Northam orders new COVID-19 limits for Hampton Roads area

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday issued an executive order cutting back on gatherings and indoor dining and drinking in the Hampton Roads area after a surge in COVID-19 cases there.

The order will go into effect at midnight Thursday night. Northam said at a briefing on Tuesday that the provisions include:

  • No alcohol sold or consumed on site after 10 p.m.
  • All restaurants must close at midnight, and indoor dining is limited to 50% capacity.
  • Public and private social gatherings of more than 50 are prohibited.

Northam said his measure “effectively closes the bars,” adding that “we all know alcohol changes your judgment.”

He said the measures would be in effect for at least two to three weeks, depending on the data on cases in the area.

Cases are largely stable in four of the five largest health districts, Northam said, and cases in Northern Virginia were down by two-thirds since the peak in late May.

But the “concerning rise” in the Hampton Roads area prompted the new limitations.


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Northam repeatedly said that “all options are on the table” as far as expanding the limits, as well as possibly imposing the kind of self-quarantining requirements that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser implemented Monday.

“I haven’t taken that step yet, but I’m watching and listening” to what’s happening in other states, as well as what contact tracers are saying, he said.

Northam added that $645 million in remaining federal CARES Act money will be distributed in the coming week, including money for cities and towns. Though the act requires a minimum of 15% of the money go to municipalities, Virginia is sending about 50%.

Good and bad numbers

Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s health officer, said 922 cases were reported Monday, and that the commonwealth was getting about 900 to 1,000 new cases a day.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Virginia stands at 1,089, the highest it’s been since late May.

The average number of cases is on the rise, Northam said, but other numbers are encouraging: The percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive statewide is 7.3%, down from 7.7% last week, but it’s down to just 6% outside of the Hampton Roads area and the peninsula.

“We need to act fast to turn this around,” Northam said of the area.

Northam, a physician, recalled his medical student days, when he would look at various numbers and tell a mentor they were within normal ranges. “Yes, but Ralph, the trends are going up,” he recalled being told. “You need to take action today to prevent … what may happen.”

Northa also expressed frustration that some people were getting test results back much more quickly than others. He railed against “inequity in testing,” saying that some groups can get tested once or even twice a day and get the results back the same day, while others have to wait up to 10 days.

“It’s just unacceptable, and I say this as a provider. … This started in February, and there’s been no guidance, no direction, nationally.”

Northam added that about 17,000 tests were being conducted a day, where a few weeks ago, they were aiming for 10,000.

Meeting with Birx

Northam added that he and senior health officials met earlier Tuesday with Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.

She told the group the pandemic was very different from March or April, including a larger spread among young people, and “The way we address it needs to be different as well,” Northam said.

He added that Birx was “complimentary of our work,” in contrast with the messages coming from the White House.

“She advocated for wearing a mask,” Northam said of Birx; “she advocated for social distancing, for staying at home … while the message from the president is to ‘liberate Virginia,’ and putting pressure on governors like myself to open our states and send kids to school.”

He called it “a disconnect” that was “unfortunate.”

Schools

The governor also said case numbers “significantly” affect the prospect of in-person school in fall. “The numbers in the community need to be down,” Northam said.

He said it was a “tricky” situation, because a lot of kids who have the virus don’t have symptoms and can take the virus home to their families, which could include relatives of at-risk age.

“It’s a recipe for disaster if the numbers in the community are high and we’re sending to children into school,” Northam said.

He used the recent outbreak among the Miami Marlins MLB team as an example: “It can get out of hand very quickly.”

‘There is a path’

The governor said he has heard concerns from parents of kids with autism; from people who want to visit loved ones in nursing homes, “like my father”; and people worried about going to work when they can’t perform social distancing.

“Everyone is questioning what tomorrow will bring. I’m worrying that people are starting to lose hope, and that’s not a good thing,” Northam said.

He added, however, that “There is a path out of this; I see hopeful signs ahead.”

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