Northam Announces New COVID-19 Restrictions On Restaurants, Social Gatherings In Hampton Roads
In response to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections across Hampton Roads, Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday banned alcohol sales after 10 p.m across the region and ordered that restaurants close by midnight. He also limited social gatherings to 50 people.
Cases and hospitalizations from the coronavirus have been increasing in the Tidewater area throughout July.
While case data indicates the virus remains controlled across other parts of the state, some Hampton Roads localities have positivity rates that are higher than 10%. On Tuesday, the region was responsible for 32% of Virginia’s 922 new COVID-19 cases.
Health officials say many new cases in southeastern Virginia are among younger adults who have been exposed to the virus in social situations at parties, backyard barbecues and bars.
“This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads,” Northam said of the new restrictions during a news briefing. “It happens when too many people gather together, when too many people are non-compliant, and as I’ve said before, when too many people are selfish.”
Northam’s new order marks the first rollback of Virginia’s reopening since he started easing coronavirus restrictions in May.
The governor said the new restrictions will take effect Friday. They apply to Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, James City County and York County.
Restaurants and bars must stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m. and close by midnight. Restaurants must also limit their indoor dining capacity to 50%. Gathering limits will be reduced from 250 people to 50.
Northam said he’ll wait at least two weeks to before deciding whether to update or lift the new restrictions.
“Our administration wants nothing more than to open up our economy,” Northam said. “But we need to do it safely and responsibly.”
Northam previously expressed concern about Hampton Roads’ rising rate of infections in early July. During a news briefing July 14, he called on businesses to better enforce mask-wearing and social distancing.
But as cases continued to increase, the governor asked local mayors for plans on how their respective cities can better control the virus.
In a letter to Northam last week, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer expressed support for limiting social gatherings to 50 people and closing businesses by 11 p.m.
“I, too, share your concern regarding the substantial community spread of the virus in Hampton Roads,” Dyer wrote. “We stand by ready to help the Virginia Health Department in any way we can with resources to slow this virus down.”
The restrictions announced Tuesday come as new COVID-19 cases begin to pressure local medical centers. In a call with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner Tuesday morning, multiple hospital leaders said they’re experiencing shortages of resources to treat the virus.
Amber Egyud, chief operating and nursing officer at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, said her hospital’s rate of burning used personal protective equipment has tripled in the last few weeks. It’s creating a shortage of N95 masks and other PPE.
Mike Dacey, executive vice president of Riverside Health System, added that over 120 of his healthcare professionals aren't working right now because they’ve been exposed to the virus. And the hospital system has a limited amount of Remdesivir — a drug shown to help treat COVID-19.
“You can make a good argument that if you’re sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID, you should get Remdesivir. But the truth is we really can’t give it everyone,” Dacey said. “We only have about 20% of what we need.”
The hospital leaders agreed that testing capacity remains limited. For many people who do receive tests, wait times for results can be more than 10 days.