RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — On Tuesday during his first coronavirus press briefing in over two weeks, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia is still doing relatively well compared to other states that have seen surges in COVID-19 cases, but he’s concerned about the rising case numbers in Hampton Roads, where cases have shot up in recent weeks.
Hampton Roads is the primary cause of Virginia’s rising numbers. Its percent of positive cases is 10.1%, up significantly from three weeks ago.
A new feature on the Virginia Department of Health’s website breaks down cases by region (it had previously only shown cases by date of symptom onset for all regions, and just broke down daily cases out for Northern Virginia).
Northam says non-compliance with face covering rules and physical distancing in restaurants and other gathering places is leading to the increases, and there’s been a significant uptick in cases (about 250% since May) in people ages 20-29.
He says Virginia is not moving back to phase 2 at this time, but he’s ramping up health guideline enforcement measures on businesses statewide, especially in Hampton Roads.
VDH has about 500 inspectors statewide and will add about 100 more to do those unannounced visits to businesses to monitor and enforce compliance with face coverings, etc.
“Your license will be on the line,” Northam said.
He said he’s is not looking to arrest people and put them in jail for not wearing a mask, but is still considering civil penalties. He said wearing a mask is akin to wearing shoes or a shirt inside a store.
The new phrase should be “no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Northam said.
Northam says he’s looking into scaling back the number of people allowed at gatherings (phase 3 allows up to 250 people), dropping the limit back to phase 2’s 50 person limit, and possibly imposing a cutoff time for alcohol sales at restaurants.
He’s also asking mayors with beaches for updates on their COVID-19 mitigation plans.
“Those were detailed plans involving a number of mitigation and sanitation measures, and I want to be sure those mayors are following through on their promises,” Northam said.
Northam has said the state’s focus has gone toward combating hotspots in regional areas such as Hampton Roads with testing and tracing, rather than a blanket approach to restrictions, meaning a potential move back of phases in the future would likely just be regional.
This regional thinking will guide school reopenings too.
Northam also repeatedly emphasized the coronavirus is not going anywhere and it’s going to take consistent adherence to health guidelines to keep the pandemic under control. We all hoped the virus would go away but that’s clearly not the case … we’re in this for the long haul [until a vaccine is released].”
He’s also not considering moving into a phase 4 at this time.
“This is not political. This is about our health and well-being and it’s also about our economy,” Northam said.
Northam balks on releasing individual outbreak data for chicken plants, other businesses
Northam, who reversed on releasing nursing home outbreak data via executive action after months of holding it back, said releasing data for chicken plants, other businesses would require legislative action. The Virginia Mercury wrote about the issue last week.
This article will be updated.