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Hampton Roads hospitals say 30-day state of emergency will help as they reach capacity

The state of emergency will help hospitals add more beds, open up more tasks to physician assistants and allow out-of-state medical workers to lend a hand.

NORFOLK, Va. — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations hit record levels in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam says it’s time to step in and help with a state of emergency declaration.

"This isn't restrictive in any way. Instead, it relaxes some regulations to help get care to the people more quickly," Northam said in a press conference on Monday.

He said this emergency declaration will help hospitals add more beds, open up more tasks to physician assistants and allow out-of-state medical workers to lend a hand in Virginia.

It will also allow more people with medical experience to give COVID-19 vaccines.

RELATED: Gov. Ralph Northam declares 30-day state of emergency for Virginia due to COVID-19

Dr. Todd Parker, an emergency physician with Riverside Health System, said the health system is full.

"We’re already at capacity and well past capacity," he says. "We’ve never really seen with the previous variants a surge like this, of this rapidity and this intensity and simply, it’s overwhelming hospitals and ERs."

However, he said this order will help with that.

"Without the state of emergency, the hospitals have a very strict set of guidelines that we have to follow. This gives us some flexibility to get creative in how we’re gonna see and care for these patients," Parker said. "Whether it be telehealth, whether it be setting up more testing sites, whether it be allowing us ways to cycle more patients through the emergency department or see patients in an emergency setting."

RELATED: Riverside Health System breaks its record for number of COVID-19 hospitalizations

According to Sentara’s COVID-19 dashboard on Monday, they currently have 475 people hospitalized with the virus across their Hampton Roads hospitals.

Dr. Jordan Asher, executive vice president at Sentara Healthcare, agreed this will help lift a number of burdens.

"Absolutely we believe that it will help. It will help on able to expand to more beds. It will help on staffing issues. It will help on clinician issues. It will help on all types of fronts," he says.

He said with Omicron as contagious as it is, that’s what is sending so many people to their hospitals at once.

"We hate to have an emergency order. No one wants an emergency order, but in the situation that we’re in. When things are as busy as they are, we do appreciate that help and support from the governor’s office."

Parker said not everyone in their hospital is there because of COVID-19, but that's what is making their emergency rooms even more full.

"A lot of what we are dealing with right now are people with real medical conditions that have put their care off for the last year and a half. We need to be able to care for all of those people right now and that in and of itself was already leading to sort of record volumes, if you will, even before this Omicron surge happened."

RELATED: Virginia hits record high in COVID-19 hospitalizations, affecting healthcare operations

The Virginia College of Emergency Physicians also applauded Northam's order.

“We thank Governor Northam and his team for this critical action, which should provide necessary relief to emergency departments and hospitals statewide. The declaration highlights the important role ERs play as a safety net for all people every day. We also encourage Virginians in need of a COVID-19 test to use one of the many new community testing sites statewide, as emergency departments have only a limited supply and test only high-risk, symptomatic patients," they said in a statement. "By the way: Get vaccinated and boosted. When you do, you avoid ever coming here with serious symptoms and you’ll keep ERs open to your neighbors and friends who truly need us.”

13News Now reached out to Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s team to find out if he intends to uphold this state of emergency once he takes office in just a few days.

“Governor-elect Youngkin and his transition team have been in frequent contact with hospital systems and medical professionals throughout the transition, and it is clear that our hospital systems continue to experience an historic staffing crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic creates new challenges for them. Governor-elect Youngkin supports the use of tailored executive action that removes staffing barriers and provides healthcare providers the flexibility in order to deliver high-quality care and give overworked medical professionals the relief they need,” transition aide Devin O'Malley said in a statement.