Instead of his usual press briefings in Richmond, Gov. Ralph Northam headed to Fairfax County to address the coronavirus pandemic’s racial disparities in Virginia.
Surrounded by state and local elected officials, Northam held a bilingual press briefing at the Fairfax County Government Center today (Thursday) to talk about the disproportionate impacts of the virus on Black and Hispanic communities.
Northam said that 45% of the COVID-19 cases and 35% of the resulting hospitalizations affect the Hispanic and Latino communities, even though they account for approximately 10% of Virginia’s population.
The concern is not new. For the last several months, Fairfax County’s Hispanic population has been hit hard by COVID-19. Local officials working to address the growing racial disparity say the county needs more testing and increased outreach to vulnerable communities.
“Everyone, everyone in Virginia deserves to have access to testing and access to care,” Northam said.
Jeff McKay, the chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, highlighted that the county has seen more than 69,000 PCR testing encounters so far — the highest in Virginia.
The county is now shifting to community testing sites and is continuing to hire contact tracers, who “reflect the demographics of the populations they are serving,” McKay said.
McKay also pointed to other county resources, like a list of COVID-19 testing sites and the multi-lingual call center (703-222-0880) to connect residents to housing, food, financial assistance and more.
“Our board feels strongly that the disproportionality of this pandemic affects all of our residents in this county,” McKay said.
“I hope that this will help set a new tone of trust and support with our Latino communities,” Northam said about Prince William County’s decision.
Northam also addressed the current and future plans for rolling back more COVID-19 restrictions.
While Virginia’s COVID-19 data are “trending in a positive direction,” the state will not enter Phase Three this week, he said. He did, though, unveil what that phase will look like.
Phase Three includes:
- safer at home recommendation
- encourage teleworking
- face coverings required in indoor public spaces
- social gatherings may include up to 250 people
- cap on non-essential retail lifted
“Just because there are more places to go does not mean you need to go there,” Northam said. “The virus has not gone anywhere. We are adapting our lives around it, but it has not changed.”
Northam said that health officials need more time to evaluate the COVID-19 data. Next Friday, June 26, is the earliest date under consideration for Virginia to enter Phase Three, he said.
“We want to make sure that we are inclusive,” Northam said in response to why he chose to hold his press briefing in Northern Virginia instead of Richmond, adding that he met with local leaders before the press briefing.
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