RICHMOND — Virginia’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise — now at 152, with the state reporting its third death from the virus on Saturday.
The 152 positive cases is an increase of 38 over the 114 reported by the state Friday, which doesn’t include the first case confirmed in Louisa County on Saturday evening. It’s a figure that has doubled every few days in Virginia as more tests — but still not enough — become available. Doctors have said many more cases have likely gone unrecorded.
Saturday evening, the Fairfax County Health Department reported its first coronavirus death, a man in his 60s who died of respiratory failure.
In a news briefing Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is loosening testing criteria to give priority to medical staff treating people with the virus. Health officials said they’re also focusing on testing those with respiratory illness and are relaxing criteria for people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Until Saturday, they had to first undergo a flu test and respiratory virus panel. Now, the panel isn’t required.
Distilleries have started making hand sanitizer. Dentists and schools are providing their own supplies to health care facilities since closing. Emily Little, a former emergency care nurse who is organizing efforts in Charlottesville said it’s a national reality.
“If we lose nurses and providers, we’re going to [have more than] a [protective equipment] shortage,” she said.
Public health officials said Virginia’s state lab has the ability to perform testing for over 1,000 patients. Private labs are also taking tests, but the state doesn’t have a precise count of their capacity. Bill Slavin, a chemist and founder of Richmond-based research facility Indie Lab, is looking to establish a lab that tests 10,000 people a day in the central Virginia region.
He estimates the large-scale rapid testing could be up and running within two weeks. The US Food and Drug Administration approved its first rapid diagnostic test that could detect the coronavirus in 45 minutes on Saturday.
Slavin is working on writing grants to fulfill operating and staffing costs, upward of $1 million total, and obtaining a certified lab. His company is also working to provide sterilization for food and supplies and is 3-D printing masks.
“Supply chains are slowing down significantly because of the virus,” Slavin said. “Even if somebody is able to order masks, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to get them … if we don’t ensure there is a domestic production, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
Tuesday, Northam gave law enforcement the ability to enforce the 10-person limit on gatherings, which applies to restaurants, fitness centers and theaters. Saturday morning, he added that with more than 10 patrons, businesses can lose their operating license on the spot and receive a misdemeanor. There haven’t been any issued yet, he said.
He said he hasn’t made a decision regarding enacting workforce limitations similar to New York, which has mandated reducing on-site nonessential personnel by 50% and work-from-home policies. He doesn’t have criteria for what would lead to that.
“I’m not here to answer ‘what if’s,’” Northam said. “I’m telling you where we are today and what we’re doing to keep Virginia safe.”
Northam also clarified again that activating the Virginia National Guard does not mean it’s mobilized and forcing people to stay home. But they’re on call to help transport supplies needed in health care facilities, he said.
Little, the former emergency care nurse organizing efforts to add to these supplies, said they’re not getting to primary care physicians she’s spoken to.
“We need each other more than ever,” Little said.