Virginia Governor Takes Action to Expand Hospital Capacity

RICHMOND, VA (STL.NewsGovernor Ralph Northam today took steps to increase Virginia’s hospital capacity and support healthcare workers responding to COVID-19, after a record number of hospitalizations were posted on Friday of last week.  He issued a limited 30-day order to expand the number of available hospital beds, increase staffing capacity at hospitals and nursing homes, and allow public health agencies greater flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The limited duration is based on modeling that suggests the virus will peak in the next few weeks.

“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Governor Northam said.  “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people.  Ultimately, the best thing everyone can do for our hospitals and their staff is to get vaccinated.”

Virginia has among the nation’s lowest COVID-19 case rates and death rates per capita, and the Commonwealth ranks in the top ten most vaccinated states in the country.  But the highly-transmissible omicron variant has increased the number of people turning to the hospital with COVID-19.  The overwhelming majority of individuals hospitalized have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.  In fact, one hospital company reported last week that 97% of COVID-19 patients relying on ventilators are not vaccinated.

More than 3,500 patients statewide are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and ICU hospitalizations have more than doubled since December 1, 2021.  In addition, the winter season is spurring an increasing number of flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases in Virginia, impacting hospital capacity.  To address this patient increase, Emergency Order Eighty-Four directs the State Health Commissioner to waive normal bed licensing requirements, allows hospitals to increase their licensed bed capacity, and mandates increased coordination between hospitals and local Medical Services Agencies.

Healthcare workers across the country are facing severe burnout and exhaustion 22 months into the pandemic.  The Governor’s Emergency Order directs a number of actions to boost staff in hospitals and nursing homes.  The Order allows providers with an active out-of-state license to practice in Virginia; authorizes experienced Physician Assistants to practice without a written supervisory agreement; increases provider-to-patient ratios; and provides certain liability protections to health care workers who act in good faith to protect patients.

In addition, Emergency Order Eighty-Four increases flexibility in the transfer of patients to state-operated psychiatric hospitals, which have seen dangerously-high census levels since the pandemic began.

Governor Northam encouraged everyone to take easy steps to help:

  • It’s a good idea to stay away from people who have not gotten their shots.
  • It’s a good idea to wear a mask when you’re around other people, especially if you don’t know whether they have been vaccinated.
  • If you have not gotten a booster shot, now is the time to do it.  Shots are widely available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and local health departments all across Virginia.
  • If you have children age five and above, now is the time to get them vaccinated.  This will make it easier and safer for them to go back to school.
  • If you have chosen not to get your shots, you need to wear a mask and practice social distancing—to protect yourself and other people.
  • The full text of Executive Order Eighty-Four is here.