Northams test positive for COVID-19

Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pam Northam, appear at a news conference in 2019. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam and First Lady Pam Northam tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Friday morning news release.

On Wednesday, they were “notified that a member of the governor’s official residence staff, who works closely within the couple’s living quarters, had developed symptoms and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19,” the release read.

Both the governor and his wife were tested on Thursday afternoon and the results, publicly announced Friday, came back positive. Northam is experiencing no symptoms, while Pam Northam is experiencing mild symptoms, according to the release.

Both were tested with PCR nasal swabs. Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, and the Virginia Department of Health did not immediately provide information on how the tests were processed. Virginia, like many states, has struggled with long turnaround times for PCR tests, which exceeded two weeks for some Virginians over much of the summer. CVS Pharmacy is currently estimating wait times of two to three days. Testing through Virginia’s state lab in Richmond typically takes around 24 hours, but it’s generally been reserved for high priority cases, such as outbreak investigations or medically vulnerable patients with symptoms.

The governor and his wife are “working closely with VDH and the Richmond Heath Department to trace their close contacts,” according to the release. The couple has had a busy public schedule over the past few weeks, including a “Back to School” tour that took Pam Northam into several K-12 and preschool classrooms across the state.

One recent visit on Tuesday was to Washington-Reid Preschool Center in Dumfries, an early childhood program within Prince William County Public Schools. District spokeswoman Diana Gulotta told the Mercury that the school system was notified of the first lady’s positive test result on Friday.

“Ms. Northam visited two classrooms during the tour and met with staff,” she wrote in an email. “All PWCS staff and students were wearing face coverings during the visit.”

“PWCS is working with local health officials and school administrators to identify the small number of close contacts that occurred and provide proper notifications,” she added. “PWCS is thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the school.”

Michael Sandler, a spokesman for George Mason University, also said Gov. Northam had few contacts when he visited the school on Tuesday to announce a plan for restructuring college debt during the pandemic. “The governor was on campus for a short time, wore a mask during his entire visit and came into close contact with a very small group of individuals,” Sandler wrote in a Friday email.

“The university is working to make sure that the Virginia Health Department knows who was in close contact with the governor on Tuesday, and health department officials will contact those individuals directly,” he added. “Anyone who has concerns about their exposure or health should contact their health care provider.”

The administration did not immediately provide additional information on whether other close staff members would be tested, including employees at the Governor’s Mansion or Northam’s political team. Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Prince William, announced Friday that she had gotten tested as a precaution after spending time with Pam Northam on Tuesday.

The couple plans to isolate for the next 10 days, consistent with guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The governor is in constant contact with his cabinet and staff and will fulfill his duties from the Executive Mansion,” according to the release.

“As I’ve been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” Northam said in a statement. “The safety and health of our staff and close contacts is of utmost importance to Pam and me, and we are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that everyone is well taken care of.”