Virginia’s new governor unveiled a COVID-19 action plan on Jan. 20 that includes discouraging mass and asymptomatic testing for the virus and encouraging vaccination against it.
On testing for COVID-19, the plan states that Youngkin “will discourage mass testing for the purposes of pre-screening, discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild symptoms to stay home and use discretion on testing.” He’s also directing state health officials to update prioritization for rapid tests, placing students that have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 at the front of the line, followed by health care workers and senior citizens.
The plan also outlines how Youngkin plans to step up efforts to convince more Virginians to get COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots while reiterating his opposition to mandating such vaccinations.
The third prong is to loosen regulations on health care providers in order to enable them to serve patients even as they struggle with staffing shortages.
“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,” Youngkin said in a statement.
The Republican governor signed 11 executive orders shortly after being sworn in on Jan. 15, including one banning school mask mandates, one ending the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers, and one aimed at helping health care providers by temporarily easing some regulations.
The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association expressed support for Youngkin’s order on health care, stating that it was “a welcome and necessary step to grant important flexibilities to frontline providers and Virginia hospitals as they continue to battle this pandemic surge.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Virginia reached 3,871 on Jan. 20, the highest level of the pandemic, though data from other states indicates a significant percentage of COVID-19 patients have actually been admitted for other reasons.
Cases in the state have plunged in recent weeks, mirroring a nationwide trend.
In a speech to the General Assembly last week, Youngkin said the fight against COVID-19 would be based on the simple principle of “[protecting] lives and livelihoods.”
“That means no more mandates and no more shutdowns. As I said on Saturday, it means Virginia is open for business. It also means the science since the beginning of the pandemic has not been static. We now have therapeutics, better testing protocols, and fortunately, a less severe variant. And of course, we have vaccines. It means educating our friends and neighbors and encouraging them to get the vaccine and the booster,” he said, noting that state data show the vaccinated are about four times less likely to require hospital care.
Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who was prevented from running for another term due to term limits, had implemented rules including the vaccine mandate, saying that they would keep people safe.
Republicans in the United States have largely favored individual choice and keeping schools and businesses open, while Democrats have favored more restrictive rules that they say have helped with preserving hospital capacity and getting more people vaccinated.
Youngkin’s move to end school mask requirements is being challenged in court, and the Democratic Party of Virginia stated on Jan. 20 that he was “putting politics over the health and safety of Virginia’s children and their families.”