Opinion: Commentary: Virginia’s Responses to Coronavirus

Opinion: Commentary: Virginia’s Responses to Coronavirus

This week, I had planned to write about some of the major bills that we passed in the 2020 session of the General Assembly, but in light of the coronavirus risk and its impacts, I decided that updating the community on the Commonwealth’s responses is a priority. Here is where things stand as of Sunday, March 22. Please keep in mind this will be published later and things change daily.

Multiple websites offer guidance and updates on the coronavirus and how to address it. The state’s website is vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and I post daily updates on my blog, scottsurovell.blogspot.com.

I have spent most of the entire week home with my family like many other people. My law firm decided to remain open with a skeleton crew, four people versus 30 in the office every day, until further notice. I had my shift on Friday. Otherwise, I worked on my constituents’ problems and my legal responsibilities from home and had some quality family time.

Coronavirus infections in Virginia continue to rise at a logarithmic rate. The increases on Saturday and Sunday were 37 percent and 55 percent over the prior day’s total. The virus is continuing to expand its reach in Virginia at rapid rate and we still do not know the complete infection rate due to a lack of testing. The state and most of the rest of the country have moved beyond containment. We are now focused on mitigation.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam requested our share of the national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) early. Virginia received 10 percent of what we requested and that was 50 percent of the national stockpile. The country was clearly unprepared.

The state government has been requesting test kits, but the reagents for the kits are in limited supply as 50 states and 130 countries chase the same materials and our existing laboratory capacity is insufficient to process large volumes of tests. We have asked our university medical centers to step up their capacity to process tests. So far, the University of Virginia was able to help, but they are only able to process 80 tests per day starting this past weekend.

Again, the country was unprepared for this even though we had around 60 days to prepare for it before it arrived in the U.S. On Feb. 26, the President said we had 15 cases in the United States and that “within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” That is a quote.

Here is a summary of some of the major actions taken by the state of Virginia:

The Governor has prohibited from being in the same place at once. This means that gatherings of more than 10 people at most restaurants, churches and other places cannot occur. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The state has extended the deadline to file and pay your state taxes from May 1 to June 1. We could not extend it 90 days like the federal government due to implications for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. (The federal government extended the deadline for paying 2019 federal taxes to July 1, 2020.)

The state has extended all deadlines to renew state vehicle licenses and state vehicle inspections by 60 days. Both Fairfax County and Prince William Police Departments have indicated that they will not enforce violations of overdue vehicle licenses and inspections during that period.

The state has cancelled all remaining Standards of Learning Tests and is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education which requires the test.

The state received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration which makes small businesses eligible to apply for loans of up to $2 million each.

Unemployment claims spiked by 1,500 percent last week after 30,000 applications came in. Virginia has eliminated the one-week waiting period; expanded eligibility to those who are quarantined, sick or caring for a child whose school or childcare was closed; and eliminated the requirement to continue seeking work.

The State Corporation Commission granted Attorney General Mark Herring’s petition to prohibit utilities from terminating utility services for 60 days.

The state Supreme Court has extended all filing deadlines for any proceedings to April 6 and most area courts have continued all cases until after that date. That has effectively temporarily postponed all eviction cases, for a short period of time.

We are still assessing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state budget. It will be significant.

Strong, clear, consistent federal leadership in this crisis is critical and that has been lacking. In its absence, your state officials will continue to step up, but this is a national problem that requires national solutions.

If you have any feedback, please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org.