Northam COVID-19

Gov. Ralph Northam walks past a projected slogan as he enters the room Tuesday to conduct a COVID-19 media briefing inside the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond.

Gov. Ralph Northam says the state stands ready to supply protective equipment to nursing homes and clinics that need it, but only after they have “exhausted” private supply chains.

As state officials report that Virginia’s hospitals have adequate supplies to treat COVID-19 patients, the spotlight has turned to nursing homes, urgent care clinics and other health care settings.

A dashboard published by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association said Wednesday that at least 21 nursing homes — where the state has seen the deadliest outbreaks — lack an adequate supply of gowns and 10 did not have access to N-95 masks. In comparison, the website showed no hospitals in need of additional personal protective equipment in the next 72 hours.

Northam said Wednesday that the state’s priority for its public stockpile is “to support the state COVID-19 response and testing.” But, Northam said, the state stands ready to help any health care setting that might be working with COVID-19 patients.

“Health care providers should exhaust private supply chains before requesting state assistance. At the same time, we’ve been clear that no one treating COVID-19 patients, or supporting COVID-19-related activities like testing, should go without [personal protective equipment].”

Northam said the Department of General Services is performing “rapid reviews” of vendors selling COVID-19 supplies and services to ease access to facilities in need.

Northam said the state has so far distributed 794,000 N-95 respirators, 1.3 million surgical masks, 3 million gloves, 285,000 gowns, 427,000 face shields, and 24,000 containers of hand sanitizer.

Association health plans

Also Wednesday, Northam announced he would veto legislation from the regular General Assembly session that would have let professional associations work with insurance companies to purchase health insurance plans.

The legislation would have allowed groups of more than 50 people to negotiate plans for their group, circumventing the individual health insurance marketplace set up for people not covered through their employer. The legislation was backed by Virginia Realtors, a trade group. Many of its members are self-employed and lack employer health insurance.

“Those bills would address health insurance cost concerns for target segments of the population, but in doing so, would increase the cost of insurance for sick Virginians in the marketplace,” Northam said.

The measures — Senate Bill 235, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax; House Bill 735, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery; and Senate Bill 861, sponsored by Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg — cleared the legislature with broad, bipartisan support. Northam had sought to amend the bills, adding a re-enactment clause that would have required lawmakers to pass the measures again next year. The General Assembly rejected the amendments during its veto session in April. Northam faced a Friday night deadline to sign or veto the measures.

In an opinion column last month, Hurst urged fellow lawmakers to reject Northam’s proposed delay.

“Many of these hard-working Virginians go without health care coverage because of the high cost of health plans sold in Virginia’s insurance markets,” Hurst wrote in a piece published by The Roanoke Times.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, chaired by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, said in a statement Wednesday that it backed Northam’s decision.

“A marketplace that many working Virginians rely on to meet their health care needs must be supported and enhanced, not undermined,” the group said.

Northam announced he will create a new work group to “continue identifying ways we can reduce costs and improve the quality of health care coverage for all Virginians.” Details about the work group’s name or its membership were not immediately available.

“I appreciate the work of proponents of these bills, and hope they will engage with the new work group to find more broad-based health care solutions for all Virginians,” Northam said

Daily update

The Virginia Department of Health reported Wednesday that the state has 32,908 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 763 from the 32,145 reported Tuesday.

But as the case numbers climb, VDH figures show the seven-day moving average has been on a downward trend since the start of May.

The 32,908 cases include 31,247 confirmed cases and 1,661 probable cases. Also, there are 1,074 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 1,040 confirmed and 34 probable. That’s an increase of 33 from the 1,041 reported Tuesday.

The VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19, but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.

In the Richmond area, there are 3,494 cases: 1,321 in Henrico County; 1,100 in Chesterfield County, 835 in Richmond and 238 in Hanover County.

The region has 181 deaths attributed to the virus: 114 in Henrico, 29 in Chesterfield, 19 in Richmond and 19 in Hanover. This is the same number of deaths reported for the region on Tuesday.

Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality with more than 1.1 million people, has the most cases with 8,163 and 302 deaths.

VDH said there are 311 outbreaks in the state, 184 in long-term care facilities. These facilities also account for 636 of the state’s 1,074 deaths attributed to the virus.

State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.

mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

Paul Whelan contributed to this report.

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