RICHMOND — Virginia will intensify its enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions following a surge of new cases that is largely centered in Hampton Roads, a popular spot for beach tourism.
Gov. Ralph Northam, speaking at a Tuesday press briefing, said he is directing three state agencies to step up enforcement of business guidelines and the state’s face-covering order, with particular emphasis on the Tidewater region, where COVID-19 cases involving persons in the 20-29 age range have surged by 250 percent since early June.
The governor is also ordering that all alcohol sales at restaurants end at 11 p.m. each day. That order is expected to go into effect in a few days.
“There’s a number of people who have not been following the guidelines,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver in explaining the need for ramped-up enforcement.
It is still mandatory for persons to wear masks in public buildings and maintain social distancing. Northam said it’s up to businesses to enforce those guidelines within their establishments.
“If you own a restaurant or business and you’re not following the regulations, your license will be on the line, and we will not hesitate to take action if needed,” he said.
“It’s just like the signs in so many store windows that say, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service,’ Now it should be ‘No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,’” Northam said.
Northam’s administration has attributed the case surge in Tidewater to rule violations at restaurants and other social settings — particularly among young people.
Northam said COVID-19 is being spread at large gatherings of people, especially at bars and parties. Some of the parties are occurring in homes, he said.
If necessary, Northam said he may restrict public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people. The maximum is now at 250. And, he may consider imposing the more stringent restrictions on a regional basis.
“I am watching it closely and we will make changes, if necessary,” he said.
For now, Northam is ordering the Virginia ABC and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to beef up enforcement of a rule ordering no service at bars, and rules requiring social distancing and overcrowding inside restaurants.
“I want to be clear, this is not the end of the actions we may take, but the beginning. I am considering other actions as needed, such as a reduction in the size of gatherings,” Northam said. “I want to make it clear that these enforcement actions are to stop the people that are clearly flouting the rules.”
The Roanoke City-Alleghany region is continuing to see a gradual uptick in COVID-19 cases, health officials said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, there were 385 active cases in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. Forty-three of those cases had been reported since Monday.
“We are seeing about 35 cases now a day on average per week,” said Dr. Thomas Kerkering, professor of medicine and infectious disease at the Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke.
“The case number is definitely increasing and it has definitely not slowed down,” said Kerkering, who serves on the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District Communicable Disease Team.
Kerkering said the virus hit more populated areas of the state initially and now it has spread to rural areas.
Since the pandemic started in early March, there have been 1,543 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — almost half of those, 809 have been in Roanoke City.
Tuesday, there were nine reported outbreaks in the health districts. Two were in manufacturing facilities; two at construction sites; two at food service entities; and one each at long-term care facilities and retail establishments. Another outbreak was traced to Myrtle Beach, S.C., travel.
“We are seeing secondary cases where people had contact with people who came back from Myrtle Beach,” Kerkering said.
Health officials are urging people who return from Myrtle Beach to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Cases are also continuing to impact younger segments of population. Persons age 18 now account for the largest percentage of COVID-19 infections in the districts.
“After that, it is pretty evenly distributed,” Kerkering said, while noting that the average age is now 45.
When the pandemic started in March, the virus mostly impacted people in their late 50s.
Health officials are also seeing a disturbing trend of COVID-19 infections within families.
“We are now seeing more transmissions within family units and in other areas,” Kerkering said.
On Tuesday, the breakdown on cumulative cases in the two health districts was: Roanoke City, 809; Roanoke County, 384; Botetourt County, 164; Salem, 85; Alleghany County, 46; Craig County, 14; and Covington, 11.
There were three active cases in the town on Clifton Forge on Tuesday, Vice Mayor Pam Marshall said.
Bath County is still reporting one confirmed case.