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Virginia State Epidemiologist Lilian Peake, center, speaks as Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, left, and Gov Ralph Northam, right, listen during a news conference on the coronavirus Thursday at the Patrick Henry Building.

RICHMOND —Virginia health officials will soon issue new guidance making it easier for nursing home residents to be tested for COVID-19.

State health commissioner Norman Oliver said that patients with symptoms that align with COVID-19, and meet other risk factors, might be eligible for the test without undergoing testing for other respiratory illnesses.

“It's very clear that our most vulnerable population is the elderly, particularly elderly people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, assisted living facilities and so on,” Oliver said during a briefing with reporters. “We've always had, as part of our testing criteria, allowing for increased testing in those facilities, but we're thinking about changing it so that it's even less restrictive.”

Oliver said that a slate of tests for respiratory illnesses can take up to a week to be completed. For ill, elderly patients in a long-term care facility, that might be too long to wait, Oliver said.

The new guidance is bolstered by a slight increase in the state’s testing capacity. As of midday Friday, Virginia had the capacity to perform roughly 1,000 COVID-19 tests — higher capacity than the state has had in past weeks.

When testing might become widely available remains unclear. Right now, only people who have known contact with a positive case and showing symptoms are eligible to be tested, along with those in high-risk groups, like the elderly.

"While we have more than 1,000 tests, we don't have enough to do mass testing," Oliver said.

Virginia has two known cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. 

• A man in his mid-80s who lives at the Westminster Canterbury retirement community in the Richmond area tested positive Tuesday.

• A man at an assisted living and memory care facility in Fairfax County, tested positive and has been in isolation Saturday.


Virginia health officials are reporting 114 positive cases of COVID-19, with 35 tests pending at the state lab, and more from private labs.

That's an increase of 20 from Thursday.

Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said the state's testing capacity is at more than 1,000 tests as of midday Friday. The figure represents the number of tests the state lab can conduct given a shortage of testing supplies.

Gov. Ralph Northam thanked individuals and businesses complying with the statewide call for "social distancing."

Still, he said the state was ready to enforce noncompliance.

"We’re hearing reports of some businesses being noncompliant. Our localities have the authority to enforce the 10-person limit at restaurants, theaters and fitness centers. I fully expect them to use it when needed," Northam said.

"But, many people, many businesses are doing the right thing, and for that, we thank them."

(This is breaking news. This story will be updated.)

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