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State leaders praise national stimulus package

Virginia state leaders praised the stimulus package agreed to by Congress overnight during Gov. Ralph Northam’s Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“I would encourage them to pass the measure quickly in order to get the money flowing,” said state Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. He noted that the bill includes $250 billion for direct payments to Americans, including $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples. The payments would start to phase out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000, and those making more than $99,000 would not qualify at all. Those thresholds are doubled for couples.

The proposed stimulus package also includes payments to those who are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including gig and freelance workers, who do not usually qualify; aid to hospitals and small businesses; loans to large businesses; as well as measures in the realms of transportation, housing, food supply and student loan relief.

“Gov. Northam has stated repeatedly this is not only a health crisis, but it’s also an economic crisis,” Layne stated.

Virginia saw an almost 35-percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases from Tuesday to Wednesday.

There are now 391 reported cases, up from 290 Tuesday. Northern Virginia has been especially hard hit, with the Fairfax Health District now reporting almost 20 percent of the total.

The number of people tested continues to rise rapidly as more testing options and sites become available across the state. About 5,370 people have now been tested.

There have been 59 hospitalizations and nine deaths as reported Tuesday at noon, but at least three deaths occurred after those numbers were compiled.

Northam also elaborated on the need for personal protective equipment for health care personnel and other front-line workers. He said health care workers caring for one COVID-19 positive patient for one day could use up to 240 items of personal protective equipment. That’s to say nothing of first responders, police officers and others who need it.

“That is why the need for equipment, for PPE, is so, so great,” Northam said, using the acronym for personal protective equipment. “It is literally in the millions.”

He said Virginia has submitted its second request for some of this equipment from the national stockpile.

Northam also said the state is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify sites to build emergency hospital bed capacity in case there is a need.

Dr. Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist, acknowledged the state’s increase in positive cases is due to both increased testing and community spread of the virus.

She hedged on answering a question about when the state might see its peak outbreak.

“We don’t have data at this time to estimate what that peak might be,” she said. “We have heard from different entities who are working on modeling,” she added, and said she hopes there will be more information soon.

Northam also said people arriving from areas with serious outbreaks, like New York, are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Virginia.

“I encourage all Virginians to continue to take this seriously, as we have said each day, to prevent the spread of this,” Northam said.