Governor tightens COVID-19 restrictions

Governor tightens COVID-19 restrictions
Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) at a coronavirus press briefing. (Photo/Jack Mayer/Office of the Governor)

Updated Nov. 19 at 1:40 p.m.

By Cody Mello-Klein

Several statewide COVID-19 restrictions went into effect on Sunday at midnight. The new restrictions – which limit gatherings to 25 people and tighten state-mandated mask-wearing and sanitation protocols – are in response to a statewide increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Nov. 13.

The average number of daily cases in the state hit 1,594 on Monday compared to about 1,200 in May, according to the Virginia Department of Health website. As of Wednesday, Alexandria sits at a cumulative 4,768 case count and an average of about 30 new diagnosed cases per day, according to VDH. In the city, 344 residents have been hospitalized and there have been 76 fatalities. On Wednesday, there was an increase of 42 cases and one hospitalization in a 24-hour period.

“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,” Northam said in a statement. “We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse.”

In light of these recent trends, Northam implemented new measures statewide. Among the new restrictions, the maximum allowed size of public and private in-person gatherings will be reduced from 250 to 25 people in both indoor and outdoor settings.

This new restriction does not apply to religious services, which can still host more than 25 people as long as individuals remain at least six feet apart when seated, practice physical distancing at all times and wear face masks. The host of the service must also mark seating and common areas where attendees can gather at six-foot increments.

The statewide face mask mandate has been expanded to include children between 5 and 9 years old. The mandate, which went into effect on May 29, previously only applied to people ages 10 and older.

The state will more strictly enforce cleaning, social distancing and face mask guidelines at essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Those in violation of these measures can be charged with a Class One misdemeanor, according to the governor’s office.

As of Sunday, there is also a new on-site alcohol curfew for restaurants, food courts,

breweries, wineries and others dining establishments, according to the governor’s office. On-site sale of alcohol is prohibited after 10 p.m. under the curfew, and all restaurants, bars, dining and drinking establishments must close by midnight.

Virginia has reported 208,833 cumulative cases, including 3,860 deaths and 13,707 hospitalizations as of Wednesday, according to VDH. All five regions of the state are experiencing an increase in positive tests and hospitalizations and are reporting a positivity rate of more than 5%, according to the news release.

In response, Northam announced on Nov. 10 that the state had entered into new contracts with three laboratories to increase testing capacity. The contracts with Virginia Tech, University of Virginia Medical Center and Sentara Healthcare will support high-priority outbreak investigations and community testing events. All together, the three contracted labs are expected to perform 7,000 tests per day, in addition to the testing already being done in Virginia, according to the announcement.