Update from Senator Jen Kiggans 5/11/2020

May 11, 2020
Update on Coronavirus (COVID-19) 5/11/20

Hello Friends,

For the past two months, we have all stayed home as directed, going out only for essential trips and the occasional take-out meal.  We have put on homemade masks, carried hand sanitizer, and stayed 6 feet apart from others while we turned into home school parents and teleworkers.  We have done our part because we care about preventing the spread of a unknown and potentially fatal virus and because we want to protect our families, neighbors, and friends.  Due to our efforts, our hospitals were not overwhelmed, we have enough PPE now, we have the ability to test the people who need testing, and we better understand COVID-19 and those who are most at-risk.  We now know this virus is primarily deadly for vulnerable, older adults because over half of all deaths in Virginia can be attributed to people over the age of 70 with over a third of deaths occurring in our long-term care communities.  We have changed our routines to live with COVID-19 but it is time to get back to life and, most importantly, back to work.

Our Commonwealth is on the verge of permanent damage to our businesses and the livelihood of most Virginians if we do not re-open soon.  Many have received stimulus money and financial help from the government to keep their doors partially open during this crisis.  Although the government assistance has been necessary and appreciated, it is meant to be temporary. Our country was founded by hard work and independence from overbearing government along with the promise of opportunity for all. It is against what we believe as Americans to become reliant on big government to provide for our families.  Our beaches (some of the safest places in our state with plenty of space and UV light) must re-open immediately.  It is time for our tourism to rebound and our churches to hold services in person again.  We can safely follow guidelines while protecting our most vulnerable. Re-opening our state sooner rather than later is imperative before the economic impact of COVID-19 is irreversible.

Virginia is not a one-size-fits-all state.  The southwestern parts of our state who have had little to no COVID outbreaks have suffered in greater proportion due to the Governor’s state-wide executive orders.  There has been no regional approach to re-opening which I fear has done permanent damage to the rural and less economically advantaged parts of our Commonwealth.  General Assembly members from all over Virginia, including myself, have written letters to the Governor, have offered to be a part of the discussion, and have requested a legislative special session be called. The Governor has not been receptive to any of our requests or suggestions and is, per our constitution, able to make unilateral decisions which do not include the legislative branch.  From the very beginning, the General Assembly should have been included in the decision-making process to have the priorities of all Virginians represented at the table. 

I will continue to do my part to advocate for the 7th district and my constituents.  Our office remains available to assist with any and all government related issues as needed.  Please continue to do your part by staying home if you are sick, following CDC guidelines, and taking care of each other and yourselves.  If we learn anything from the response to this crisis, let it be the lesson of what defines good government and how important it is to elect good leaders. Virginia needs a common-sense, non-biased, broad thinker as a leader. Get ready to vote in 2021 and exercise your voice. The future of our Commonwealth depends on it.

Take care & stay well!

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers from Eastern Virginia Medical School who dropped off beautiful homemade masks! They will be given to staff at local long-term care facilities in our community and are so appreciated!
Press Release from Sen. Jen Kiggans

COVID-19 Opens the Door for Geriatric Healthcare Reform
Long before COVID-19, our long-term care facilities have struggled with staffing, funding, and substandard living conditions. Families are frustrated by their loved one’s care and staff feel overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. The residents in these facilities, especially those who rely on Medicaid, live in small rooms with multiple people, share the attention of a stressed nurse or care assistant, and are isolated from a society who chooses to lock them away where we don’t have to see them nor be reminded of their inconveniences.  

As a geriatric nurse practitioner, Virginia State Senator, and member of the Governor’s COVID-19 Long-term Care Task Force, I am pleased to see the state government responding and supporting the long-term care community in countering this pandemic, but the work has only begun. Not surprisingly, staffing shortages (including recruitment and retention issues) continue to be at the top of the list for areas for improvement. Although the Governor has increased state Medicaid reimbursement $20 per patient per day and has loosened some restrictions for certification of nursing assistants, facilities are still struggling as staff become ill, fearful, or quarantined themselves.

Prioritizing testing for these facilities early on would have allowed for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients to be sectioned into positive and negative care areas including isolation and quarantine rooms. Staff should have been given sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sooner to facilitate better infection control. Instead, long-term care facilities are only recently being made a priority for PPE while starting to test all residents and new admissions from hospitals with the help of emergency staffing from outside sources such as the Medical Reserve Unit.

The infection and fatality numbers associated with the COVID-19 crisis and this susceptible age group have been staggering: out of 244 outbreaks in Virginia, 143 have been at long term care facilities, which have had 2,902 cases or 14% of the state’s total cases. 405 of the 713 deaths in Virginia as of May 5th were also in these facilities. As the rest of the country talks about drive-thru testing and antibody results and how essential these things are to re-opening our Commonwealth, my priority and point of focus remains the same: our vulnerable elderly. As of May 5th, of the 713 total deaths in Virginia, 368 were people age 80 and above, 164 of people age 70-79, and 116 of people age 60-69 (age 50-59: 42; age 40-49: 17, age 30-39: 4, and age 20-29: 2). One thing that the majority of people age 70 and above have in common is that they usually have multiple chronic health issues and an already fragile immune system.  

The response to the long-term care crisis pandemic should factor into our plans to re-open our Commonwealth for business. Since the majority of our workforce is less than age 70, most of us should be able to safely return to our jobs with the following safeguards such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, following good hand hygiene, and remaining home while you are not well or in poor health. Keeping all of Virginia in quarantine with our fragile economy on the verge of collapse does not justify mandating our younger healthy adults and pediatric population to stay home. It makes sense to take an age and vulnerability-based approach to re-opening as not all Americans present with the same risk level and should not all be treated as such.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider how we do geriatric healthcare overall in Virginia. With many alternatives to crowded understaffed facilities, Virginia has a chance to think outside the box and set an example for other states. State funding for group care homes, financial reimbursement for caregivers who leave jobs to care for their elderly family members, and increased access to telehealth are some underutilized vehicles for improved geriatric care. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we view our most vulnerable but most precious members of society. Heaven forbid we have another crisis such as this that turns our long-term care facilities into battlefields where our doctors, nurses, and staff are out-numbered and ill-prepared to fight an unseen enemy. We already have an extreme shortage of geriatric-trained providers as the pay is low, the work is hard, and the competition for better healthcare jobs is great. We owe it to the care providers to compensate them with better pay and working conditions along with tangible gratitude for a sometimes thankless but always rewarding profession. I believe the silver lining of this crisis is that this oftentimes voiceless group now has people listening. We can do better Virginia, and we must do it now.  

State Senator Jen Kiggans


COVID-19 Updates
Cases in Virginia:The Virginia Department of Health website continues to update the status of cases in Virginia. As of 9 a.m. today May 11th, 23,889 positive cases have been reported here in Virginia with 1,181 probable cases. Additionally, we currently have 505 cases in Virginia Beach and 308 cases in Norfolk.

Phased Reopening Plans
Governor Northam announced he was extending E.O. 53 to expire May 15. Barring another extension, this will begin Phase 1 of the relaxation of social distancing policies. Phase 1 calls for:

Safer at Home (especially if you are vulnerable)No social gatherings of more than 10 people Continued social distancing Continued teleworking Face coverings recommended in public Easing limits on businesses and faith communities

You can find the Governor’s full slideshow presentation here.
Governor Northam rolled out more detailed guidance on Phase 1 regulations for individuals, businesses, and places of worship. Please see pages 11 – 15 of the attached slide deck for details on the changes that will come, if Virginia moves to Phase 1 on May 15. 

The full text of E.O. 61 and Order of Public Health Emergency Three can be found here.

Virginia Beach: New Program to Provide Emergency Grants to Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic:
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (May 6, 2020) — Virginia Beach is adding to the list of loan and grant programs available to small businesses by creating a new Economic Development Investment Program (EDIP) offering that provides emergency assistance.

On April 28, 2020, the City Council provided $1.5 million in funding and approved an ordinance to temporarily allow the Virginia Beach Development Authority to make emergency assistance grants to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EDIP part E fund is designed to help businesses with rent, utility or other business expenses up to $10,000. Qualifications, criteria, application, and associated documents can be found at www.yesvirginiabeach.com

Data from the Virginia Employment Commission and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership indicate that, since April 1, 2020, more than 20,000 new unemployment filings were received from Virginia Beach residents and that the majority of those job losses have been from small businesses. Additionally, respondents to a survey the City of Virginia Beach recently completed that asked businesses about needs indicated that funds to pay rent, utilities and related expenses were their top concern. 

“The pandemic has exacted high tolls from nearly everyone in one way or another. Our economic recovery depends on the ability of our hardest hit small businesses to survive long enough to begin reopening and attracting customers back,” said Mayor Robert M. “Bobby” Dyer. “The City Council heard very clearly from constituents that emergency assistance is needed to fill critical funding gaps small businesses are experiencing. This will be money well spent.” 

EDIP is administered by the Virginia Beach Development Authority, which is appointed by the City Council to promote investment, reinvestment and workforce development.

Mental Health Month
May is mental health awareness month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Coastal Virginia) is one of our local resources here to provide help. Especially now, check in on those you worry about & be mindful of your own mental health. The NAMI helpline number is: 1-800-950-6264 (M-F, 10am-5pm). The National Suicide Prevention Helpline (available 24/7) is: 1-800-273-8255.NAMI Coastal Virginia also provides the following support:—-

Online Support Groups: https://www.namicoastalvirginia.org/online-support-groups

Hampton Roads COVID-19 Resources: https://www.namicoastalvirginia.org/covid-19-resources

Action Alliance Statewide Hotline
Many Virginians are unaware that sexual and domestic violence programs are still open – providing crisis services, emergency shelter, and resource-based support – or that they can still go to the hospital for care after trauma/assault. The Virginia Statewide Hotline is still here (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) and ready to help, and so are sexual and domestic violence programs all over the state. Call: 1.800.838.8238 or Text: 804.793.9999.

Testing Workgroup
Governor Northam announced the creation of a Testing Workgroup, to make sure all of Virginia’s public and private testing efforts are coordinated. Dr Karen Remley and Dr. Lillian Peake will head up the workgroup. Dr. Remley is the former Virginia Commissioner of Health, and Dr. Peake is our state epidemiologist.

Executive Action on DMV
Governor Northam extended the closure of public-facing DMV offices to May 11, and directed Virginia State Police to continue suspending the enforcement of motor vehicle inspections and take several additional measures through July 31. The full text of Executive Directive Seven can be found here.

COVID-19 Business Task Force
Governor Northam announced a diverse group of leaders participating in the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, which will continue to provide advice and guidance to the Cabinet on a safe, responsible strategy for easing restrictions on businesses and individuals.

A full press release on the Business Task Force can be found here.

Local May Elections
Governor Northam announced that he is using his executive authority to delay the May 5 local elections by 14 days to May 19. Given health concerns, the Governor is strongly encouraging anyone who plans to vote in that election to vote absentee by mail. 

Safe Absentee Voting
Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the Commonwealth has reached an agreement that will help ensure safe absentee voting for the upcoming June 23 primaries. Under the terms of a proposed consent decree, the Commonwealth will accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness “for voters who believe they may not safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.” The order is proposed to the court and will not be final and effective until entered by the court. A copy of the brief in support of the agreement is available here.

As a reminder, the Governor postponed the local general and special elections from May 5th to May 19th. Absentee ballots must be requested by May 12th. Voted ballots must be received no later than May 19th at 7pm. Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them by visiting elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo or by downloading and printing a request form at elections.virginia.gov/forms and returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax, or scanned attachment to an email. Forms are also available in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.

Payment Relief for Student Loans
Virginia has secured relief options for more than 200,000 Virginians with privately held student loans. The payment relief is the result of a new initiative by Virginia and several other states to work with the major private student loan servicers to expand on protections for federal student loan borrowers through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For more information see the press release linked here

Frequently Asked Questions from Workers:
Given the substantial economic impact that COVID-19 has had on Virginia’s workforce, the Northam Administration has released a comprehensive FAQ document to address questions that workers may have. That document can be found here.
Also available in Spanish: haga clic aquí

Additional Information:
For a comprehensive list of actions Governor Northam has announced to combat COVID-19 in Virginia, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus.
The COVID19JIC@vdem.virginia.gov email is now operational. The email address account will be monitored by our Joint Information Center (JIC) staff and relayed to the appropriate subject matter expert. If you have questions, please reach out using the above email.

There are so many resources to help out there. If you are overwhelmed or need help finding specific answers to questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. The email is: district07@senate.virginia.gov and our phone number is: 757-990-3080. As always, it continues to be an honor to serve and represent you all as the State Senator from the 7th district. Stay safe and well out there! We can get through this together!

For information about best practices from the CDC, Click Here
For updated information from the Virginia Department of Health, Click Here
For updates from the City of Virginia Beach, Click Here