Northam: Virginia coronavirus cases could peak in late May

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Projection models suggest Virginia could see a surge in coronavirus cases between late April and late May, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday.
“You need to know the truth. No sugarcoating,” Northam said as he delivered yet another sobering message about the pandemic, saying Virginians needed to be realistic in their expectations and prepare “for the long haul.”
The governor said he expected to release more information Friday about sites the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been evaluating for alternative hospital beds.
He also announced Virginia had received a third shipment of personal protective equipment from the federal Strategic National Stockpile, which has struggled to fill requests from states. The delivery included face shields, gowns and masks, “but we need more,” Northam said.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, increased Wednesday to at least 1,484, according to the latest figures available from the state Department of Health. Thirty-four deaths have been confirmed.
Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, said there were 305 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state, 145 of them in intensive care unit beds and 108 on ventilator support.
He noted the existence of a number of coronavirus projection models but said the state was working with the University of Virginia on one that would include Virginia-specific data and give “a much more accurate projection of what we can expect here in the Commonwealth.” Oliver said he expected that information to be available within “a few days.”
Northam said he understood the economic hardship many are facing due to business closures and layoffs. He said people who have federal mortgage loans through the Virginia Housing Department Authority could defer loan payments for up to three months as needed.
He also said the state was suspending evictions for anyone with public housing vouchers.
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran said the state is doing all it can to ensure the safety of inmates in custody of the Department of Corrections, which announced Tuesday the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in three women at a prison in Goochland. Three employees and a contract worker have also tested positive.
Moran said the state Parole Board has expedited its review of requests for early release of certain inmates. In March, the board approved the release of nearly 100 inmates, a substantial increase over the previous month, he said.
Because parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, there are a limited number of inmates who are eligible for early release, including those who fall into the “geriatric” category and those who were convicted before parole ended, Moran said in an interview.
He said the state has to balance public safety with grave concerns among inmate advocates and family members about the coronavirus spreading among inmates at the state’s 41 prisons.
“It’s a challenging process because we just don’t have low-level offenders in our prisons who are even eligible for parole,” he said.
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.
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