Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is asking residents to take cautions around the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as coronavirus cases rise — and says simple behaviors like hand-washing and mask-wearing are the best tools available to slow the pandemic.
“My message today is for every Virginian,” Northam said Tuesday. “We all need to step up our vigilance and our precautions, especially as we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday.”
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Virginia’s seven-day rolling average of coronavirus cases hit a new peak on Tuesday. Northam attributed some of the increase in cases to more testing but said the positivity rate has also risen.
The rise is particularly concerning because colder weather and the holiday season could lead people to gather more often indoors, where there’s a greater likelihood of spreading coronavirus.
“We cannot get complacent or let our guard down for the holidays,” Northam said.
Mitigating the spread of the disease is Virginia’s big focus, and that means a campaign to promote healthy behaviors, Northam said.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
Promoting frequent hand-washing, wearing masks, staying home if you are sick and maintaining a social distance are among the best tools Virginia has to combat the rapid spread of coronavirus, Northam said.
If you do gather with people outside your household for Thanksgiving, Virginia officials encouraged taking some extra precautions. Keep gatherings small, celebrate outside if possible and keep indoor areas well-ventilated with open windows.
Northam said that his administration isn’t focused on bringing back pandemic-related business closures and shutdowns at this point, but wants to incentivize residents by stressing that taking simple precautions can protect vulnerable people such as older family members and essential workers.
Northam said he’s hopeful that President-elect Joe Biden will help promote public health behaviors like masking.
Virginia is also bolstering its testing capabilities to ensure labs in areas with potential outbreaks don't become overwhelmed. The One Lab network is a coordinated testing system created to ensure the state can be "nimble" and quick in responding to surges.
Slowing the pandemic is especially important in Southwestern Virginia, where the positivity rate has hit 9%. Many hospitals in that area may not have enough nurses and technicians to handle a major surge, Northam said.
Northam said the news that data suggests a Pfizer vaccine is up to 90% effective is “very, very encouraging.”
Virginia will do its own review to ensure any federally-approved vaccine is safe and effective and is already preparing for a months-long rollout once it’s ready.
“This isn’t the magic bullet. Any approved vaccination will still take months to distribute,” Northam said.