Northam: State will ramp up enforcement of COVID-19 safety guidelines

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam said the state is stepping up enforcement of coronavirus restrictions to reign in recent increases in new daily cases.

Northam’s press conference on Tuesday comes as the percent of positive tests is also creeping up in the commonwealth. It now sits just below 7 percent. New data released by the Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday shows the trends vary by region.

Cases are surging in Eastern Virginia, an area that accounts for a significant portion of the state’s recent increase. Northam said the Tidewater region now has a percent positivity rate of more than 10 percent. Meanwhile, Northern Virginia–an early hotspot–is seeing its lowest daily case counts in months. Northam added that the Central region is seeing a ‘slight increase,’ with a percent positivity rate of 6.6 percent.

“I want to assure Virginians we are not seeing spikes like Florida or Texas … but we don’t live in a vacuum…Eastern Virginia is a big tourist hub,” Northam said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said inspectors will begin conducting unannounced visits to businesses starting Tuesday, with a focus on Hampton Roads. Oliver said 100 new inspectors will aid in stricter enforcement, in addition to the 500 people who already do this kind of work in the state.

“If you own a restaurant or a business and you aren’t following the regulations then your license will be on the line and we will not hesitate to act if needed,” Northam said. “I want to be clear, this is not the end of actions we may take but the beginning.”

Northam is also urging stores and restaurants to crack down on customers who refuse to wear masks. If people don’t comply, the governor reminded that they can be arrested for trespassing.

“Now it should be no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Northam said.

The governor said the increase in cases in Hampton Roads is largely driven by people socializing without masks, especially young people. He said cases among 20-29 year-olds have gone up by 250 percent since early June.

“These enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules,” Northam said. “You are being selfish and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing to beat this virus.”

The governor said he’s also considering reducing the cap on gatherings from 250 to 50 people. He said contact-tracers have identified outbreaks connected to parties at people’s homes.

Northam said if he were to reinstate business restrictions like some other states, he would do so regionally, rather than statewide.

“When all this started we made guidelines statewide. That was to flatten the curve. Now it’s about mitigation and depending on where that is needed we will direct those changes,” he said.

In addition, the governor said he is working on a plan with the Virginia ABC to impose an earlier cut off for alcohol sales. He said he will announce more information on that soon.

WATCH: Full coronavirus briefing with Gov. Northam, state officials

Virginia reopens under Phase 3

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