Virginia Nearly Reaches 10,000 Test Goal, Roanoke Officials Concerned About Low Numbers There

May 20, 2020

Virginia nearly reached its goal of 10,000 COVID-19 tests-per-day in data reported Wednesday.

The Virginia Department of Health reported 9,782 new diagnostic (PCR) test results in its Wednesday morning update.  That's the first time diagnostic tests have neared the 10,000-per-day goal since the health department separated out less-reliable antibody tests.  210,965 diagnostic tests have now been conducted in Virginia.

The health department reported 763 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, raising the state's total to 32,908.  33 additional deaths were reported.  1,074 Virginians have now died from COVID-19-related complications.

Concern about low testing numbers in Roanoke

Roanoke officials say they’re concerned about the low numbers of COVID-19 tests conducted in the city.

As the Roanoke Times first reported, the Roanoke City health district has the lowest number of reported tests in the state.  Virginia Department of Health data shows only 705 diagnostic (PCR) tests have been conducted on city residents since the crisis began.   Other health districts that cover similarly-sized populations have seen two or three times the amount of Roanoke's testing.  The Portsmouth health district, in Hampton Roads, has reported more than 2,500 tests.  The Lenowisco health district, in the southwest corner of the state, has seen more than 1,500 tests conducted.

Mayor Sherman Lea said city officials have been lobbying state and federal officials for more resources as recently as Monday. "I hope we can improve on these numbers before we go into Phase Two," Lea said referring to the second stage of the governor's reopening plan.  "I’m just not comfortable with where we are in this area given that our testing is so practically low."

In a news conference Wednesday, city officials said it’s the state’s responsibility to conduct testing. They also worry the low testing numbers don’t give an accurate picture of the virus’s presence in the community.

Northam Provides Update on Testing, PPE, Health Insurance and Elections

During a news conference Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam commended state health officials for getting very close to the state's goal of 10,000 daily COVID-19 tests. He said that the Virginia Department of Health is currently working to hire contact tracers in an effort to continue examinging the virus' prevalance across the Commonwealth.

The governor said Virginia continues to have adequate amounts of personal protective equipment and that the state is still prioritizing available PPE for healthcare providers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Northam said the state has asked those providers to rely on their personal supplies of PPE before asking the state for those resources, but officials have now set up a rapid-response program to process those requests. That will hopefully ensure those providers get necessary PPE as soon as possible.

Turning to Medicaid, Northam said expanding the program was so important in light of current circumstances. He indicated that nearly 33,000 adults and 23,000 children have enrolled in Medicaid since the crisis began. Northam has also created a working group that will focus on ensuring as many Virginians as possible have access to health insurance.

The governor also addressed a recent uptick in drug overdoses across the state -- stating that Virginia can't lose sight of ongoing health concerns, like the opioid epidemic, during the COVID-19 crisis.

Northam also discussed Tuesday's local elections and commended election officials for making sure the process was as safe as possible for Virginians who voted visited polling places. He said more than 55,000 Virginians voted absentee. Northam encouraged voters to do the same for the upcoming primaries in June.