Gov. Northam halts elective surgeries; 3 more deaths in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — All elective surgeries at Virginia hospitals must be suspended to preserve the capacity of the state’s health care system amid the coronavirus pandemic, the governor ordered Wednesday.

State health officials reported a one-day increase of more than 100 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, bringing the total to just shy of 400. They also reported three new deaths, bringing the total to at least 12.

Two of the latest deaths from coronavirus were in the Peninsula health district, which stretches between Richmond and the southern portion of the Hampton Roads, said Dr. Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist. The third was in the Danville area, she said.

“We are going to see these numbers, unfortunately, continue to rise,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said. “We will continue to work on measures to contain the spread of this virus, and we are focusing our efforts on making sure that our medical system is prepared.”

Northam said his order postponing elective surgeries would preserve bed space and medical equipment such as ventilators, which some patients with more severe cases of COVID-19 need. His order does not apply to outpatient visits in hospital-based clinics, family planning services, or emergency needs, his office said.

The governor also said state officials were exploring new ways to ensure health care facilities stay adequately staffed, including deploying medical students, and have enough bed space. Work is underway to identify sites that could accommodate emergency hospital bed capacity installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if needed, he said.

The governor, who is a physician, had previously canceled school through the end of the academic year, ordered many nonessential businesses to close for 30 days, and told Virginians to stay home except for necessary trips to places like the doctor or grocery store.

Northam said work continues to secure adequate personal protective equipment, which is in short supply nationwide.

“I will add, because states are literally competing for supplies, the prices that we are seeing from some private vendors has jumped,” Northam said.

On Thursday an assisted-living center in Falls Church where two people tested positive for the virus put out a call to the community for gloves, masks and medical gowns.

“Our biggest issue on the horizon is keeping a robust supply of personal protective equipment,” The Kensington said in a statement.