The state is clamping down on Hampton Roads communities after a continued increase in the number of COVID-
19 cases, intensive care unit hospitalizations, and emergency room visits there over the past several weeks.
This crackdown does not include Gloucester or Mathews counties, where numbers have increased but the rate of positive cases remains low.
During a press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said that the increase is largely due to increased socialization among young people, including for birthdays, backyard barbecues, and other celebrations, and he announced that a number of measures would be taken to address the problem.
The new measures, which go into effect at midnight tonight, include prohibiting the on-site sale, consumption and possession of alcohol after 10 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, winery or tasting room. On top of that, he ordered that all such establishments close by midnight, and that indoor dining in them be limited to 50 percent capacity.
In addition, Northam decreased the number of people allowed at both public and private in-person gatherings to no more than 50, down from the Phase III cap of 250 people.
The renewed limitations apply to the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Williamsburg, Newport News, Poquoson, James City County, and York County, where the percent of positive cases ranges from 9.9 percent to 18.6 percent. The Peninsula area had a positivity rate of just 3.4 percent one month ago, according to the governor’s Executive Order 68, but that rate had increased to 8.7 percent by Tuesday. The rest of Virginia, said the governor, has an average positive rate of just 6 percent.
“The spread happens when too many people gather and are non-compliant—and selfish,” said Northam. “Alcohol changes the judgment, and that’s when the virus spreads. I will not hesitate to do what it takes to keep Virginians safe.”
Northam spoke of a meeting he had earlier in the day with Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He said that he had requested federal assistance to increase testing capacity and reduce test turnaround times. He said that Dr. Birx had been complimentary about the work being done in Virginia.
“I told her we see her and Dr. Fauci as the country’s medical leaders,” said Northam.
A press release from the governor’s office said that the measures being put in place are in line with Birx’s own recommendations to reduce indoor dining, restrict social gatherings, and increase the use of facial coverings.
In his introductory remarks, Northam said that the 87,000 diagnosed cases and the 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 cases in Virginia “represent real people and real lives.”
“It’s been a hard summer and a difficult year,” he said, from the frustrations children feel about not being able to play sports and see their friends, to the people with loved ones in nursing homes they can’t visit, to employees worried about working when they’re not able to socially distance.
“I’m worried people are starting to lose hope,” said Northam. “But there is a path out … Do not be afraid. Let not yourself grow weary. We’re all in this together.”
The good news, he said, is that vaccines are being developed and things are turning around in nursing homes, where only 1 percent are testing positive and 3,000 people have recovered. In addition, he said, Virginia has avoided the dramatic increases that have occurred in other parts of the country, and cases are stable in four out of five health regions in Virginia. In Northern Virginia, once the state’s primary hot spot, the number of cases has dropped by two-thirds, said Northam, “because people are doing the right thing and following the guidelines.”
The same holds true in northwest, southwest and central Virginia, said Northam, where the positivity rates for COVID-19 range from 5 percent to 7.1 percent.
On a personal level, people are helping and supporting each other by doing such things as donating to food banks, said Northam, and he spoke of a woman who has opened her home to five young children so they can have a place for distance learning.
“People sometimes feel helpless,” he said. “But we have the power to turn this around. “Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Stay at home. Avoid crowds. Check on your friends and neighbors.”