RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t announce extra coronavirus restrictions for Virginia in a press conference on Wednesday, saying controlling the virus is in the hands of Virginians.
However, he did reemphasize new restrictions that started on Sunday.
He says he hopes those restrictions will be enough at the moment to help curb the spread of the virus, but stressed that all options are on the table as he and his team continue to watch the data.
The most recent restrictions include:
- 25 people or fewer gatherings “emphasis on fewer”
- masks required for Virginians 5 and older in public spaces
- limits on capacity at sporting venues
- alcohol sales cut off at 10 p.m.
Instead, Northam again asked Virginians to follow coronavirus safety guidelines (avoid crowds, wear a mask, wash hands, etc.) to help curb the rising numbers statewide.
Numbers still rising
Virginia is still seeing record levels of new cases, and hospitalizations are nearing record levels. However, Northam pointed to New York Times data that shows Virginia is doing relatively well compared to nearly every other state in the country in cases per capita. It’s fourth from the bottom in that metric.
The governor said the “most rapid and concerning” spread remains in rural Southwest Virginia, where the percent of positive tests regionally is over 11 percent. Meanwhile, Northern Virginia–an early hotspot–is once again seeing its percent positivity rate grow to more than 8 percent.
Northam says he’s encouraged by the news of two promising COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon. Pfizer announced on Wednesday its vaccine is roughly 95% effective and it will ask for emergency use authorization in the coming days. Moderna also recently announced its vaccine is just as effective.
“Light is a few months away still,” Northam said about the vaccines.
Virginia Health Commissioner Norm Oliver says the commonwealth is prepared to distribute those vaccines, noting the Moderna vaccine will be easier to handle because it doesn’t need the extremely cold temperatures needed for the Pfizer one.
With the holidays coming up, Northam has urged Virginians to avoid having in-person Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings outside of your immediate household. He again pushed that message on Wednesday, saying “this year, staying home is an act of love.”
“I ask you, Virginia, to think hard about how you celebrate this holiday. Consider the risk, not just to yourself, but to your family and loved ones,” Northam said. “This year staying home is an act of love too.”
If you do gather with others, Northam encourages eating outdoors to avoid spreading the virus.
Northam said–for now–he’s not limiting travel, adding that all options are on the table if metrics don’t improve. However, he is encouraging virtual or outdoor Thanksgiving celebrations.
Latest tightening of restrictions
The latest change in coronavirus restrictions came on Friday. They went into effect late Sunday.
News of the stricter standards came via press release–rather than press conference–causing confusion initially among some businesses. Now, we’re learning more about why Northam’s administration chose certain mitigation strategies over others.
“We don’t want to wait until we’re seeing overwhelmed hospitals and double digit positivity rates in every region,” Northam said. “I’ll tell you what really motivated me was seeing mobile morgues because there’s no place to put the dead — we don’t need that in Virginia.”
Across Virginia’s northern border, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is going back to Phase Two and telling people to cancel trips to high-risk areas ahead of the holidays, impacting non-essential travel to dozens of states. Other governors are now requiring people to get tested within days of their arrival and quarantine if they can’t show negative results.
To rein in recent increases, Northam said his administration is sticking to a similar playbook that helped bring down cases in Hampton Roads earlier this summer, including decreasing the cap on social gatherings.
Health officials have warned that small gatherings of family and friends are largely driving surges. Northam said his administration decided a 25 person limit–down from 250–would be a good starting place based on risk projections associated with different maximums.
“This isn’t a floor, this is a ceiling. I strongly discourage Virginians from having social events with that many people, especially indoors,” Northam emphasized.
“Obviously that is difficult to enforce but if someone is not following the guidelines and law enforcement becomes aware of it they may intervene,” he added when asked about compliance in private homes. Currently, the possible punishment remains a Class One Misdemeanor, as the $500 civil penalty for violations recently passed by the General Assembly doesn’t take effect for several months.
Also among the new restrictions that took effect earlier this week is a 10 p.m. cutoff on alcohol sales and consumption at various businesses.
“We know the later it gets, the more likely people are to drink and forget about social distancing,” Northam said.
Northam’s order also specified that customers could only be served at socially-distanced tables, which he described as an alternative to decreasing indoor dining capacity.
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