Virginia’s top emergency manager told agency COVID-19 crisis could ‘run into the summer’

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management's Emergency Operations Center in Midlothian hosts the Virginia Emergency Support Team and the commonwealth’s Emergency Support Functions. (NBC12)

In a memo sent to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management this month, the agency’s leader told his colleagues the COVID-19 crisis could “run into the summer” and disclosed that he had tested negative for the coronavirus.

Jeff Stern, who has served as VDEM’s state coordinator since 2014, sent the all-staff memo on March 15, the same day the agency announced one of its own employees had contracted the virus from an unknown source. In the note, Stern said the pandemic has “all the makings of an historical event.”

“Take care of yourselves, your families, your friends and each other,” Stern wrote. “Begin to think of this as a long event, perhaps one that will run into the summer.”

The Mercury obtained a copy of the memo through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Stern’s attempt to set his agency’s expectations for the pandemic was similar to comments Gov. Ralph Northam made Sunday. At his daily media briefing, the governor told the public not to assume disruptions to daily life and the state economy will be over soon.

“This is not a matter of weeks,” Northam said. “This is a matter of months. And we’re doing everything that we can to prepare Virginia for that.”

In the VDEM memo, Stern also revealed that he had self-isolated that week after feeling sick.

“I was tested for several illnesses, including COVID-19; this week my test was negative,” Stern wrote. “It was a stressful period, but manageable, using telework, family support, and you all as a fantastic team that keep the gears turning.”

Stern said VDEM would be in “full virtual telework mode” until the agency could disinfect its headquarters in northern Chesterfield County.

“This will not be the only instance this occurs; I fully expect it to occur across state government and with us again over the next months,” Stern wrote.