RICHMOND, Va. -- New actions that aim to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Virginia went into effect at midnight Sunday.
“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a video message posted Friday afternoon. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”
The announcement came as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the U.S. and in Virginia. In fact, the 7-Day percent-positivity across the state was at 7.0%, Sunday. That is up from 4.7% back at the start of October.
Last week, Northam also expressed concern about the upward trend in COVID-19 increases in the number of cases, hospitalizations.
The new restrictions include a limit of 25 individuals for in-person gatherings and an expanded mask mandate:
- Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings. This does not apply to schools or churches, gyms, businesses and restaurants.
- Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
- Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor.
- On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is 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. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.
Bartender: New COVID restrictions will cause 'straining'
Jamill Chambers, who has been bar-tending for the past five years, is anxious about the new restrictions.
"It's straining because a lot of these businesses, that's the majority of their business," Chambers said. "The majority of their sales is the alcohol revenue."
Chambers hopes the new measures will be enough to prevent a complete shutdown of restaurants and bars.
"Businesses have been forced to close or shutdown left and right, leaving the people that working in the tipping business out of work," he said. "And we're some of the most hardest working people."
Chambers called his job a love and a passion, but admitted 2020 has been a challenge.
"It's not just the craziest year of bar-tending, it's the craziest year of my life -- and everybody's life at this point," he said.
Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, Chair of Infectious Disease at VCU Health, said the new restrictions are needed.
"This is all temporizing measures, non-pharmacological interventions to decrease the COVID-19 transmissions before we have the arrival of a safe and effective widespread vaccine," Bearman said.
And Bearman believes Northam was right to act now as we head into the winer months where people will gather indoors for the holidays.
"Is this really worth the risk having multi-generational gatherings in a home?" Bearman said. "Cases are increasing, we could easily overwhelm the health system if we don't take these matters... seriously."
US cases hit 11M; latest million took 6 days
The tightened restrictions come as coronavirus cases continue to reach record levels across the United States.
In fact, more than 11 million cases of the coronavirus have now been reported in the United States, with the most recent million coming in less than a week.
Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reached 11 million on Sunday. It had topped 10 million cases on Nov. 9.
It took 300 days for the U.S. to hit the 11 million mark since the first case was diagnosed in Washington state on Jan. 20.
COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly across the U.S. than it has at any time since the pandemic started. Deaths are also on the rise, though not at the record high numbers reached in the spring. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths was more than 1,080 as of Saturday, more than 30% higher than it was two weeks earlier.
COVID-19 has now killed more than 246,000 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins.
Worldwide, more than 54 million coronavirus cases have been reported with more than 1.3 million deaths. The U.S. has about 4% of the world’s population, but about a fifth of all reported cases.
ER doctor on COVID-19: 'We are seeing a second wave'
Dr. Carlton Stadler, a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, believed we may be entering into a deadly Winter due to COVID-19.
"We are seeing a second wave at this point," Stadler said. "I would anticipate having just under 400,000 [deaths] in January or February given the exponential spread of this process."
During an April interview, Stadler predicted a resurgence of positive cases when businesses begin to reopen.
The Central Virginia emergency medicine physician has shared encouraging news regarding the efforts to combat the pandemic.
"We have multiple treatments that have been tested and are out now," Stadler explained. "We are actually able to see and discharge patients instead of having to admit them to the hospital."
During the onset of the pandemic, some Virginians avoided seeking treatment at the ER for fear of contracting the virus.
"The emergency room is a very safe and very clean place. We are not having transmissions in the emergency room between patients. We also have more effective means to be able to treat patients and people are actually being discharged," Stadler stated.
He encouraged families to limit gatherings during the holiday like his own family will do this Winter.
"We are going to keep a close circle this holiday. We aren’t going to be traveling out and certainly won’t be bringing in any family either," Stadler said.
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.