RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam warned businesses that do not follow the state's recommended social distancing guidelines and 10-person restrictions could lose their operating permit "on the spot" and be charged with a misdemeanor.
"I'm proud of what most Virginians are doing, but let's be clear, there are a few people that are not yet getting the message," Northam said during a news conference Saturday morning.
The governor said restaurants, fitness centers or other non-essential businesses that stay open and have more than 10 patrons inside their facilities will face consequences.
"This is real," Northam pleaded. "I am taking this seriously and I asked you to take it seriously as well. We will get through this. But it is imperative that every everyone does their part to limit social interactions and slow the spread of this virus."
That said, Northam has stopped short of ordering all non-essential workers in Virginians to stay home. Governors of Connecticut, Illinois, New York and California have ordered about 75 million residents, all but essential workers, to stay home to prevent spreading COVID-19.
"This is a dynamic situation and, and we monitor that literally minute-to-minute hour-to-hour," Northam said.
When asked if he had considered an order for parts of the state with the most cases, like northern Virginia, he said the situation was fluid.
"It's really in the people's hands of Virginia and we will do what we need to do to enforce. But I would encourage Virginians that if you don't abide by our guidelines, you're not only putting yourself at risk, but you're putting others at risk," Northam said. "And when I say others, our family members, our parents, our grandparents, and, and perhaps most importantly, our health care providers and our first responders... We all collectively need to do everything that we can to keep those individuals healthy, because they are literally our first line of defense."
COVID-19 cases in Virginia top 152; state revises testing requirements
Virginia health officials said Saturday that 152 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 25 people remain hospitalized with the illness in the Commonwealth.
"There are 25 [cases] in the Central Region, 42 in the Eastern Region, 77 in the Northern Region, six in the Northwestern Region and two in the Southwest Region of Virginia," Virginia Department of Health Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Laurie Forlano said.
Officials said 2,790 people have been tested, which is an increase of 465 people tested for coronavirus in Virginia since Friday's update.
Forlano said Virginia has revised its COVID-19 testing requirements as "the situation has evolved."
"We're prioritizing healthcare workers and those responders who have had contact or cared for COVID-19 patients," Forlano said. "We want to make sure that they are protected, so we can ensure the continuity of care."
There is also a "priority" for healthcare facility outbreaks, Forlano said.
"The testing criteria for hospitalized individuals with more severe illness remain largely the same," Forlano said. "And the testing criteria for persons who are residing in nursing homes have been slightly relaxed to remove one testing component that previously existed -- and we hope that will relieve a barrier for testing for those individuals."
Additionally, Forlano said the state is focused on testing "clusters of respiratory illness" where the flu has been ruled as a cause of sickness.
Health officials are reporting "distinct clusters" of coronavirus cases in parts of the state.
"We have at this point distinct clusters and a few geographic areas in the state," Dr. Lilian Peake, a state epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), said. "And so we are at a level where we're seeing local transmission in Virginia."
Those clusters include 20 cases in James City County, 14 in Prince William County, 22 in Arlington County and 22 in Fairfax County.
"We do not have a medicine for COVID-19. We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Friday "The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing., so we need to all do that."
COVID-19 Info and Precautions
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.