Gov. Northam is not reinstating COVID-19 restrictions despite rising cases ahead of holiday season

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said coronavirus cases are rising in Virginia but he is not planning on reinstating restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

The announcement comes on the same day that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced stricter guidelines in neighboring Maryland on indoor restaurant capacity, indoor gatherings and out-of-state travel.

For weeks, Gov. Northam has been raising concerns about increasing cases in rural Southwest Virginia, where at least one local health official has called for a reversion in the phased reopening process.

Meanwhile, the hospital system serving much of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is reporting its highest number of inpatient COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. The influx is prompting Ballad Health to hire additional nurse, realign resources and, in some cases, push back elective surgeries.

Despite this, Northam stopped short of imposing new restrictions in Southwest Virginia, saying at the end of his remarks that he “probably wont” hold another press conference before Thanksgiving.

Instead, he detailed the launch of a new communications campaign designed to reinforce the basics of the state’s public health strategy: mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing. It also advises Southwest Virginia residents that if cases continue to climb ‘at an alarming rate,’ the region may not have the hospital beds to keep up.

While recent focus has been on Southwest Virginia, Northam emphasized on Tuesday that other areas cannot let their guard down. He noted that Central Virginia has also seen a “steady increase” in cases.

“Our message today is for every Virginian because we are one state, one commonwealth and no region is an island. We all need to step up our vigilance and precautions,” Northam said.

Especially going into the holiday season, Northam said Virginians should limit gatherings to small groups and wear masks. He said people should consider eating Thanksgiving dinner in a place with good ventilation or even outside if possible, since the virus spreads more easily indoors.

“There is no genetic immunity that prevent you from giving this virus to your mother, to your grandfather or any other loved ones in the house with you,” Northam said. “I’m not saying don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but, if you’re planning to gather with people outside of your household, think about ways to do it more safely.”

Also on Tuesday, Northam said new contracts will allow the state to do 7,000 more PCR tests daily by the end of this year. Additionally, Northam’s Administration is currently distributing shipments of rapid tests than can produce results in about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said he expects a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved before 2020 comes to a close after Pfizer announced preliminary results suggesting their vaccine was more than 90 percent effective.

“That is very, very encouraging but we should all remember that this isn’t the magic bullet,” Northam said.

Northam said that any approved vaccine would still take months to distribute. All the while, Dr. Oliver said some COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place.

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