Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order Thursday intended to continue offering hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers extra flexibility as they deal with the latest COVID-19 surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The state's newly inaugurated Republican chief executive also laid out what he called his “ COVID Action Plan." He pledged to prioritize vaccine education, outreach and distribution, and to tackle testing supply shortages, which have been a national problem for weeks.
“Today’s announcements are designed to give Virginians the tools and resources needed to make the best decisions for their families, strengthen our hospital systems, and ensure a strong recovery as we encounter new challenges associated with the pandemic that has become part of our everyday life," he said in a statement.
Youngkin has been a vocal advocate of vaccination efforts but opposes both vaccine and mask mandates. As one of his first acts as governor after being sworn in Saturday, he ended a vaccinate-or-test mandate for the state workforce and issued an executive order that aims to let parents opt out of classroom mask mandates. That order was immediately met with pushback from many school districts and is facing at least one legal challenge.
Thursday's announcements offered more specifics about how he plans to lead to the fight against the virus that has killed nearly 16,000 Virginians.
His executive order addressing health care providers comes after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam took a similar step last week aimed at adding flexibility and easing staffing shortages.
Among other provisions, Youngkin's order allows greater flexibility in executing contracts; lets hospitals and nursing home more rapidly expand bed capacity; and adds flexibility for licensed out-of-state health care professionals to practice in Virginia.
Sean Connaughton, president and CEO of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, an advocacy group for hospitals and other health providers, called the order “a welcome and necessary step.”
“In the past month, Virginia hospitals have encountered some of the most challenging circumstances seen since the pandemic began. A rapidly escalating surge has led to record-setting hospitalizations that are straining the capacity of the health care delivery system, its staff, and resources,” he said in a statement.
Youngkin, who visited a Roanoke hospital and a health department COVID-19 testing center on Thursday, said his administration would “devote additional resources” to encouraging unvaccinated Virginians to get the vaccine and booster. He said those efforts would include 120 vaccine events and the deployment of additional mobile vaccine units to rural communities. About 68.5% of the state's population is fully vaccinated, according to health department data.
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To help mitigate the COVID-19 test supply shortage, the governor said his administration would be “redeploying” unused tests at state agencies to schools, hospitals and nursing facilities and expediting pending orders of rapid tests.
Youngkin also said his administration would be rolling out new guidance for the use of rapid tests.
“The Governor will discourage mass testing for the purposes of pre-screening, discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild symptoms to stay home and use discretion on testing," the text of his plan said.