November 19, 2020: Northam, Fauci address the COVID-19 pandemic a week before Thanksgiving

  
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For today’s show, I want to take an owner’s draw and tell you to take a listen to the latest edition of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report, a podcast I began back in March to help document Virginia’s response to the pandemic. Just before I finished this program, I published the 50th episode which expands on many of the soundbites you’ll hear in this one. Thank you to all who are financially supporting this work. 

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There are another 1,954 new cases of COVID-19 reported today by the Virginia Department of Health, bringing the seven-day average for new daily cases to 1,823. The seven-day average for positive tests remains at 7.1 percent for a second straight day. In the Blue Ridge Health District there are another 30 new cases reported today, and the seven-day average for new daily cases is at 26 per day.  

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam explained yesterday that new data showing a national surge in COVID-19 cases led him to impose new restrictions late last week.

“What really affected me is seeing mobile morgues outside of hospitals because there’s no place to put the dead,” Northam said. “We don’t need that to happen in Virginia and so I follow the data every day and I made that decision Friday morning.” 

Northam said he will continue to look at the data and will make further announcements if needed. 

At a press conference yesterday, Virginia Health Commissioner Norm Oliver described the situation.

“Cases have been increasing steadily over the past period,” Oliver said. “Our case incidence rate was about a month ago around 9 cases per 100,000 populations and now we’re doubling that and approaching 20 cases per 100,000.”

As of yesterday, the Virginia Department of Health reported that there have been three million PCR tests over the course of the pandemic. In the last week, there have been 130,000 tests processed.

“We have been doing a lot of testing,” Northam said. “Our average testing is about 20,000 tests per day.” 

Last night, Ryan McKay of the Blue Ridge Health District addressed the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. He said that Virginia continues to do better than most states in handling the pandemic.

“While we’re seeing an increase, it’s not quite as sharp as some of our surrounding states and certainly not to the extent that we are seeing in the upper midwest,” McKay said. 

McKay showed the Board of Supervisors data that showed how tougher restrictions in some parts of Virginia helped bring down caseloads at different points of the pandemic. Right now, the numbers continue to mount. 

“We have been increasing in our cases per 100,000 per day for the last 27 days and again all of this contributes to decision-making that is happening that informs making those amendments to  executive order 63 and 64 that implements the stronger mitigation strategy,” McKay said. 

That refers to the limitation of social gatherings to 25 people or less, the lowering of the age for mask requirements to 5, and ending alcohol sales in restaurants at ten p.m.  

"While the virus can certainly spread at restaurants before ten, we know that the later the event gets the more likely people are to drink and forget about social distancing,” Northam said.

It’s been eight months since Congress passed the last federal relief package for states across America. Northam wants them to take action again soon. 

“We are encouraging Congress to pass another stimulus package,” Northam said. “I’ve been in touch with members of our Congressional delegation just this week about this. Now that the election is behind us, Congress needs to come together to get this done and they need to get it done now.” 

Today’s positive percentage in the Blue Ridge Health District is 1.8 percent. McKay said this metric is not necessarily a good indicator of community spread. 

“What we have found is that percent positive, while it is an indicator of what may be happening here, it has really been a great reflection of what could be happening locally,” McKay said.  “The University of Virginia to their credit has drastically increased access to testing for students and faculty.  Testing across our district particularly in Albemarle and Charlottesville has increased significantly over time so that number may not be a great reflection of what’s truly occurring in our community.”

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The nation’s leading expert on pandemics addressed doctors, health care workers, and the general public yesterday. 

"We are in the process of another resurgence as we enter into the much colder months of the late fall and early winter as people go indoors much more than outdoors and they're gathering with friends and with family,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a position he has held since 1984.

Fauci said this is the third outbreak of a novel coronavirus, but this one has not been contained like SARS or MERS had been earlier in the century. He talked about two vaccines that have been developed and said they show promise. But people have to continue to follow rules in place to fight further spread.

"We cannot abandon public health measures, even in the presence of a vaccine that's highly efficacious. A, because it's going to take a while to get the community completely protected as you would say. By completely, a veil of protection that truly is herd immunity for this particular infection. So we don't want there to be a signal to the community that 'ah, we have a vaccine so let down our guard!' No! It should actually be an incentive to double down until we get everybody vaccinated."

Fauci was the last guest speaker in the fall semester of the University of Virginia Medical Hour. The full video is expected to be posted shortly. 

For more on this topic, take a listen to the latest edition of the Charlottesville Quarantine Report

Today in meetings, Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek will hold a virtual town hall meeting for the White Hall Magisterial District. Albemarle has six supervisors, each of whom represent a different magisterial district. That is different from Charlottesville, which elects five people at-large. But because of COVID, Albemarle’s in-person town halls have not been possible this year. The virtual town hall beginning at 7 p.m. is the first of this era. You can ask questions in advance by sending an email to amallek@albemarle.org or asking in the session. (meeting info)

Other meetings:

  • The Fifth and Avon Community Advisory Committee meets at 7 p.m. (meeting info)

  • The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. (meeting info)

  • The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors meets at 7 p.m. (meeting info)