Gov. Ralph Northam announced renewed restrictions on restaurants, bars and social gatherings in Hampton Roads and other Eastern regions of Virginia on Tuesday afternoon as their COVID-19 figures continue to trend upward.
Northam has moved out of the spotlight in recent weeks after months of daily or tri-weekly briefings to update Virginia on the state of affairs when it came to responding to COVID-19. On Tuesday, Northam returned to the podium again for the second time in three weeks to announce his administration’s intentions to “put a lot of attention on Hampton Roads.”
Following a visit to the area from the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the weekend, Northam said he determined he needed to “take additional steps to avoid congregating.”
The region has a positivity rate of over 10% and a fast-growing caseload will have to deal with new curfews and restrictions on social gatherings beginning at midnight Thursday.
Hampton Roads isn’t facing the same lockdown procedures the state implemented in the early days of the pandemic but restaurants and bars will not be allowed to serve alcohol after 10 p.m.; all restaurants will have to close by midnight; indoor seating will be limited to 50% of the establishment’s capacity and social gatherings will be limited to no more than 50 people.
Northam praised the state generally for its response to COVID-19 and the fact that cases are “largely stable” in four of the five health planning regions is due to that response.
“[It] happened because people are doing the right thing,” Northam said, “and following the guidelines.”
Tuesday’s announcement will only affect the Eastern Health Planning Region for now, Northam said, but he hasn’t ruled out continuing with a similar phased approach to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Northern Virginia was slow to get its cases under control and as a result was later to the reopening phases than the rest of the state. Since it caught up, the situation in Northern Virginia has not been any worse than the rest of the state but last week the Virginia Department of Health announced it did have one area — Arlington — that is being viewed as a “surge” zone.
The Northwest Health Planning Region — which includes the Lord Fairfax Health District — also has two “surge” zones in the Thomas Jefferson and Rappahannock-Rapidan health districts.
Northam said that “all options are still on the table,” when it comes to placing specific areas of the state under strict conditions to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
The executive order will go into effect Thursday evening but will not have an end date. Northam said officials will continue to monitor the area and people there should expect to deal with the restrictions for two to three weeks and see if they have any effect.
Despite the general improvement in prospects for the state, Northam said he believes people are beginning to lose hope. To combat the growing sense of despair, Northam reminded Virginians that the situation now is improved from what it was at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The country’s best scientists are making progress on a vaccination,” Northam said.
He also pointed to the improved landscape of long-term care facilities and nursing homes — a population that suffered more than others and was of particular concern for Shenandoah County.
The pandemic cases in nursing homes accounted for about a third of all cases in the state, Northam said. Now just over 1% of tests in nursing homes are returning as positive tests, he said. Almost 3,000 people in nursing homes have recovered from COVID-19, he said, and hospitals have discharged more than 12,000 COVID-19 patients.
With balancing positive items in Virginia’s favor and instituting new rounds of restrictions on part of the state, Northam emphasized the importance of following social distancing guidelines and wearing a mask whenever possible. Wearing one, he said, is not going away any time soon.
“As a general rule, get used to wearing a mask,” he said. “Until we put COVID-19 behind us, I think that has to be part of our daily routine.”