RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a 30-day state of emergency on Monday because of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and flu cases.
In a live press briefing, Northam said cases were as high as they've ever been.
The order is meant to make some rules more flexible so the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) could help hospitals and long-term care facilities that need a hand.
It 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.
The order will also allow more people with medical experience to give COVID-19 vaccines.
As COVID cases hit record levels in Virginia, Northam said it’s healthcare workers who are feeling the strain.
“They are tired. They're exhausted and they're burned out. That's why it's so important," he said. “This order will help in several ways, primarily by allowing hospitals to expand bed capacity and giving more flexibility and staffing. It also allows more use of telehealth and it expands which medical professionals can give vaccines.”
Northam and his lead counsel Cynthia Bailey broke down the details of the order.
“The goal is to provide some relief to hospitals by providing more beds - which the hospitals say they need," Bailey explained. "And in particular the hospitals need more help with their staffing throughout the system; It expands who can do work in Virginia who has an out of state license."
The order directs the State Health Commissioner to waive normal bed licensing requirements and allows hospitals to increase their licensed bed capacity.
“This isn't restrictive in any way," Northam said. "Instead, it relaxes some regulations to help get care to the people more quickly.”
This announcement came in Northam's last COVID-19 update as governor of Virginia, before governor-elect Glenn Youngkin is sworn in on Jan. 15.
"This transition has been much more efficient, and there has been a lot more communication, and that is what makes a democracy," Northam said in regards to the upcoming exchange of power.
He emphasized that although infection numbers have been on the rise since Thanksgiving, the new omicron variant has been observed as being mild among those who are vaccinated.
The vast majority of hospitalizations across the commonwealth for COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated, according to Northam and the VDH.
"Vaccinations are keeping people safe, even as omicron spreads," Northam said. "That is how vaccines are designed to work, and that is why we need to shift our thinking."
Last week, the Commonwealth reported its highest level of hospitalizations ever due to COVID-19.
Many who are reporting symptoms have had difficulty finding rapid tests in recent weeks due to the surge in cases.
As a response, the VDH will open nine additional testing sites statewide for PCR testing, which will process 500 tests a day, six days a week, according to Northam.
"I've watched people caring for each other in big and small ways," Northam said.