JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Outgoing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 30-day emergency order designed to help hospital systems overrun by COVID-19’s Omicron variant provides some important flexibility, Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine told News Channel 11 Tuesday.

“I think what they’re trying to do is create every opportunity for hospitals to be flexible with staffing so that we can get through this until this thing peaks,” Levine said of Executive Order 84, signed by Northam Monday.

The order cites the rise in hospitalizations statewide — Virginia hospitals reached a record number of COVID patients last week and the figure has continued rising since — as justification for a range of measures set to last for more than three additional weeks after he leaves office Saturday.

“Health care workers and hospitals are exhausted, and they are again facing increasing numbers of patients, affecting their ability to provide care,” Northam said Monday. “These steps will help ease the strain, giving medical professionals more flexibility to care for people.”

Levine said the added flexibility would be critical even for Ballad, which hasn’t seen the spike in hospitalizations other parts of the state has but might, given that COVID rates are now climbing faster in Southwest Virginia than statewide. He said the hospital system currently has 600 nursing openings.

Among other things, the measure authorizes out-of-state licensed professionals to provide care, expands telehealth options, increases provider-to-patient ratios allowed and expands available hospital bed numbers.

Levine said the Omicron variant is proving nearly impossible to slow down.

“We require full protective gear in the hospitals for people that are dealing with COVID patients…we’re doing everything we can to make sure, whether it’s mask wearing, using shields, whatever we need to do to make sure that we’re not contributing to the spread of the virus within the walls of the hospital,” he said.

“The problem is this thing is spreading so rapidly throughout the community, you know building that force field around the hospital’s very difficult.”

Levine said Northam, a Democrat, collaborated with incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, as he prepared the order.

“I think Gov. Northam has been extremely gracious in trying to accommodate Gov. Youngkin’s team being given visibility into different meetings and things like that,” Levine said.

“I give Gov. Northam a lot of credit for his willingness to open the doors to Gov. Youngkin’s team so that there can be continuity, or if there’s going to be changes those changes are based on well-reviewed information so that there’s an evidence-based or knowledge-based decision as opposed to just a political decision.”

He said his impressions of Youngkin so far are that he is taking a largely apolitical approach to the pandemic.

“I think he seems to understand the gravity of the issue of credibility,” Levine said.

“You know, when a governor speaks they have to be credible and their opinion or their policy decisions have to be believed to have been based on fact and not just a couple of people but a broad spectrum of people that are providing information to them. And I do think both Gov. Youngkin and Gov. Northam at least in the last few weeks have demonstrated that they’re doing that together. So I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

The entire executive order can be viewed here: