Gov. Northam With Mask

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam demonstrates how to wear a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as he speaks during his daily news briefing inside the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond on Monday.

Gov. Ralph Northam provided new guidelines for Virginians to follow on Monday, announcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that everyone wear cloth masks when going out in public.

Northam and his officials were not wearing masks during his regular news conference but he said he would wear the mask when he left the building.

“Face coverings can help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Northam said. “If a person is wearing a face covering, it is less likely that droplets from a sneeze or from talking will spread out into the air.”

Wearing a covering offers protection against droplets as well, he said. A mask also serves as a reminder to keep from touching your face, he said.

Wearing a mask is not yet a requirement but concerns about stemming the flow of the virus continues to rise as the Virginia Department of Health reported Monday morning that 497 people have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19. Virginia has completed and returned 24,521 tests, revealing 2,878 positive cases and reported 54 deaths.

The Lord Fairfax Health District has 66 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 31 in Frederick County, 13 in Shenandoah County, 13 in Winchester City, five in Warren County, two in Page County and two in Clarke County.

Dr. Colin Greene, director of the health district, states in an email to the Northern Virginia Daily that four deaths have been reported in the Northwest Region, stretching from Winchester to Fredericksburg to Lexington, but he was not aware of any deaths in the district.

Various agencies have recorded preliminary recovery data and there has been some talk about testing coming online that will be able to identify people who have COVID-19 antibodies, indicating they may have already had the virus even if they didn’t show symptoms.

Symptomless patients are one of the troubles of fighting this virus, Northam said, as people can still spread the virus even if they don’t appear to be sick.

Though some recovery data is available, Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s health secretary, said the VDH is not collecting that figure. The department is kept up to speed on when a test returns positive, when someone is discharged from the hospital and when someone dies from the virus.

“We aren’t able to track the other folks with COVID-19,” he said. “The other thing you should realize is those numbers in and of themselves are most definitely an underestimate of the spread of the disease in the community.”

Without widespread testing, Oliver said, keeping track of the virus is difficult without adding in more figures to record.

Testing continues to be a struggle for Virginia and the U.S. broadly but some progress is coming on another front. Northam announced a $27 million contract with a Virginia company to supply personal protective equipment. The first shipment is scheduled to arrive in one week, he said.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, Northam reminded Virginians that the only way to bring the crisis to an end is to continue social distancing measures.

Many Virginians viewing the governor’s conference online voiced concerns about the lax restrictions on travel. While some businesses have been ordered to close, several non-essential businesses are still allowed to operate as long as they are abiding by social distancing guidelines.

Northam said he has no plans to force more businesses to shut their doors, even if they are in the non-essential category, as long as they abide by the social distancing rules. The rules are “straight forward,” Northam said and as long as businesses remain in compliance, they can remain open.

Northam did not address the concerns about people traveling to and from the non-essential businesses and the potential for interactions and cross-contamination while people are outside

– Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com