D.C., Virginia and Maryland coronavirus updates for Friday

Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s health commissioner, announced new cases at a Friday news conference, including the first case in the state’s remote southwest region.

“So now every region of the state has at least one case of covid-19,” Oliver said.

There were 22 additional cases reported Friday in Virginia, bringing the statewide total to 116. The Virginia health department reported Friday afternoon that Alexandria and Chesterfield each dropped a case.

Oliver said the state’s testing capacity had increased after receiving new reagents “the other day,” and it now has 1,000 tests. Oliver said that number is still too small to allow “massive screening,” but he said it might be enough to ease restrictions on who can be tested, particularly among elderly nursing home residents.

Oliver said he expected the state to issue new testing criteria later Friday. Like Northam, Oliver stressed the need for continued social distancing as the only means of prevention.

“We do not have a medicine for covid-19,” Oliver said. “We do not have a vaccine for covid-19. The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing. So we need to all do that.”

Virginia has received nearly 200,000 N95 respirator masks, a stock of surgical masks, gowns and other materials “just the other day,” Oliver said.

The state is distributing the items to first responders and hospitals until it runs out.

“We have further orders in to the federal strategic national stockpile,” he said. Oliver said the state is also looking at whether it could obtain the N95 masks through “other vendors,” possibly from non-medical industries that use the masks.

Saying he wanted to clear up some “misinformation,” Northam clarified that he has not mobilized the National Guard. The guard is “activated” whenever the governor declares a state of emergency, whether for storms or pandemics. But that means the guard is “on standby,” he said, not actually mobilized.

“They’ve been activated,” Northam said. “But I have not made a decision to deploy them or mobilize them.”

Northam wound up by thanking workers on the “front lines” – from the University of Virginia scientists who have developed a test for use in its health system to the grocery store clerks trying to keep shelves stocked. And he once again asked Virginians to heed his warnings about social distancing, even as they head into a weekend with temperatures in the 80s.

“It is a beautiful day. It is Friday,” Northam said. “And we encourage people to get outside, and get fresh air, get exercise, stay healthy, get morale up, the self-esteem. But we do encourage them to keep their distance.”

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