RICHMOND, Va. -- As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the Commonwealth, Governor Ralph Northam announced new restrictions Thursday to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The executive order, which goes into effect Monday, December 14, includes a modified stay-at-home order that will be in effect from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. each night. Northam says exceptions include travel to and from work.
However, Northam did not say anything about the stay-at-home order being enforced.
Also beginning Monday, Virginia's limit on social gatherings (whether indoor or outdoor) will be dropped from 25 to 10 people. This does not impact restaurants, churches, or educational settings that already have restrictions in place.
The restrictions will remain in effect until January 31, 2021 unless rescinded or amended.
"They will be temporary, at least for now," said Northam. "But I want everyone to understand this up front. We don't want to extend this but we may have to it all depends on what the virus is doing next month. And that depends on what you do right now. If the virus starts to come under control, we may be able to loosen up but if not, we may have to take further action."
Thursday, Virginia reported nearly 4,000 new COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths. The Commonwealth has been reporting between 2,500 and 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 a day following the post-Thanksgiving surge.
As of Thursday morning, Virginia’s 7-day moving average of the percent-positivity has risen to 11%, up from a low of 4.7% in early October.
“New daily case numbers are higher than they have been at any previous point in the pandemic, and while the trends in Virginia are better than most of the country, we are taking action now to slow the spread of this virus before our hospitals get overwhelmed,” said Northam.
Northam is also expanding the state’s mask requirements in light of new CDC recommendations. The new requirements include all shared indoor settings and outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible. The previous mask mandate requires only masks be worn in indoor public settings.
"Virginians, if you don’t have to be out, stay at home. Whenever we are around other people, we all need to wear a mask, indoors and out,” said Northam.
The governor had previously imposed restrictions in mid-November in an effort to stem the surge in cases, including imposing an alcohol sales curfew at bars/restaurants, and requiring children as young as five follow the mask mandate (down from 10). These restrictions will remain in place.
Other mitigation measures will include:
- Continued limits on dining establishments: Virginia restaurants are currently governed by strict social distancing and sanitization requirements, which remain in place. The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol remains prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight.
- Teleworking: Employees that can telework are strongly encouraged to do so.
In a statement, House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert called Northam's curfew order unconstitutional.
"Once again, the Governor has introduced draconian new restrictions, but failed to articulate to Virginians how they will stop the spread of COVID. For example, how will a blatantly unconstitutional curfew — which will no doubt create resistance — help save lives? Is COVID spreading at late-night gatherings?" Gilbert said. "Governor Northam must first and foremost follow the Constitution, and he must tell Virginians how these rules will fight COVID. Virginians aren’t dumb. If the Governor gives them the information, I have no doubt that Virginians will act on it in a responsible manner. But 'trust me' is no longer good enough."
A spokesperson for Northam said the "commonsense guidelines" are based in the "science of how this disease spreads — when we gather in groups, when we don’t wear masks, and when we let our guards down and forgo social distancing."
"We know people tend to get less vigilant later at night, and particularly when alcohol is involved," a spokesperson for Northam said. "We’ve already put an alcohol curfew in place, but these additional steps are about making sure Virginians are doing what we know works: wearing masks, avoiding gatherings, and staying home when we don’t need to be out."
The official also pointed to recently released CDC guidance that states universal masking could be as effective as a vaccine in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
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.