COVID-19 hits home

10/1/2020, 6 p.m.
During the week the nation hit the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, Gov. Ralph S. Northam and his ...

During the week the nation hit the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, Gov. Ralph S. Northam and his wife, Pamela Northam, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dr. Northam, a physician, continuously has preached to Virginians about the importance of staying safe by hand washing, wearing a face mask, socially distancing and even staying at home.

But even if the Northams had strictly observed those health protocols, COVID-19 managed to get through Capitol Square checkpoints and strike the Northams in their home in the Executive Mansion.

According to the governor’s official report, a staff member working in the Executive Mansion tested positive for the virus. Gov. and Mrs. Northam, who were alerted Sept. 23, then were tested and found to be positive.

Fortunately, Gov. Northam is showing no symptoms of the potentially fatal virus, while his wife has mild symptoms. We hope the mansion worker is faring well also.

Unfortunately, the first couple had made public appearances just days before at events elsewhere in the state. Mrs. Northam had visited at least two preschool-day care facilities in the Fredericksburg area, while the governor had picked up a ceremonial shovel and posed with the Hampton mayor and other top public and private officials at a groundbreaking for Huntington Ingalls Industries’ new unmanned systems center.

Now, dozens of men, women and children in several cities and counties are scrambling to get tested for COVID-19.

The lessons here are several-fold, chiefly that one or two people who have the coronavirus but may be asymptomatic can touch off a chain reaction with exponential impact.

Like many Virginians, Gov. and Mrs. Northam are doing a balancing act between doing their jobs and staying safe. But in this time of pandemic, we believe they need to re-evaluate or re-imagine a safer way to make public appearances — perhaps by Zoom — to ensure the safety of the people of the Commonwealth.

Is a photo op worth risking their health and lives and the health and lives of others?

We think not.

With more than 3,200 Virginians dead and more than 11,000 hospitalizations from the coronavirus, Gov. Northam could have found himself in a situation in which Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax would be running the state right now.

COVID-19 is nothing to play with. We cannot let down our guard — or our masks — no matter where we are or who we are with.

We will be interested in hearing Gov. Northam talk about the lessons learned when he gets out of isolation.