Virginia plans military hospital sites, expecting coronavirus peak in May

Hannah Eason, News Editor

State officials are working with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to establish military hospitals in Richmond, Fairfax and Hampton in response to COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The Hampton Convention Center, a former ExxonMobil facility in Fairfax and an unnamed Richmond location could be used in case of patient surge in nearby hospitals due to the novel coronavirus. More information on the sites will be released on Friday, Northam said. 

“The more people that stay home, the fewer people that will get sick,” Northam said during the press conference. “But make no mistake, we are preparing for the people who will get sick.”

Virginia received its third shipment of personal protective equipment, or PPE, including face shields, gowns and masks from the national stockpile on Wednesday, but Northam said the state still needs more. The governor said around 240 sets of PPE are used per patient per day in intensive care units across the state.

State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said clusters of cases in Northern Virginia, the Virginia Peninsula and Central Virginia have continued to grow. According to the state health department, there are now 1,484 positive cases, up by 234 cases since Tuesday. There have been 34 related deaths in Virginia, including seven in the last 24 hours. 

More than 300 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, Oliver said during the press conference, with 145 patients in intensive care and 108 on ventilator support.

Northam said Virginia is expected to hit its peak in COVID-19 cases in late April to late May.

For those that have mortgage loans through the Virginia Housing Development Authority, loan payments are being deferred for up to three months “if people need it,” Northam said. The state is also suspending evictions for those with public housing vouchers.

Non-emergency court proceedings, including eviction proceedings, are suspended until April 26 through a judicial emergency order from the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran says the Department of Corrections is following the quarantine and contact investigation guidelines provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to the spread of COVID-19 within correctional facilities.

Moran said 96 Virginia inmates were released on parole this month, which he said was a 153% increase from February.

The Virginia Department of Corrections stated Tuesday that three inmates of the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for COVID-19. Three employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus, according to the release.

With many religious holidays scheduled for April, Northam said he would issue guidance from religious leaders on how to move forward with celebrations. Wednesday marked “U.S. Census Day,” and Northam said while surveyors will not go door-to-door, households can fill out the survey online or by mail.

Northam encouraged Virginians to send in absentee votes by mail for two elections scheduled during the stay-at-home order: town elections on May 5 and congressional primaries on June 9. 

“I consider elections to be a fundamental democratic event and voting to be an essential right,” Northam said. “We are continuing to work through the best option for how to hold these elections in this time of social distancing and public health concerns.”

Northam announced a stay-at-home order with some exceptions on Monday. The executive order stays in place until June 10. 

Travel for food, medical emergencies, supplies, work, or to get exercise and fresh air is permitted under the order, and violations could result in a Class 1 misdemeanor. Maryland and D.C. have issued similar orders as positive COVID-19 cases in the region continue to climb.

Updates from the governor’s office on the COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia are available at governor.virginia.gov.

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