RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam announced limitations to public and private gatherings, an expanded mask mandate, strengthened enforcement at retail businesses and an alcohol curfew. These restrictions will take effect at 12:01 Monday.
“I am confident we can get our numbers back down but it requires all of us to make smart choices, it always has,” Northam said.
Gov. Northam issued these new restrictions Friday afternoon in a press release. Due to the decision to release details in a press release and not during a press conference, reporters were unable to get immediate answers to questions.
The governor made this decision in the wake of national and statewide surges in COVID-19 cases. A release from the Governor’s office says cases in Virginia are comparatively low, but positive tests and hospitalizations are increasing in all five health districts. Northam says Virginia is not an island and the state is acting now to insure things to do not get worse.
“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,” Northam said.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Northam did not indicate any signs of tightening restrictions. When asked if he would consider any additional mandates he stated, “There are a lot of things that we’re considering but we’re right now focusing on how to mitigate increasing numbers by the measures that we’ve already talked about.”
Under the new restrictions, public and private gatherings will be limited to 25 individuals instead of the current 250 person cap. According to the governor’s press secretary Alena Yarmosky, the cap does not apply to religious services, employment or schools. The rule will only limit things such as parties, celebrations and social events.
Now all Virginians over the age of 5 will be required to wear masks indoors, previously children under 10 were not required to wear a mask.
“Face coverings are one of the best tools we have to fight COVID-19 so everyone needs to wear them,” Northam said.
Essential retail businesses such as grocery stories and pharmacies will see stricter enforcement of rules such as face covering use, physical distancing and extra cleaning. Violations can now be enforced as Class One misdemeanors.
According to Julie Henderson, Director of the Office of Environmental Health Services, the Virginia Department of Health may now apply a misdemeanor charge to essential businesses not following the governor’s amended guidelines. The punishment for those misdemeanors will be set by a court of law and includes up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500, or both.
Establishments serving alcohol on-site such as breweries, restaurants and bars will be required to cease alcohol sales, consumption and possession by 10 p.m.
“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,” Northam said. “I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”
The case count in Virginia has been averaging around 1,500 per day. The surge is particularly evident in Southwest Virginia. Northam says some of the spread can be attributed to things like eating indoors at restaurants, attending small social gatherings, such as dinner parties, or when people “ignore the science” and do not follow restrictions.
Northam’s release says hospitalizations have increased by more than 35% in the last month. Hospital capacities across the Commonwealth remain stable.
The full text of today’s announcement, amended Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five and sixth amended Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven, is available to read online.
Local leaders respond to governor’s mandates
Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) released a statement today expressing his disappointment with Northam’s handling of the announcement. “The Governor made this announcement just days after telling the public he would not impose any new restrictions in Virginia. And he did it late on a Friday afternoon without holding a press conference or answering any questions. At the time of his announcement, a copy of his new executive order was not even available for the public to review,” Cox said.
Cox goes on to call the announcement “ham-handed” and says that Northam changes his mind too frequently.
In the City of Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney called Northam’s decision responsible and data-driven. Stoney tweeted today that he was pleased with Virginia for being a leader in “prioritizing public health and safety.” Stoney includes that he expects all Richmond residents to follow the new regulations.
This is a breaking news update. Stay with 8News as we continue reporting on this developing story.