Virginia to institute nightly curfew, new gathering limits, mask rules

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m., among other new measures, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth amid a record spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The curfew starts at 12:01 a.m. Monday for everyone except those going to or from work, buying food or goods, or seeking medical attention, and is tentatively set to expire Jan. 31, 2021. “If you don’t need to go out, go home,” Northam said at the briefing Thursday.

Asked about enforcement of the curfew, Northam said, “We will ask Virginians to follow those guidelines.”

Asked whether state or local law enforcement will be able to lodge any penalties, he said, “It’s a modified stay-at-home order.”

The limit on gatherings is also being reduced from 25 to 10.

“We’re not going to go into private places of businesses … but any time you’re around other individuals, you need to put your mask on,” Northam said.

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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.

The governor imposed limits on spectators for recreational sports: 25 per field for indoor sports and two guests per player for outdoor sports.

Northam also called on religious leaders to spread the message.

“This is a holy time,” he said. “The holidays are typically times of joy and community. … But this year, we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building?”

He added, “You don’t need to sit in a church for God to hear your prayers. Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside is still worship.”

Northam also said, “A lot of places of worship — most of them — have done the right thing,” but that some others hadn’t. “And, quite frankly, we know that a lot of the spread is coming from this.”

He stopped short of placing any gathering restrictions on churches, agreeing with a questioner that the recent Supreme Court case from New York had something to do with it: “So we are following suit with that.”

The governor also said, “This does not change anything about schools and colleges or universities.” Local school boards and college governments are still making their own rules based on local conditions.

The announcement came less than an hour after Loudoun County Public Schools announced it would return to distance learning after a spike in the county.

Records broken

On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 3,915 new cases of COVID-19. That’s the second most ever, eclipsed only by the 4,398 of Wednesday.

Record case numbers have been set three times in the last six days.

On Nov. 7, a record was set at 2,103. The number hasn’t been below that since Dec. 4. As of Nov. 1, the record for most cases in a day was 1,615.

The commonwealth also reported 54 deaths, marking 127 in the past three days and a total toll of 4,335.

And the number of Virginians currently in hospitals stands at 2,051, also a record.

‘It starts to hurt’

Northam did most of the talking Thursday, but he used the words of others to make a point about the seriousness of the recent spike and about the virus in general.

He played a video message from Emily, a nurse at Ballad Health in southwestern Virginia. Her voice breaking, she said, “We’re losing more than we’re keeping,” adding, “I carry it home; I cry. A lot. This is real.”

Sacrifices are “hard,” Emily said, adding that she hasn’t seen her grandparents in months.

Wearing a mask may make it hard to breathe, she said, “but seeing these people die — they can’t breathe.”

“I can’t tell you how many people we’ve had” who contracted the virus at a ballgame or a family gathering, she said. “I’m giving these patients my all; I’ve held their hands as they died. … And it starts to hurt. And if you could stop one case … it would help so much.”

And Northam read from a social media post by Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder, who contracted the virus recently. He hasn’t had to go to the hospital, but he said he’s had a constant fever and is unable to turn his head or sleep for more than a half-hour at a time.

“This is absolutely awful,” the mayor wrote. “And it tortures you.”

Crowder’s post added, “I had bragged about how I hadn’t let this virus change my life. Well, I can tell you, it has now.”

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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