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As Cases Continue to Spike, Northam Strengthens COVID Restrictions

Man at podium
Northam announced new restrictions during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. (Screenshot from livestream).

Gov. Ralph Northam announced further restrictions Thursday for Virginia as the state continues to struggle with its worst spike in COVID-19 cases. This comes less than a month after he introduced new statewide restrictions for the first time since March.

Virginia now finds itself under a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. which the governor is calling a “modified stay-at-home order.” People traveling to and from work are exempt from this curfew. 

The order, however, will not carry a penalty and the governor said it’s in part about, “messaging.” When asked about enforcement, he said the state will rely on Virginians to carry out the order.

“We will ask Virginians to follow those guidelines, and that’s the way we’ll move forward,” Northam said.

Other new measures include limiting social gatherings to 10 people, down from 25, and expanding the mask mandate to include outdoor spaces where social distancing is not possible.

“The virus we know spreads when people are around each other in groups. When groups are smaller, it spreads less,” Northam said.

The restrictions will take effect starting Monday, Dec. 14. They are set to expire Jan. 31, though the governor noted they may be extended or further strengthened if cases don’t begin to fall. 

Northam implemented new restrictions on Nov. 13 in efforts to curb the spread of the virus, but said he felt compelled to tighten the state’s guidelines as the spike continued.

Cases in the state have increased from a 7-day average of 765 on Sep. 24 to 2,716 on Dec. 3, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Over the past month, Northam said hospitalizations have gone up 80% in the state and lamented the stress healthcare workers have been placed under.

“The nurses and doctors are literally exhausted. They've been working around the clock for months,” he said. “Even worse, many of them are now dealing with COVID at home.”

Northam said the new limitations are designed to help alleviate the pressures on the state’s hospitals.

The governor called the new restrictions “common sense,” something which Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney echoed in a statement.

“The governor’s enhanced public health protocols are common sense steps to keep our city and commonwealth safe during this latest surge,” Stoney said. “This community has worked too hard, sacrificed too much to let our guard down now. Stay safe, wear your mask and stay at home from midnight to 5 a.m.”

Much like the previous restrictions, the new limitations will not affect schools, universities or places of worship. Instead, Northam asked that community and religious leaders spearhead the charge on social distancing and mask wearing, especially as people celebrate religious holidays.

“This year, we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship, or is it the building?” he said. “ Worship with a mask on is still worship.”

Despite the dour tone of his announcement, Northam delivered some optimistic news regarding the COVID-19 vaccines. He said, if it is approved, the state hopes to begin administering the Pfizer vaccine as soon as this weekend.

“Getting ourselves vaccinated is the only way to end this pandemic,” he said. “It will be the light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.”

The state announced last week it expects to receive 480,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the year, however, health experts told VPM News these doses are unlikely to decrease the spread of the coronavirus.

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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