Despite optimism from President Donald Trump that the U.S. will be humming along at full force by Easter, Gov. Ralph Northam said on Tuesday that scientists predict two to three more months of social distancing will be needed as the COVID-19 crisis continues to shut people inside.
Northam and state leaders are working to stem the tide of a virus that has infected 290 people in Virginia, hospitalizing 45 of them and killing seven. The state, as of Tuesday afternoon, had conducted 4,470 tests.
A day after announcing that all non-essential businesses will close and all primary education will see an early end to the year, Northam put a time frame on his calls for closures. Non-essential businesses will stay closed for the next 30 days, Northam said. Any businesses that are considered essential, including grocery stores and health services, will have to abide by strict social distancing guidelines if they wish to remain open.
“These are not easy decisions,” Northam said, noting the pain it is inflicting on Virginians who are out of work for the foreseeable future. “Every decision we make is based on science and data and as your governor, I take full responsibility.”
Politicians in Washington have hesitated to pass a third spending package that would introduce roughly $2 trillion into the economy via grants, loans and salaries.
Northam, along with Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington D.C. and Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, issued a joint statement Monday evening calling on Congress to make sure that funding gets out of the Capitol promptly.
“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we call on the federal government to provide additional financial support to help our jurisdictions maintain the health and safety of the region and the federal workers who serve the American people,” their statement read. “The COVID-19 virus knows neither borders nor boundaries – it does not recognize state or city lines. We are working closely together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Northam said Virginia and Maryland are partnering to make sure first responders and hospitals have the necessary equipment to continue providing care for COVID-19 patients. Chief among the resource-sharing will be ventilators, which can be moved between the states as well as around them as needed.
While testing capacity continues to rise — as well as hospitalizations — Dr. Daniel Carey, secretary of health and human services, told reporters during Northam’s news conference on Tuesday that they do not know what the state’s hospital capacity for COVID-19 treatment is. That number will be available soon, he said.
In the meantime, Northam encouraged everyone to stay at home as much as possible to prevent making the situation more difficult to contain. When asked if the numbers reported by the Virginia Department of Health show that social distancing has been effective, Northam responded by saying that science and data say that it is the only thing that can be effective.
“We have taken aggressive steps to keep Virginians safe,” Northam said. “I wouldn’t say so much, the numbers tell us that it’s working but science. Science and experience dealing with infection. Dealing with pandemics tells us that these are the things we need to do. And if we comply with them they will work.”