Virginia Health Department explains why new coronavirus restrictions are happening now

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – New coronavirus restrictions are now in effect in Virginia as cases increase nationwide.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the stricter guidelines in a pre-recorded video on Friday after saying in a press conference earlier in the week that new restrictions were not immediately necessary.

The guidelines that took effect at 12:01AM on Monday include:

  • Limiting public and private gatherings to 25 people or less, which is down from the previous cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expanding the mask mandate in indoor public spaces to include all Virginians ages five and older. Before, the cut off was age 10.
  • Strengthening enforcement within essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies. These establishments are now required to adhere to various guidelines or they could risk being charged with a Class One misdemeanor.
  • Capping the on-site sale, consumption and possession of alcohol after 10pm in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All of these places are also required to close by midnight. Customers can only be served at socially-distanced tables.

Monday marks the first statewide reopening rollback since Gov. Northam first began loosening restrictions in June. Since then, Northam has tended to favor regional interventions to mitigate rising cases.

For example, Northam stopped short of implementing the advice of the White House’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx when she came to Virginia in July to recommend a slew of statewide restrictions. Instead, he targeted Hampton Roads by reducing indoor dining, stopping alcohol sales early and decreasing the cap on social gatherings.

As the newest round of coronavirus restrictions took effect, Virginia’s percent of positive tests sat just above seven percent, representing a steady increase from below five percent in mid-October.

This time around, the increase is largely being driven by health districts in the Southwest, some of which are seeing percent positivity rates over 15 percent.

Since Northam’s press conference last Tuesday, VDH Deputy Commissioner of Population Health Dr. Laurie Forlano said officials have observed concerning trends in every region, prompting the statewide action.

“As of the last week or so, all regions of the commonwealth are either at substantial transmission or closely approaching substantial transmission. And that is determined via a combination of different kinds of data,” Forlano said.

“Essentially, everything is increasing. It’s not specific to one region, though it’s definitely being felt pretty hard down in Southwest,” Forlano furthered. “So we want to try to curb this before it gets worse.”

These widespread increases in Virginia mirror a nationwide trend and demonstrate a shift from earlier outbreaks, which tended to be concentrated in population centers.

As the country continues to deal with a virus without boundaries, the states surrounding Virginia are taking vastly different approaches to stop the spread.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee lifted statewide business restrictions at the end of September, instead making stricter guidelines and mask mandates optional for localities.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has gone further than his Democratic counterpart in Virginia. In addition to reducing the cap on social gatherings, Hogan decreased indoor dining capacity and limited travel to high-risk areas last Tuesday.

On that same day, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, also brought down the gatherings cap to a twenty-five-person maximum.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has not adjusted restrictions yet but she recently released an updated advisory for visitors to get tested.

Reporters have not had an opportunity to ask Gov. Northam direct questions about Virginia’s latest strategy and the extent of interstate collaboration. His office has declined multiple interview requests but his spokesperson, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement Monday that weekly meetings between governors continue.

Governor Northam continues to work closely with the governors of neighboring states, but will take decisive action to save lives. That’s why we’ll continue to work with our regional partners, while also allowing the data to drive decisions that mitigate the spread of the virus and protect Virginians’ health. Our administration is in regular contact with neighboring states, and we’ve had multiple discussions with them over the past several days.

Alena Yarmosky, Gov. Ralph Northam’s Spokesperson

Yarmoksy also pointed to the New York Times COVID tracker, which shows Virginia’s seven-day-average of per capita cases is lower than 49 other states and territories.

With this in mind, Dr. Forlano said VDH’s goal has been to use executive power sparingly and emphasize individual responsibility.

“Virginia’s health is in your hands. There are a lot of actions individuals can take to impact the outcome of this pandemic that don’t require executive action. It includes staying home, wearing your mask and not gathering with family and friends, even though you really want to,” Forlano said. “We thought this was a reasonable balance of mitigation restrictions.”

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