FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — For the third straight day Virginia health authorities are reporting a drop in the state’s number of new coronavirus cases.
The Virginia Department of Health reported 453 new cases in the last 24 hours for a total of 8,990. The death toll increased from 277 to 300 as the pandemic continues.
The drop in new cases marks the first time since the virus arrived in Virginia that the state has reported three consecutive days of declines, according to data kept by the Virginia Public Access Project.
Northam and federal officials have indicated they want to see a 14-day trend of declining cases before phasing in an end to the restrictions on businesses that Northam imposed in a series of executive orders to fight the spread of the virus.
Northam said at a news conference Monday that while “the numbers have slowed down a bit over the weekend, we still have 500 new cases each day.” He said he expects based on computer modeling that Virginia cases will not peak until later this week.
Republicans have questioned whether Northam’s executive orders closing nonessential businesses and requiring Virginians to stay at home, with limited exceptions, are excessive. Dozens of protesters gathered in Richmond last week, and another protest is scheduled for Wednesday.
Northam said he is as eager as anyone to return to normal, but is unwilling to do so until the virus is clearly in decline.
“I really don’t need people protesting to encourage me to open up our economy any sooner than we can do safely and responsibly,” Northam said.
Northam said he is in agreement with the guidelines issued by the federal government recommending a phased-in reopening of businesses after a two-week decline in cases, and that he finds it frustrating that Virginia has nevertheless been singled out for criticism by President Donald Trump.
Trump sent a tweet Friday urging “Liberate Virginia!” and followed up with further criticism at a press conference Saturday.
“We’re getting some mixed messages from the White House,” he said. “What this has done, I guess, it has entitled folks to have protests.”
At Monday’s news conference, Northam also announced the formation of a workgroup to help boost coronavirus testing in the state. The group will work to expand test sites and find needed supplies like testing swabs. It will also encourage physicians to order tests for patients; in some milder COVID-19 cases, doctors have skipped testing and simply told patients to go home and self-quarantine because testing has been cumbersome, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Also Monday, the Virginia Department of Corrections said it is stepping up coronavirus testing at state prisons. Every inmate and staff member at Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron, which houses a large number of older and disabled inmates, will be tested for the virus. Testing at Deerfield alone will require 1,600 test kits, officials said.
The state health department was sending staff into prisons Monday to facilitate the increased testing.
So far, more than 400 inmates have been tested, according to the Department of Corrections. Of those, 116 inmates have active COVID-19 cases, and 50 staff have active COVID-19 cases.
Also Monday, the organizers of a free health, vision and dental clinic held each summer in southwest Virginia announced the cancellation of this year’s event in light of the pandemic and concerns about large public gatherings. The event previously known as the Wise Remote Area Medical clinic, which organizers said has provided care to over 100,000 patients since 2000, had been scheduled for July 10-12.