RICHMOND — On Thursday, Jan. 20, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced his administration’s COVID-19 Action Plan.
The plan, which is concurrent with Executive Order 11, is meant to provide hospitals, healthcare systems, nursing facilities, and other providers the tools that they need in order to combat the continued COVID-19 pandemic.
A Jan. 21 release from the Governor’s office notes that this also includes clear rapid testing guidelines and resources to encourage Virginians to get vaccinated.
“While many families have experienced tragedy over the last two years, Virginians have truly embodied the spirit of Virginia as they came together to fight a common enemy—COVID-19,” said Governor Youngkin in the release. “Today’s announcements are designed to give Virginians the tools and resources needed to make the best decisions for their families, strengthen our hospital systems, and ensure a strong recovery as we encounter new challenges associated with the pandemic that has become part of our everyday life.”
Governor Youngkin seeks to give healthcare providers greater flexibility and support during the COVID-19 pandemic. In discussing this in his COVID-19 Action Plan, Youngkin describes the recent decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 13 requiring healthcare workers at federally-funded medical facilities to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as “unconstitutional.” This federal mandate was put into effect because the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services determined it as a move to substantially reduce the likelihood that healthcare workers will contract the virus and transmit it to their patients.
It is important to note that the Supremacy Clause found in Article VI Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution notes that the Constitution itself and federal law supersede state law. Thus, the original federal mandate must be upheld in Virginia until it is further challenged.
In continuing, Youngkin seeks to allow hospitals and nursing homes to expand bed capacity “by waiving regulations,” providing flexibility to allow out-of-state nurses and healthcare professionals to practice in Virginia, expanding flexibility, overtime, and availability of personal care workers, and expand the availability of providers to offer the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Governor’s plan goes on to describe how he plans to prioritize testing guidelines in order to mitigate supply chain shortages of these tests. He discourages mass testing for pre-screening purposes, discourages asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urges healthy individuals to stay home and only use discretion when seeking a test.
This recommendation is in direct contrast with those made in November 2021 by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) based on directions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Guidance on VDH’s website says, “COVID-19 testing (either antigen or NAA) is recommended for asymptomatic individual(s) who ARE fully vaccinated and have close contact to someone with known or suspected COVID-19. Testing should occur 5-7 days after the exposure.”
The Governor gives direction to the State Health Commissioner to issue new guidelines which prioritize the use of rapid tests in order to keep students who have been potentially exposed in school, allow healthcare and essential workers who need to be tested to return to work, prioritize vulnerable residents in nursing facilities and those over 65, those with serious medical conditions and their caregivers, and those who need to be tested after consulting with a healthcare professional.
Lastly, Gov. Youngkin lays out the COVID-19 Vaccine Marshall Plan for Virginia, which will devote resources towards encouraging Virginians who remain unvaccinated to do so.
According to the VDH COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Jan. 20, 2022, 68.5 percent of Virginians are considered fully vaccinated. While over 70 percent of residents in James City and York counties are considered fully vaccinated, only 51.8 percent of residents in the City of Williamsburg are considered fully vaccinated.
The measures laid out in the Governor’s Plan regarding vaccinations include directing the Virginia Secretary of Health to “reprioritize resources toward vaccine education and outreach, including expanded efforts in disproportionately unvaccinated communities,” to host COVID-19 vaccine events across the Commonwealth, working with other state governors to learn and decide upon best practices for vaccine education, and to “[empower] Virginia with choices, not mandates.”
In this release, the Governor does not address mask mandates, particularly those in the Commonwealth’s public schools. Under Executive Order 2, starting Monday, Jan. 24, parents in Virginia’s public school systems will be allowed to choose whether or not their students wear masks in schools and on buses. However, many school systems, including Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, voted to continue to enforce mask wearing in its buildings and buses per guidance from the CDC.