Virginia Meets Most Criteria Gov. Northam Needed for Phase One Reopening

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Northam denies allegations that he is pictured in a yearbook photo wearing racist attire. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Three of the four metrics Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said must be met in order for the state to move to a Phase One reopening appear to have been met already, and the fourth is close to being met.

Northam, a Democrat who has imposed some of the most drastic emergency measures of any governor in the country, announced “Forward Virginia: a blueprint for easing public health restrictions,” which identified these four metrics, at a press conference in Richmond on Friday:

  • Moving downward: percentage of positive tests over 14 days
  • Moving downward: hospitalizations over 14 days
  • Enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity
  • Increasing and sustainable supply of PPE

Here are the three metrics that appear to already have been met.

(1) Moving Downward: Percentage of Positive Tests Over 14 Days

According to the Covid Tracking Project, the percentage of new coronavirus tests in Virginia that are positive has declined from 33.4 percent on April 13 to 14.9 percent on April 26:

Date Positives Tests % Positive
April 13 473 1,416 33.4%
April 14 424 1,362 31.1%
April 15 329 1,406 23.4%
April 16 389 2,275 17.1%
April 17 602 2,553 23.6%
April 18 562 2,934 19.2%
April 19 484 2,802 17.3%
April 20 453 2,002 22.6%
April 21 640 1,619 39.5%
April 22 636 2,424 26.2%
April 23 361 3,740 9.7%
April 24 542 4,497 12.1%
April 25 733 3,163 23.2%
April 26 586 3,940 14.9%

That downward trend appeared to continue into Monday, April 27. During the 24 hour period between 4:00 p.m. eastern time Sunday April 26 and 4:00 p.m eastern time Monday April 27,  an additional 548 positive tests were reported on the Virginia Department of Health website, out of 4,062 coronavirus tests conducted, or 13.5 percent positive for that 24 hour period.

Overall, 80,180 coronavirus tests have been conducted in Virginia, with 13,036, or 16.2 percent, confirmed as positive since testing began in the state earlier in the pandemic.

At his daily press conference on Monday, Gov. Northam announced a change in testing priorities, away from the general population to specific populations in public housing, prisons, and long-term-care facilities. Two of these groups–inmates in prisons and residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities–have demonstrated high rates of positive testing due to the physical proximity of those who live or work in particular areas:

This change in testing priorities is likely to be reflected in a higher percentage of positive coronavirus test results going forward in the state.

Recent outbreaks of coronavirus in meat processing plants in Virginia, which Gov. Northam addressed in Monday’s press conference, could also move that percentage higher.

(2) Enough Hospital Beds and Intensive Care Capacity

Based on the data included in Gov. Northam’s governor’s presentation of the blueprint on Friday, there is little doubt this metric has been met.

As of Monday, the state currently hospitalizes 1,455 patients who have either tested positive for coronavirus or have tests pending, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. The state has 5,433 hospital beds available, so coronavirus patients currently occupy 27 percent of the state’s hospital bed capacity.

As for ventilators, 21 percent of the state’s 2,982 available ventilators, or 616, are currently in use by hospitalized coronavirus patients.

The Virginia Department of Health provides detailed hospitalization data here:

(3) Increasing and Sustainable Supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

At his daily press conference on Monday, Gov. Northam announced progress in obtaining PPE supplies:

Governor Northam announced that the Virginia state government received a delivery of 800,000 gloves and 300,000 surgical masks on Monday from Northfield Medical Manufacturing, which is a Virginia company the state government negotiated a contract with earlier in the crisis.

The governor said 14,000 test swabs for COVID-19 testing were also provided on Monday from FEMA.

Additionally, he highlighted the Virginia Department of Corrections, which has manufactured 470,000 masks throughout the crisis to distribute across the state.

Based on the governor’s statement on Monday, this metric appears to be met.

The fourth and final metric, a decline in hospitalizations, appears to be close to being met. Gov. Northam even acknowledged in his presentation on Friday that hospitalizations have not been increasing, but have been “remaining flat.”

(4) Moving Downward: Hospitalizations Over 14 Days

One slide in the governor’s presentation on Friday reads “Hospitalization rates remain flat.”

The accompanying chart shows a virtual straight and flat line running from April 12, when total hospitalizations were about 1,300, to April 24, when hospitalizations were about 1,350. Given the significant excess capacity of hospital beds currently available in the state, there may be little specific value in a metric that requires a decline in hospitalization rates that are already flat.

Coronavirus Deaths

Gov. Northam did not identify a decline in the rate of growth of coronavirus deaths as a key metric, but it is a metric that is on a downward trend in the state. With 54 coronavirus deaths per million residents, Virginia is far below the 171 coronavirus deaths per million in the United States as a whole, as reported by Worldometers as of Monday.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there have been 458 coronavirus deaths in Virginia as of Monday since the pandemic began (454 are confirmed, four are probable), 309 more than the 149 deaths reported as of April 13, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

During this 15 day period, the rate of growth in coronavirus deaths has declined from a daily high of 21 percent (41 daily deaths) on April 15, to below three percent on both April 26 and April 17.

The chart below illustrates the 15 day trend in daily deaths between April 13 and April 27:

Date Total Deaths Daily Deaths % Increase
April 13 149 8 5.4%
April 14 154 5 3.2%
April 15 195 41 21.0%
April 16 208 13 6.3%
April 17 231 23 10.0%
April 18 258 27 10.5%
April 19 277 19 6.9%
April 20 300 23 7.7%
April 21 324 24 7.4%
April 22 349 25 7.2%
April 23 372 23 6.2%
April 24 410 38 9.3%
April 25 436 26 6.0%
April 26 448 12 2.7%
April 27 458 10 2.2%

 

A Phase One reopening of Virginia, as described in the blueprint announced by the governor on Friday, would offer only minor changes in the governor’s restrictive emergency orders.

  • Some businesses re-open with strict safety restrictions
  • continued social distancing
  • continued teleworking
  • Face coverings recommended in public

With the exception of “some businesses re-opening” Phase One looks to be little different than the current lockdown of the state.

Towards the end of Monday’s press conference, however, Gov. Northam said that he was hoping he would be able to announce the reopening of elective surgery in the state on Friday.

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