A seventh person has died from the coronavirus in Virginia.

A Virginia Beach man in his 70s died Monday from acute respiratory failure after testing positive for COVID-19, one of 18 cases in the state's largest city. The man had underlying health conditions, according to a news release from the state health department.

The man is the first COVID-19-related death reported by the Virginia Beach Health Department, which is conducting a "contact investigation" and is trying to identify the source of transmission.

“It is a sad day in our city after learning a Virginia Beach resident has died of the virus. Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” said Virginia Beach Health Director Dr. Demetria Lindsay. “Elderly individuals and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, including death. These at-risk individuals are strongly advised to take steps to minimize contact with others who are ill, practice social distancing, and stay at home as much as possible.”

Lindsay said that several recent cases in Virginia Beach "may represent the first indications of potential community transmission, the extent of which, would be determined by the outcome of the investigation."

“We must take action now," Lindsay said. "The choices of each of us affects our community. Public health practices by everyone are critical to slow and blunt the spread of COVID-19."

Virginia issues 'aggressive' COVID-19 rules for businesses

Virginia will order closed all businesses that center around recreation and entertainment, like movie theaters and bowling alleys, while allowing other businesses to remain open under some restrictions.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday that all businesses deemed non-essential by the state would be allowed to remain open as long as they follow sanitation guidelines and keep the number of patrons in their business under 10.

Essential businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, manufacturing plants and distribution centers, as well as transportation hubs like airports, bus depots, and others.

The order is less strict than that announced Monday by officials in Maryland, where all non-essential businesses were ordered closed. Nevertheless, it represents the most stringent guidance from Virginia officials in the state’s fight to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

LIST of essential and non-essential businesses

Northam described the state’s approach as “very aggressive” and said he would continue to look at the data and reevaluate the state’s restrictions. Monday’s order will remain in place for at least 30 days.

At the same time, Northam said "social distancing is the only path forward," and acknowledged the impact of restrictions on Virginia businesses.

"We have an economic crisis, but the sooner that we can get this health crisis under control, the sooner our economy will recover,” Northam said.

READ EXECUTIVE ORDER 53: Temporary restrictions for Virginia businesses

Restaurants, while considered essential, will be allowed to stay open only for carry-out and delivery, per the order. Included in that category are breweries and bars.

Northam also addressed gatherings at state and local parks, which swelled during a spell of warmer weather last week.

Northam said parks will remain open, but he urged the public to maintain social distancing guidelines, which call for gatherings of fewer than 10 people in a concentrated area. He said local law enforcement officials were encouraged to issue reminders wherever gatherings grew past the limit.

“We're not out there to penalize people. We certainly are not out there to put people in jails,” Northam said. “But, we are working with our localities, and for example, if a person from the sheriff's department sees a congregation on the beach of 10 or more, they will be reminded that is not accepted.”

House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in a statement the administration should carry on with "their efforts to carefully balance the need to protect Virginians' health as well as their livelihoods."

- Mel Leonor

Northam orders Virginia schools closed for rest of the school year

Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the year, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered Monday.

Northam’s order applies to all K-12 schools in the state, both public and private, and comes as the coronavirus continues to spread in Virginia. Richmond-area school districts had already announced that schools would be closed until at least April 13.

Virginia joins Kansas in announcing that schools will be closed for the rest of the year. All but four states - Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and Maine - are under mandated school closures, according to Education Week.

"As disruptive as this will be for students, families and staff, I believe it's the right decision given the healthcare crisis we're facing," Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said. "I applaud the Governor for taking this bold step now."

Northam announced March 13 that schools across the state, serving roughly 1.5 million students, would close from March 16 through at least March 27, a step the governor hoped would help mitigate the spread of the virus, which has killed six people in the state.

Virginia also joined other states in asking the U.S. Department of Education to waive mandatory testing requirements, something normally done in the spring. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Friday that the agency would accept applications for waivers, something Virginia is preparing.

The state should know if Standards of Learning tests are canceled for the year by mid-April.

Northam also said non-essential businesses can stay open -- ABC stores included -- but they must have 10 or fewer people, not including staff. Restaurants can open for takeout or delivery only.

"Gatherings of more than 10 are banned," Northam said. "We do not make these decisions lightly."

Essential businesses should adhere to "social distancing," Northam said. He defined essential businesses as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and others.

Recreation businesses, such as bowling alleys, theaters, etc., are ordered closed. 

- Justin Mattingly

Richmond police officer tests positive for COVID-19

A Richmond police officer is the first known case of a city employee testing positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from the city on Monday.

The officer, a woman in her 40s, is now at home in isolation and in stable condition, the statement said.

She had traveled to New York before the onset of her illness, according to the city, and a colleague who had been in close contact with the officer is also self-quarantined.

The police department and city’s health district are investigating if she had any potential close contact with residents during the performance of her duties.

“My first concern is for her and her family and the extended family of her co-workers,” said Police Chief William Smith. “We have taken precautions to limit exposure to our staff and to the community we serve. It is extremely important that we all continue to do our part in controlling the spread of the virus through the recommended protocols.”

- Ali Rockett

Bishop Knestout tests negative for COVID-19

On Monday, Bishop Barry C. Knestout, the head of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, was told by his healthcare provider that he doesn't have the coronavirus. 

The bishop entered self quarantine on Wednesday based on a doctor's recommendation after experiencing cold-like symptoms. 

"I want to thank the healthcare professionals and our first responders for their courage and sacrifice as they place themselves in harm's way to care for our communities throughout the diocese," Bishop Knestout said in a news release Monday. 

"I am also very grateful to all of you who have kept me in your prayers or who have sent me well wishes and notes of encouragement."

254 cases of COVID-19 in 40 Virginia cities, counties

The Virginia Department of Health reported on its website Monday that 254 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19.

That's an increase of 35 cases, or 16 percent, from the 219 reported at noon on Sunday, and an increase of 102, or 67 percent, from the 152 reported on Saturday. There have been six deaths.

A week ago, on Monday, March 16, state health officials reported there were 51 cases in Virginia.

There are coronavirus cases in 40 Virginia cities and counties, and 3,697 people have been tested in the state, according to the VDH numbers.

In Richmond and the three closest counties there are 30 cases: 11 in Henrico, 9 in Chesterfield, 8 in Richmond and 2 in Hanover.

On Thursday, state health officials said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers, and figures on the VDH website might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts. The state has a 5 p.m. cutoff for tabulating daily numbers, so the numbers reported on the website each day are 19 hours old.

This is the breakdown of cases across the state according to the VDH website:

43 - Fairfax County

34 - Arlington County

34 - James City County

18 - Prince William County

17 - Virginia Beach

15 - Loudoun County

11 - Henrico County

9 - Chesterfield County

8 - Richmond

6 - Alexandria

6 - Stafford County

5 - Williamsburg

5 - York County

4 - Charlottesville

4 - Norfolk

2 - Albemarle County

2 - Culpeper County

2 - Goochland County

2 - Gloucester County

2 - Hanover County

2 - Lee County

2 - Louisa County

2 - Newport News

2 - Rockingham County

2 - Spotsylvania County

1 - Accomack County

1 - Amherst County

1 - Bedford County

1 - Botetourt

1 - Charles City County

1 - Danville

1 - Fluvanna County

1 - Franklin County

1 - Harrisonburg

1 - Isle of Wight County

1 - Mecklenburg County

1 - Portsmouth

1 - Prince Edward County

1 - Rockbridge County

1 - Suffolk

Henrico lab with capacity to test 800-1000 samples per day begins testing for COVID-19

A Henrico County laboratory has developed a way to test nearly 10 times the number of potential COVID-19 kits as prior testing sites and shorten the turnaround time for those results, according to GENETWORx lab director Sarah Jacobs-Helber.

“By helping identify cases faster that will help with containment and the spread of the virus,” Jacobs-Helber said.

The laboratory begins shipping the virus test kits Monday.

It follows the same kit developed by the Centers for Disease Control, which could typically test about 100 samples per day with results taking between five to seven business days. But the Henrico laboratory has an instrument capable of testing between 800 and 1,000 samples per day, Jacobs-Helber said. Results can be provided to patients within 24 hours.

In a statement Monday, the laboratory said it could test up to 150,000 samples in April, which is more than the nearly 100,000 people tested in the United States to date.

The lab, which until recently focused of genetic and pharmacological testing, has been developing its testing capability since February, when only the Centers for Disease Control was confirming cases. Earlier this month, Jacobs-Helber said that the Food and Drug Administration put out guidelines opening the testing to commercial labs.

GENETWORx repurposed a portion of its “high complexity” Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified lab to meet the national need, the statement said.

"We want to do our part in contributing our expertise to help in the nation's battle against the coronavirus. The technology we have developed not only allows us to mass produce these much needed COVID-19 tests but also ensures an accurate test result in a timely 24-hour response time from receipt of the sample," William Miller, CEO of GENETWORx and a 20-year veteran of the molecular diagnostic laboratory testing industry, said in a statement.

Jacobs-Helber said they had to validate that their test was just as accurate and sensitive as the CDCs.

They will not only accept samples from Virginia hospitals and private doctors, but also those from New York. It is certified in all 50 states, so that number could grow.

“At a time when a lot of people are staying home, the people on my team are here doing important work,” Jacobs-Helber said. “We are really proud to serve Virginia and help our patients. We will get through this together.”

- Ali Rockett

Drive-through testing up in Chesterfield


Virginia officials announce three more deaths from COVID-19

Three more COVID-19 deaths were announced Sunday evening, bringing the statewide total to six.

All three patients were Peninsula residents. Two had previously tested positive for the virus, and the third was a newly positive case, officials said.

The patients, all women in their 80s, acquired the disease through an unknown source and died of respiratory failure.

‘Months not weeks,’ Northam on Sunday said to prepare for a long haul

Governor Ralph Northam warned Virginians the COVID-19 crisis will stretch out for several months at a press conference Sunday morning after announcing 67 new confirmed cases, a 44% increase from Saturday.

Northam announced the hike along with a plea that residents continue to stay inside and practice social distancing to curb the spread of the disease, which has so far claimed three lives in the state.

“Social distancing does not mean congregating on a crowded beach,” he admonished. “This is not a holiday. This is not a vacation.”

Northam also addressed the reported shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for medical personnel across the state and said the Virginia Department of Emergency Management shipped a major supply on Saturday to emergency medical services, health districts and hospitals across the state.

He also called on private companies to do more to help with supplies which include gloves, gowns, masks and respirators.

Northam encouraged hospitals to reschedule elective surgeries to free up workers, equipment and blood donations for the coming surge. Many already have.

“We know a majority of people who get sick will experience mild to moderate symptoms, so, as a country, our priority must be to protect the people who are most vulnerable: older people, people with underlying health conditions and our healthcare workers themselves,” Northam said.

Northam did not institute any further restrictions some states have already adopted such as mandating work-from-home policies, curfews or restricting travel to healthcare, essential businesses and other limited uses.

Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, fielded questions about the state’s prison population and said no tests have been run on inmates as of Sunday.

At least 38 inmates and employees at Rikers Island in New York City as of Saturday and Moran said restrictions have been put in place in attempts to limit the possible exposure of inmates in Virginia prisons.

The state has suspended visitations and transfers and has given guidance to the state parole board to review older inmates cases to expedite the release of those over 60 who would be most vulnerable in the case of an outbreak.

The state has also recommended alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders, such as home-monitoring systems, to reduce the jail population and limit the chances of exposure.

State epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said Sunday that the bulk of new confirmed cases were validated by private labs. Peake said the state has 1,000 tests available.

Updated numbers by region are: North, 95; East, 70; Central, 28; Northwest, 20; and Southwest, 6.

Northam said he would announce Monday an update on school closures at a daily press conference that will be moved to 2 p.m. going forward.

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