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Why Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delayed reopening parts of his state

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is one of three regions where cases of the coronavirus are plateauing, instead of declining. It includes parts of Virginia, whose governor, Ralph Northam, approved the phased reopening of most of his state last week. Northam, a medical doctor, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss continuing outbreaks in Northern Virginia and how to vote safely during a pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which includes parts of Maryland and Northern Virginia, is still under lockdown.

    And it is one of three areas in the country where cases of the coronavirus are plateauing, instead of declining. Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam OK'ed the phased reopening of most of the state last week. He's also the only sitting governor who is also a medical doctor.

    And he joins us now from Richmond.

    Governor Northam, thank you very much for talking with us today.

    You have begun to open up the state of Virginia, like so many other states. But we also learned today that Virginia had, I guess, the highest number of new cases reported since the pandemic began.

    How do you know that you're not moving too fast?

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Well, Judy, first of all, thank you so much for having me on today, and I hope that you and your viewers are healthy and safe.

    We have been fighting this pandemic for a little bit over two months now. Our first case was on March the 7th. And we have followed the CDC guidelines that were outlined. And those were looking at the percent positivity, the hospital capacity that we have, the amount of PPE, the amount of testing.

    And most of Virginia, Judy, a week ago was ready to move into phase one, following those criteria. Obviously, Northern Virginia, which is neighboring with Maryland and Washington, D.C., still have high numbers. We had discussions with their leadership and decided that we would delay entering phase one for two weeks.

    And, to your point, we did have a high number of positive tests today. The great majority of them are up in Northern Virginia. So, we're monitoring that very closely, and, again, we're encouraging people in the Northern Virginia area to just stay home until these numbers go down a bit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a separate question, Governor, which has to do with what's happening in the D.C. area.

    And that is, we see that, as these areas open up in the less populated parts of the country, as in rural Virginia, Southern Virginia, people from the urban areas are going out to these parts of the state and of the country.

    Is Virginia prepared for what could happen as people move around the state more?

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Well, we're monitoring that very closely.

    And we have encouraged individuals that live in Northern Virginia to please stay home. We have had outbreaks in other parts of the state, as you know, Judy. Over on the Eastern Shore, where I'm there, we have had outbreaks at our meat processing plants. Nursing homes have been affected by this.

    So, this virus doesn't know boundaries of counties and states. And we all have to just really remain vigilant, and keep our hygiene, the washing of our hands, wearing face protection, and keep that social distancing.

    We know that those things work. And Virginians overall have been very good about following those guidelines.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How prepared, though, would you say Virginia is?

    Because isn't — you have to factor in a certain amount of unpredictability, don't you?

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Absolutely. That's why they call this a novel virus. There are so many things we don't know.

    We don't know whether it's seasonal. We don't have a vaccination. There's no treatment for the virus. So, we are monitoring our numbers very closely. And we have the ability now — and it's getting better every day, Judy — to do testing.

    We're hiring a number of individuals to do tracing. We have the PPE that we have that's necessary in Virginia. So, each day is better.

    But, you know, one of the points I would make, Judy, we have been fighting this biological war for over two months now, and we started with no supplies. And being an Army doctor, as I was, we have had our hands tied.

    And so we have worked very hard to accumulate more PPE. That's going well. And our testing capabilities, yesterday, we tested over 10,000 individuals in Virginia. So, each day is better. Obviously, we're working to make it better every day. And we want Virginians to be safe.

    And as we move into these phases, we will do it responsibly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A different subject, Governor, and that has to do with voting, and mail-in voting.

    You reported yesterday that, in local elections in Virginia this week, there was a much higher number of people, I think you said you reported 55,000 Virginians voted in these local elections with mail-in ballots, much more than in the last election four years ago.

    You're encouraging Virginians to mail in their votes for the June primary. But we know that President Trump, in the last few days and again today, is saying that mail-in voting, in his words, leads to fraud.

    He said, in so many words, it's illegal. He said, it's going to lead to total election fraud.

    What do you say to that? And do you see this as an effort to discourage voting in November on the part of Democrats?

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Well, Judy, nobody should have to choose between their health and casting a ballot.

    And this is not the time to play politics. And so much of what our president has done is aspirational. There have been so many mixed messages that have come out of Washington, and it's really why we're in somewhat of the predicament that we're in now.

    But we need to make sure that we can allow individuals to cast their ballot and that they can do it safely. So, you know, we don't know what this virus is going to do over the next weeks and months, but, certainly, if, in November, the virus is still out there, and people are putting their lives at risk, poll workers are putting their lives at risk, then we need to find another means of voting to make sure that everybody's voice is heard and that we can elect a president in November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When the president claims that this leads to, in his words, total election fraud, how do you respond to that?

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Well, it's baseless, is what it is.

    And, again, we have shown — we showed it a couple days ago — that, you know, it's a way that people can vote, and it's a way that they can protect their health. So, again, we need to be flexible as we move forward.

    And I hope that November the 3rd, which we have made a holiday in Virginia — we got rid of Lee-Davis — or Lee-Jackson holiday, as you know. We hope that people will go to be able to vote at the polls and do it safely.

    But, if they can't, we have got to find other means to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, thank you very much, Governor.

  • Governor Ralph Northam:

    Thank you so much, Judy.

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