Businesses Feeling Effect of COVID-19 Community Spread

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By Connie Morrison —

As the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s COVID-19 case numbers surpassed 100 Friday, and Gov. Ralph Northam outlined the process for easing restrictions on Virginia businesses, some workplaces were feeling the effects of community spread of the disease.

Accomack County on Friday had 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and Northampton had 15, according to the Virginia Department of Health website http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. There were 18 hospitalizations and three deaths related to the virus. The three deaths were all in Accomack County.

The new cases put Accomack among the state’s highest concentrations of COVID-19 cases, with 309 per 100,000 residents. The Eastern Shore Health District listed five outbreaks in its database as of Friday, four of which were in congregate settings, which include workplaces, apartment buildings, military bases, and adult day care settings, among other locations.

The Dollar General in Parksley is closed “for the foreseeable future” after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19. Other employees at the store have been notified, said corporate spokesperson Angela Petkovic. “Upon learning this, we took preventative measures to close the store. After an extensive and thorough cleaning by a third-party cleaning company, we expect to resume operations to support the essential work and services that our stores are performing for the communities we serve,” she said. “All employees are being paid for regularly-scheduled hours during this time.”

The Dollar Tree is Exmore was closed this week, and a sign on the door said it was undergoing “sanitizing procedures … to prevent the potential spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).” Kayleigh M. Painter, manager of investor and media relations for Dollar Tree Inc., would not confirm whether any employees there had been diagnosed with the virus, but she wrote in an email to the Post, “Out of an abundance of caution, we have temporarily closed our store due to health precautions. Our Business Response Team is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials. Adhering to their guidance, our store is currently undergoing a thorough sanitizing procedure.”

Jeremy Eggers, spokesperson for NASA Wallops Flight Facility, said an employee in one of the Navy buildings there was “on-site while ill.” That employee was positive for COVID-19. “We followed appropriate protocols, to include cleaning facilities and self-quarantining of employees who came in contact with this person,” he said. “As of today, one of the employees who self-quarantined has tested positive for COVID-19.”

The majority of the workforce at Wallops is teleworking, Eggers said, with only those who are mission-essential reporting to the facility.

In Gov. Ralph Northam’s Friday briefing, he said that although the daily case numbers are still rising in Virginia, the rate at which they are rising is slowing.

“Our case count was initially doubling every three days,” he said, “but now it is taking nine days to double.” Hospitalization rates remain flat. “The good news is 1,600 patients in Virginia … have been treated successfully and discharged,” he said. The total cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia as of Friday is 11,594.

“We need to plan for that next phase,” said Northam. He gave a set of metrics that would need to be met: the percentage of positive tests and the number of hospitalizations both track downward over 14 days; sufficient capacity in hospital beds and intensive care units; and an increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We will get back to work by greatly increasing our testing, then tracing the contacts of people who test positive and isolating these individuals,” he said. “That is the key to moving forward.”

Phase one of easing restrictions will include some businesses reopening with strict safety restrictions, continued social distancing, continued teleworking, and face coverings recommended in public. “For business to resume, both customers and employees must feel safe,” Northam said.

The governor said that to create the blueprint for reopening, “We have been meeting with stakeholders, local governments, and business leaders” in a taskforce.  Two Eastern Shore business representatives are on the taskforce: Chad Ballard, of Cherrystone Campground in Cape Charles, and Josh Chapman, of Black Narrows Brewing, on Chincoteague.

“We want them to tell us what is the right way to ease restrictions,” Northam said.

Two sets of guidance will be developed, with overarching rules for businesses and industry-specific guidance for sectors like restaurants and nonessential retail.

“We cannot and will not lift restrictions the way you turn on a light switch,” Northam said. “We will do it responsibly and deliberately and it has to be grounded in data.”

On Thursday, Northam extended the ban on elective surgeries by one week — until May 1 — and the closure of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) public-facing offices by two weeks, until May 11.

Northam said the ongoing ban on elective surgeries is to conserve PPE for medical personnel fighting COVID-19. “We have increased our supply of PPE, but before we allow elective surgeries to resume, we must first be assured that the doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are fighting this virus or conducting emergency surgeries have the necessary supplies,” he said in a press release.

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