FILE - Ralph Northam mask

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam removes his mask to answer a question during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an emergency executive order to expand hospital capacity amid growing COVID-19 hospitalizations and a healthcare worker shortage and provided recommendations to stop the spread of the virus.

Executive Order 84, issued by Northam on Monday, will give more flexibility to public health agencies and reduced state regulations, which will increase the number of hospital beds available for patients and increase staffing capacity at hospitals. The executive order will be in effect for 30 days.

“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Northam said in a statement. “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people. Ultimately, the best thing everyone can do for our hospitals and their staff is to get vaccinated.”

The order waives the state’s normal bed licensing requirements and mandates increased coordination between hospitals and local Medical Service Agencies to increase bed capacity. It also allows health care providers with active out-of-state licenses to practice in Virginia, authorizes experienced physician assistants to practice without a written supervisory agreement, increases provider-to-patient ratios and expands liability protections for health care workers who act in good faith.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there are 3,681 hospitalizations in which the patient tested positive for COVID-19 or has his or her test pending. There are 567 patients who have COVID-19 or tests pending who are in an intensive care unit, which is more than double the amount it was on Dec. 1, 2021. According to the governor’s office, most hospitalizations and patients on ventilators are not vaccinated.

The governor also gave recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19, but did not include these recommendations in the executive order. He said people who have not gotten a booster shot should get one now and encouraged parents to vaccinate all children aged five and older. He also encouraged people to stay away from anyone who has not been vaccinated and encouraged them to wear a face mask when around others, especially if those people might not be vaccinated. He said those who have not been vaccinated need to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

COVID-19 cases have increased in Virginia, partially due to the cold weather, which caused previous spikes. Cases have also increased because of the spread of the omicron variant, which the medical community says is more likely to evade natural and vaccine immunity, but is also less severe and less likely to cause death.

Death or serious illness from COVID-19 is rare for young people, but the risk increases if a person has a compromised immune system or other health condition. The risk also increases as a person gets older. About 89% of the state has received at least one dose of the vaccine, but the rate is higher among the elderly and lowest among young adults and children.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.