RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia officials explained why the state's ABC stores are classified as an essential business during the COVID-19 crisis.
"They are essential under the existing Emergency Operations Plan," Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said during a news briefing on the coronavirus pandemic Friday.
Additionally, Moran said that social distancing is being practiced in the stores since no more than 10 customers are permitted in a location at one time.
"Really, we're able to achieve social distancing in the ABC store environment," Moran said.
Earlier this week officials announced ABC stores would remain open with reduced operating hours.
All Virginia ABC will be open from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week, starting Friday, March 27.
“Given the expanding nature of the coronavirus to other areas of the commonwealth, after consulting with the Virginia Department of Health, we believe these adjustments to our business practices will reinforce measures already in place to keep everyone safe and mitigate the impact of this virus on our employees and customers,” Virginia ABC Chief Executive Officer Travis Hill said earlier this week.
The limited hours were already in place for 24 Virginia ABC retail outlets in the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and Williamsburg, and the counties of James City and York.
Officials also encouraged shoppers to practice social distancing and reduce time spent in stores by placing their order online.
Last week a Virginia ABC store in downtown Richmond was closed after the roommate of an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Store 182, located at 1217 West Broad Street near the corner of West Broad and North Harrison streets, was expected to be closed for two weeks, officials said.
COVID-19 cases rise to 604 in Virginia
Officials said 144 additional people tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 1,148 people tested since Thursday's update, according numbers published by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia to 604.
Officials said 83 people remain hospitalized and 14 people have died as a result of COVID-19-related illnesses.
Additionally, new data from VDH Thursday showed the age group most affected by the coronavirus is people aged 50 to 69 years old since that group accounts for more than 36 percent of cases.
Slightly more men have been infected by the virus at 313 cases versus the 283 cases reported in women.
Officials are investigating "distinct clusters" where there is "local transmission" of the virus in Virginia.
Those clusters include 124 cases in Fairfax County, 63 in Arlington County, 55 in James City County, 44 in Prince William County, 43 in Loudon County and 29 in Virginia Beach.
New cases were reported Friday in Bristol, Galax, Greene, King Geroge, Northampton, Prince George, Roanoke City and Southampton 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 previously said. "The only thing we have to prevent the spread of this disease is social distancing, so we need to all do that."
Northam: 'We're in this for the long haul -- months'
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the Commonwealth continues to see a sharp uptick in cases of COVID-19 because of increased testing capabilities.
"But we're also seeing it because this virus continues to spread," Northam previously said. "We talked about flattening the curve, but make no mistake, we are still in the early stages of that curve rising. How high and how how quickly those numbers rise is up to you and me and every single Virginian."
Northam also said the COVID-19 outbreak will be "with us for a long time. "
"Months, not weeks," the governor said. "We need to begin adjusting to that reality."
Northam said protecting the vulnerable is the responsibility of everyone.
"It is up to all of us to act responsibly and avoid crowds. We will win this fight together," Northam said. "We're in this for the long haul... We're all in this together and we're going to get through this, but it's gonna take some time."
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.