficult to vote,” said Delegate Joe Lindsey. “It is past time we repealed this law, and I’m grateful to the Governor for helping us get it done.”

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