Northam not lifting extra COVID-19 restrictions for Hampton Roads ahead of Labor Day weekend

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Northam says he’s making no changes to Virginia’s coronavirus restrictions ahead of Labor Day weekend, saying this will give the state a “running start” into the fall.

Extra restrictions that went into effect in late July for Hampton Roads cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and closed restaurants at midnight. They also capped restaurants at 50% capacity and limited events to 50 people. Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer had asked Northam to lift the restrictions in time for the holiday weekend.

“I understand from a business perspective the importance of Labor Day but we have come too far to go back,” Northam said. “With back to school coming in different forms and with colleges returning, now is the time to double down on what is working so we can set ourselves up for success this fall.” 

Northam cited surges in cases after Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends as the reason for the decision. “We have to remain vigilant.”

Northam added “We’re at a more acceptable range but we’re still not close to where we need to be to ease these restrictions.” 

“While we’re disappointed with the governor’s decision to keep restrictions, we do appreciate his concern about crowd gatherings,” Dyer said Tuesday afternoon. “With that being said, hopefully Virginia Beach will be vigilant. Our numbers are among the lowest in the state and hopefully, after Labor Day, he’ll consider taking the region back to phase 3 and allow our city to recover. We’re going to hope for a very successful financial weekend over Labor Day and hopefully that will catapult us into a very successful season next year.”

Northam said his decision is in line with advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

Northam said family and friends that want to get together for the holiday should continue to take precautions, including social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.

“Big gatherings are still not a good idea,” he said. 

BELOW: Watch Northam’s full press conference Sept. 1, 2020.

Overall, Virginia’s coronavirus outbreak is “moderately contained,” Northam says, pointing to steady trends in cases, hospitalizations, deaths and percent of positive tests.

While he decided not to change COVID-19 restrictions in Hampton Roads, the region’s trends are “positive,” Northam says.

The region has seen its average of daily cases and current hospitalizations fall steadily since a surge in late July, though deaths remain steady between about 3-6 per day.

Virginia Beach (5.8%) and Norfolk (8.5%) have seen their percent of positive tests fall below 10%, but percent positivity remains high in nearby Chesapeake (12.2%), Portsmouth (10.4%) and Western Tidewater (12.3%).

Virginia Beach also had roughly the same percent positivity ahead of Fourth of July (6% on July 4), but saw that shoot up to 12% two weeks later.

Northam says he understands the financial impact of Labor Day, but the restrictions will help keep virus levels lower as schools and colleges reopen. He says he will look to lift extra restrictions in the region if numbers continue to trend in the right direction after the weekend.

“We can get this virus under control. It can be done but it’s going to take the cooperation of everybody,” he said. 

Though Hampton Roads’ case numbers have fallen, other areas of the state (Southwest and Northern) have seen their numbers go up, making Virginia’s statewide average essentially the same as this time last month. The case increases have been fueled by students returning to college campuses statewide, with more than 500 cases at James Madison University after classes resumed on August 26. Northam says he’s monitoring the trends at JMU and colleges around the state.

“As we look toward the fall, I want everyone to understand we are heading in the right direction, and it’s important to celebrate success during these tough times … it’s in our hands, it really is … we could get this under control if we all did the right thing,” Northam said.

Northam said he’s concerned about southwest Virginia, where the percent of positive cases is rising and hospitals aren’t as well resourced.

The governor said the state is facing a new challenge as fewer people are showing up to testing sites. He’s reminding Virginians to get tested, especially workers in high-contact jobs like teachers.

Northam made it clear that teachers waiting on results should stay home until they’re cleared. This comes after the Trump Administration advised educators to keep working after a possible exposure if they aren’t showing any symptoms.

“That is the wrong thing to do,” Northam said.

Also at the press conference, Northam emphasized the importance of filling out the 2020 Census. Census totals influence the allocation of federal funding, representation in Congress and public safety planning.

“It takes less than 10 minutes to make an impact on your community for the next 10 years,” an official said.

Officials added that the information provided in Census surveys is confidential and does not include questions on a person’s social security number, bank account information, political affiliation or citizenship status.

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