RICHMOND — Rising COVID-19 case numbers in several states prompted Gov. Ralph Northam to toughen restrictions in Virginia last weekend.
“Seeing mobile morgues outside of hospitals, because there is no place to put the dead. We don’t need that to happen in Virginia,” Northam said during a Wednesday press conference.
With Virginia seeing as many as 2,100 new cases a day this week, the governor is urging the public to abide by recommended health guidelines and limit gatherings on Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 26.
Health officials are asking families to limit gatherings to individuals inside their immediate household. And, if possible, families are being asked to gather outdoors to limit the risk of transmitting the virus.
“If you must gather with people from outside of your home, do it outside if you can,” Northam said.
Even though Virginia ranks fourth from the bottom among states in the positivity rate for the virus, Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said cases have been rising steadily across the state.
The infection rate is now 18 per 100,000, which is double the number health officials reported a few weeks ago. The highest transmission rates continue to be in Southwest Virginia.
“I don’t think we want to wait for things to get worse before taking action,” Northam said.
Restaurants and bars face the toughest restrictions under Northam’s new Executive Order. On Monday, those establishments were ordered to stop on-site alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and close by midnight.
Northam also stepped up enforcement of safety guidelines at essential retail places like grocery stores and pharmacies. Violators could have their operating permit pulled and face a Class I misdemeanor.
Northam said the state will begin assessing civil penalties in March for violations. But until that law takes effect, violators will continue to face being charged with a Class I misdemeanor.
The governor’s face-covering mandate was expanded to include children ages five and up instead of 10 and up.
Northam also reduced the state’s gathering limit, both indoor and outdoor, to just 25. The public gathering limit had been 250.
The governor said the state is readying to implement distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine after it becomes available.
“We have been planning for distribution for months and we will be ready,” he said.
Two drug companies have announced promising results in developing a vaccine that could be ready for distribution by the end of December or early January.
“The vaccine will take time to distribute,” Northam said in stressing that the public needs to take proper precautions.
The state is continuing to funnel grant funds to small businesses feeling the sting of the pandemic.
Northam said the state has distributed approximately $55 million in grants under the Rebuild Virginia Program. The state has received approximately 15,000 applications from small businesses.
But Northam said greater help is needed and he is asking Congress to swiftly approve another Coronavirus stimulus package to assist individuals and businesses.
Northam said he has been in contact with Virginia’s Congressional delegation this week to push for quick action by Washington lawmakers.
(Gavin Dressler Photo)
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.