With Virus Cases Rising, Northam Halts Elective Surgeries

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

All elective surgeries at Virginia hospitals must be suspended to preserve the capacity of the state's health care system amid the coronavirus pandemic, the governor ordered Wednesday.

Health officials reported a one-day increase of more than 100 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, bringingthe total to just shy of 400. They also reported new deaths, bringing the total to more than a dozen.

“We are going to see these numbers, unfortunately, continue to rise," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said. “We will continue to work on measures to contain the spread of this virus, and we are focusing our efforts on making sure that our medical system is prepared."

Northam said his orderpostponing elective surgerieswould preserve bed space and medical equipment such as ventilators, which some patients with more severe cases of COVID-19 need. His order does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs, his office said.

The governor also said state officials were exploring new ways to ensure health care facilities stay adequately staffed, including deploying medical students, and have enough bed space. Work is underway to identify sites that could accommodate emergency hospital bed capacity installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if needed, he said.

“If one looks at the curves of the hospitalizations that we’re seeing, of the increased cases that we’re seeing, not only here in Virginia but in other areas of the country, we anticipate overburdening the capacity of our current health care system," he said. “We see that coming.”

Northam also called on Virginians to sign up with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer force that responds to emergencies.

The governor, who is a physician, had previously canceled school through the end of the academic year, ordered many nonessential businesses to close for 30 days, and told Virginians to stay home except for necessary trips to places like the doctor or grocery store.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Northam said work continues to secure adequate personal protective equipment, which is in short supply nationwide.

“I will add, because states are literally competing for supplies, the prices that we are seeing from some private vendors has jumped," Northam said.

On Thursday an assisted-living center in Falls Church where two people tested positive for the virus put out a call to the community for gloves, masks and medical gowns.

“Our biggest issue on the horizon is keeping a robust supply of personal protective equipment,” The Kensington said in a statement.

Two of the latest deaths from coronavirus were in the Peninsula health district, which stretches between Richmond and the southern portion of the Hampton Roads, said Dr. Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist. The third was in the Danville area, she said.

Wednesday evening, a local health department official confirmed the death of a third patient at a Henrico County rehabilitation facility.

Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare said in a statement that 14 of its residents and four workers have tested positive for the virus.


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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