Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency during a press conference Thursday afternoon in response to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Virginia. The Commonwealth recorded its first known coronavirus case Saturday at Fort Belvoir, and had 17 presumptive positive cases as of press time, including one in Central Virginia.
The emergency declaration came one day after the University extended spring break through March 19 and cancelled in-person classes until at least April 5 amid coronavirus concerns.
Northam’s Executive Order implemented Virginia’s Emergency Operations Plan and authorized up to $10,000,000 in state funding for “response and recovery operations.”
“Our top priority is to make sure Virginians stay safe and healthy, and that our response to this situation leaves no one behind,” the press briefing from Northam’s office said. “From our health department, to our schools, to our hospitals, to our transit systems, Virginia’s agencies and institutions have been thoroughly planning for every scenario. This emergency declaration will ensure we can continue to prepare for and appropriately respond to Virginians’ needs during this time.”
Northam also prohibited out-of-state work travel for state employees and canceled all state conferences and large events for the next 30 days. He then urged Virginians to take precautionary measures to avoid spreading the virus, such as avoiding large gatherings and airplane travel.
“We understand how critical it is to stay in front of this disease,” Northam said. “While it is very likely to spread, our actions can help mitigate how fast and how far this virus spreads. It is our responsibility, every one of us, to take this seriously and to do our part to help limit the spread of this disease.”
Public universities and school districts are responsible for making their own operational decisions during the state of emergency, which will be in full effect until June 10.
University President Jim Ryan and Dean of Students Allen Groves both asked students to remain at or return to their homes by this weekend in emails sent Wednesday. Groves appealed to students “in light of your responsibility as University citizen[s]” not to return to Grounds if they meet any of the CDC guidance for exposure to the coronavirus.
“Experts have also told us that the best time to take steps to prevent the spread is now, before the first case arrives,” Ryan said Wednesday in an email to the University community.
Charlottesville City and Albemarle County have also issued declarations of local emergency.