VA Governor Credits Lack Of Spread Among Staff To Mask-Wearing

RICHMOND, VA — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was cleared to hold in-person meetings Monday after spending 18 days in isolation due to a positive test for the coronavirus that caused minor symptoms in the governor. Both Northam and his wife — Pamela Northam — tested positive for the coronavirus on Sept. 25, a day after a worker in the governor’s mansion received a positive test after showing symptoms.

The local health department in Richmond performed contact tracing of 65 people who had come into close contact with Northam over a period of 48 hours prior to his positive test, all of whom were instructed to quarantine. None of the 65 people, many of whom were staff members, showed any symptoms for the coronavirus or tested positive during their quarantine period, and all of them are back to work, the governor said Tuesday at a news conference in Richmond.

Northam said the lack of spread among his staff demonstrates the effectiveness of wearing masks while on the job. “I truly believe that it is a testament to wearing these masks,” he said.

“My press secretary and official photographer and security detail traveled with me for several hours at a time the week that Pam and I were diagnosed,” Northam explained. “And we wear our masks in the car or on the plane, and thankfully none of them got sick. I would remind every Virginian, masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease, plain and simple.”

Northam compared the lack of spread of the coronavirus among his staff to what happened at the White House Rose Garden ceremony where President Donald Trump introduced Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court. Many people who attended the event, including Trump, have since tested positive for the coronavirus.

“A gathering where people cavalierly sat together, stood together, hugged each other … no masks, no social distancing, and look at the number of people who tested positive,” the governor said. “We talk about science. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.”

“The guidelines that we are following in Virginia, they work,” Northam emphasized. “And when we don’t follow those guidelines, we have outbreaks like you saw in Washington.”

Northam said that both he and his wife are no longer experiencing any symptoms of the coronavirus. But the governor stressed that he understands their experience with the disease was mild compared to the thousands of Virginians who have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19.

Virginia Coronavirus Data

On Tuesday, 1,235 new coronavirus cases were reported in Virginia, bringing the cumulative total to 160,805 cases. The positive average of PCR tests is at 4.5 percent statewide.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there have been 3,372 deaths and 11,598 hospitalizations among COVID-19 patients in Virginia. Tuesday’s total reflected 11 new deaths across the state.

On a regional basis, the eastern and northwest regions reported a positive average of PCR tests at 4.0 percent as of Oct. 9. Other regional

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Virginia governor critical of Trump’s coronavirus response in first appearance since testing positive

About 65 staff members who had close contact with the Northams were told to self-isolate for two weeks. Northam said none tested positive, which he called “a testament” to the value of wearing masks.

He noted that masks protected several staff members who could not physically distance from him before he tested positive, including a press secretary, photographer and security detail who traveled in an SUV and airplane with Northam.

He contrasted that with the largely mask-free Rose Garden ceremony last month that Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, has called a superspreader event. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and several others subsequently tested positive for the virus.

“No masks, no social distancing — and look at the number of people that tested positive,” Northam said Tuesday, referring to the White House event. “We talk about science, it doesn’t get any clearer than that … I would remind every Virginian: Masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease, plain and simple.”

Northam, a former Army doctor and pediatrician, said he and his wife’s symptoms were mild. He warned Virginians not to let down their guard, particularly as cooler fall temperatures and shrinking daylight hours make outdoor socializing less appealing.

The governor said he is unlikely to ease pandemic-related restrictions in the near term. He acknowledged pressure to return to in-person education at public schools, but urged continued caution.

“Numbers are going up in a number of states across this country, so we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods.”

The greater Washington region on Tuesday reported 1,763 additional coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths. Virginia added 1,235 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland added 482 cases and nine deaths, and the District added 46 cases and no deaths.

Virginia’s daily caseload was above its rolling seven-day average, lifting that number to 1,089 — the state’s highest daily average since Aug. 13. The seven-day average in Northern Virginia rose Tuesday to 264 cases, a four-month high in the region.

Daily caseloads Tuesday in Maryland and the District were below their rolling seven-day averages. It’s the third consecutive day that both jurisdictions reported new infections at or below their recent average amid an uptick that began earlier this month.

The recent caseload rise across the region has coincided with an outbreak at the White House, although local health officials have said it’s unclear whether there’s a connection.

Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

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