Northam: Virginia to limit in-person gatherings, more amid COVID-19 surge

Virginia will enact some tighter COVID-19 restrictions amid a surge in cases across the commonwealth.

Those measures include limiting in-person gatherings to 25 people, an expanded face mask mandate, halting late-night alcohol sales at restaurants and increased enforcement of pandemic rules for essential businesses, such as grocery stores.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced the measures Friday in a news release.

“While the commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests and hospitalizations,” the governor’s office said.

Northam said though cases in Virginia are not rising “as rapidly” as in other U.S. states, he does “not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse.”

These measures take effect starting midnight on Sunday, Nov. 15:

  • Private and public in-person gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, are limited to 25 people, down from the current cap of 250. A gathering is defined as a party, celebration or other social event. The definition does not include workplaces, schools and restaurants. Religious services of more than 25 people can legally be held as long as specific requirements are met.
  • Virginians age 5 and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. The previous mask mandate, in place since May 29, required residents age 10 and over to wear face coverings.
  • There will be “strengthened enforcement” of rules — enhanced cleaning, social distancing, wearing face masks — at essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, and the Virginia Department of Health can hit violators with a Class One misdemeanor.
  • The on-site sale, consumption and possession of alcohol is not allowed after 10 p.m. in any restaurant, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery or tasting room. Those businesses must also close by midnight.

“Across Virginia, coronavirus cases are on the rise. Our statewide percent positivity is going up, and we’re seeing more and more people hospitalized with this virus, and more people are dying,” Northam said in a four-minute video message posted to YouTube.

“This is putting a strain on our medical facilities and front-line workers, and it’s raising the danger level for every Virginian.”

The governor’s office said Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of around 1,200 cases in May.

Though southwest Virginia is seeing a spike in confirmed cases, all five of the commonwealth’s health regions are reporting a positivity rate of over 5%. Hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35% in the last four weeks, the governor’s office said.

On Tuesday, when Northam last held a briefing on Virginia’s pandemic response, he said the test positivity rate, which had been down below 5% a few weeks ago, was up to 6.2% — a key indicator of how reliable the other numbers are. The southwest region’s positivity is up to 9%.

Northam had also announced new contracts with three testing labs that would add about 7,000 tests a day to Virginia’s capacity and let health authorities be “more nimble” in responding to outbreaks.

“I know everyone is tired of the pandemic, and tired of restrictions on our lives. But for the sake of your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, our health care provides and even the person you pass in the grocery store, please keep following the guidelines,” Northam said Friday. “This is so important with Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up.”

WTOP’s Michelle Basch and Rick Massimo contributed to this report. 

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Teta Alim

Teta Alim is a Digital Editor at WTOP. Teta's interest in journalism started in music and moved to digital media.

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