Billions of dollars in aid will be flowing out of Washington soon into state coffers and personal pocketbooks to salvage some of the economic downturn thrust upon Americans in recent weeks by COVID-19.
The coronavirus deaths and cases continue to climb in Virginia as testing becomes more widely available and community contamination is making it harder for people to avoid the virus. On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported that the 5,370 tests that have returned show 391 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. So far in Virginia, the virus has killed nine and 59 people have been hospitalized.
The creeping virus that has forced state and federal leaders’ hands against businesses, telling them to curb their services or shut their doors completely, spurred Congress into action and resulted in a $2 trillion spending package that will send at least $1.5 billion to every state and provides $250 billion in checks for individuals.
On Wednesday, Northam deferred comments on the Senate bill to state Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne but addressed some of the health-care-related issues himself.
Speaking from a place of experience, Northam, who is a doctor, explained that patients in intensive care units use millions of resources. Many patients will have as many as 10 doctors caring for them, he said. Most COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized will require spaces in intensive care units.
Doctors who are caring for patients in ICUs move through their personal protective equipment (PPE) quickly, Northam said, as they use a new mask, gown and gloves for every visit. One day of care for an ICU with 40 patients results in thousands of pieces of equipment being used up.
To prepare hospitals for such an event, Northam announced another executive order that will put all elective surgeries on hold. He said the beds and equipment — including ventilators — used for those procedures will be held open for potential COVID-19 patients instead.
The state has also been in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify spaces where make-shift hospitals can be established if space becomes an issue.
“It has not been necessary but preparation is everything here,” Northam said.
Sen. Tim Kaine said on Wednesday that the spending bill focuses on five key areas of interest: individuals, small businesses, large businesses, state and local governments and the country’s hospital system.
Kaine said the spending package that the Senate passed late Tuesday night still has to move through the House of Representatives, but with a Democratic majority in the lower chamber and strong support from the speaker, he is hopeful it will move quickly. In the meantime, he said, the White House can get to work on figuring out the logistics of how people will receive their checks.
Senators worked across the aisle to work out a deal that will send checks to most people in the country. Individuals will receive $1,200 or $2,400 as a couple, plus $500 for every dependent child they claim on their tax return. Benefits will decrease for individuals making roughly $75,000 a year, Kaine said and will disappear for individuals making more than $100,000.
In addition to the checks, the bill also worked out a way for those who are left without work can receive unemployment benefits that cover nearly all of their normal pay for four months, as well as $600 a week.
Northam has been providing daily updates on the COVID-19 situation but starting this week moved the updates to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. The governor is streaming his updates on Twitter and Facebook.