By Carol Vaughn —
Gov. Ralph Northam issued an emergency order Monday intended to help Virginia hospitals address rising numbers of patients being admitted with COVID-19 and to support health care workers.
In what he said would be his final press briefing of around 70 briefings his administration has held about COVID-19 since March 7, 2020, Northam announced the order, which declares a state of emergency and which took effect Monday, Jan. 10. The order expires Feb. 11 unless it is amended or rescinded before then.
“It has been a long 22 months for all of us,” Northam said, noting, “We’re not built for this kind of uncertainty for this long.”
Northam’s successor, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, takes the oath of office Saturday, Jan. 15.
Northam said the order is in response to the record number of hospitalizations Friday due to COVID-19.
The duration is based on a University of Virginia model that predicts the latest coronavirus surge will peak in the next few weeks.
“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Northam said. “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people.
Ultimately, the best thing everyone can do for our hospitals and their staff is to get vaccinated.” Northam said as of Monday, Jan. 17, he will be rejoining those ranks, returning to his previous job as a pediatric neurologist in Norfolk.
Executive Order 84 authorizes the Virginia Health Department commissioner, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services commissioner, the director of the Department of Medical Assistance Services, and the director of the Department of Health Professions to waive state regulations and normal procedures and to enter into contracts as required to implement the order for the next 30 days.
The order says the state health commissioner may authorize increases in licensed bed capacity at hospitals and nursing homes, waiving normal licensing requirements, to respond to the increased demand.
The order includes 20 separate provisions to address hospital bed capacity, staffing shortages, and vaccine accessibility.
Among them is that healthcare workers licensed by another state, and in good standing, under the order are deemed to be licensed to provide care of the same type in Virginia facilities during the 30 days.
The order also allows for telehealth services and says licensed practical nurses may administer the COVID-19 vaccine without supervision of a registered nurse or a doctor during the period.
It also authorizes experienced physician assistants to practice without a written supervisory agreement and increases provider-to-patient ratios.
It also broadens the settings in which licensed health professionals may give the vaccine and provides certain liability protection to healthcare workers during the state of emergency.
Nearly 90% of Virginia adults have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Virginia ranks in the top 10 most vaccinated states, according to Northam, who said the vast majority of people being admitted to the hospital have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
More than 3,500 patients in Virginia are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and ICU hospitalizations have more than doubled since Dec. 1, according to a press release about the order.
Northam noted that, while the omicron variant appears to be causing less severe symptoms overall, it is more highly transmissible than previous variants, resulting in more people becoming ill and being hospitalized.
Sentara Healthcare in Hampton Roads reported a 300% increase in COVID cases in just 10 days, according to Northam.
The number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators in Virginia as of Jan 10 was 314, compared to 146 on Dec. 1.
Northam noted Ballard Health in southwest Virginia last week reported 97% of its COVID-19 patients on ventilators were unvaccinated.
Northam in the release urged Virginians to take these steps:
- It’s a good idea to stay away from people who have not gotten their shots.
- It’s a good idea to wear a mask when you’re around other people, especially if you don’t know whether they have been vaccinated.
- If you have not gotten a booster shot, now is the time to do it. Shots are widely available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and local health departments all across Virginia.
- If you have children age five and above, now is the time to get them vaccinated. This will make it easier and safer for them to go back to school.
- If you have chosen not to get your shots, you need to wear a mask and practice social distancing — to protect yourself and other people.
The full text of the executive order can be viewed at https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-84-Action-to-Provide-Certain-Operational-Relief-for-Hospitals-and-Healthcare-Workers,-Via-Declaration-of-a-Limited-State-of-Emergency.pdf