RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday afternoon announced several new coronavirus restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus in the commonwealth.
The following changes go into effect Sunday, November 15:
- Reducing capacity at indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, down from the current limit of 250
- Expansion of Virginia’s mask mandate in indoor public spaces to Virginians ages five and over (the previous mandate set in May was for ages 10 and over)
- All essential retail business (grocery stores, pharmacies) must adhere to face covering and social distancing guidelines and violations can now be enforced through the Virginia Department of Health as a class 1 misdemeanor
- Alcohol sales will be cut off at 10 p.m. at restaurants, breweries, wineries, etc. and all establishments must close at midnight
“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” Gov. Northam said in a press release. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”
Though it’s still doing relatively well compared to many other states, Virginia has seen its average of new cases double from about 750 per day to 1,500 per day in the past month. That’s about 300 cases per day above previous peaks. Cases and hospitalizations are also going up, with about a 35 percent increase in hospitalizations statewide in the past month. Reported deaths, which lag cases, have also gone up this past week.
Earlier this week, Northam said Virginia’s record number of new coronavirus cases statewide was concerning, especially in Southwest Virginia where there’s less health care infrastructure. At that time though, he still wasn’t planning on reinstating restrictions.
The restaurant restrictions going into effect Sunday are similar to those used to blunt the surge of infections this summer in Hampton Roads. The governor’s office confirmed Friday that the new order doesn’t change the exisiting 50% capacity limit.
The only thing it would change is that restaurants cannot seat parties consisting of more than 25 people.
As for religious gatherings, individuals can attend services by following certain protocols. They must be at least 6 feet apart when seated, except for family members.
More information on religious gathering restrictions can be found on page 11 of the amended order.
In addition to the new restrictions, Northam is also urging Virginians to be very careful heading into Thanksgiving. He recommends limiting Thanksgiving gatherings to small groups and even encouraged people to eat their Thanksgiving dinner outdoors if possible.
“There is no genetic immunity that prevents you from giving this virus to your mother, to your grandfather or any other loved ones in the house with you,” Northam said. “I’m not saying don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but, if you’re planning to gather with people outside of your household, think about ways to do it more safely.”
During Tuesday’s briefing, Gov. Northam announced that contracts with three laboratories that will increase Virginia testing capacity. The contracts are with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk.
“We’re trying to follow every guideline they do,” said Curtis Lyons, owner of Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Portsmouth.
Lyons said the quick announcement Friday afternoon caused some confusion.
“I just wish they would have a little more clarity than a Friday at 4 to come out with that. It really affects the small business and the operations and their employees.”
Still, they’re rolling with the punches and pushing ahead.
“With our banquet rooms, that’s going to hurt us during the holidays but we understand with the coronavirus and taking care of it but we try to do our best,” Lyons said.
In response to Northam’s announcement, the Virginia High School League released a brief statement from Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun.
“We want to make it very clear that the Governor’s order for reduction in public and private gatherings to 25 individuals applies to ‘spectators’ and not participants at those events,” said Haun. “Nothing in the order prevents VHSL member schools from holding contests.”
The VHSL will provide a more detailed release on Monday, Nov. 16.
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