RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam is imposing tighter restrictions throughout the Hampton Roads area in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases in that region.
Under an order that will go into effect Friday, social gatherings in Hampton Roads will be limited to 50 people, while the rest of the state will remain at 250.
In addition, no business establishments will be permitted to sell alcohol on premises after 10 p.m. Restaurants will be required to close by midnight.
While open, they will be restricted to 50 percent indoor seating capacity.
Northam said the restrictions in Hampton Roads will probably be in place for two to three weeks.
He said cases of COVID-19 are stable in four of five Virginia health districts, with Hampton Roads being the exception.
In the eastern region of the state, 10.8 percent of all tests for the virus have returned positive. The positivity rate for the rest of the state is about 6 percent. Cases in Northern Virginia have dropped by two-thirds since hitting a spike in May.
Hampton Roads is home to popular beach areas. Northam said a high percentage of cases in the region involve young adults who are ignoring COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Incidents are being reported that involve large gatherings of people at birthday parties, outdoor barbecues and other celebrations.
“This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads. It happens when too many people gather together — when too many people are non-compliant,” the governor said at a Tuesday press conference. “As I’ve said before, it happens when too many people are selfish.”
The rest of the state will remain in Phase III of Virginia’s reopening plan. Northam said he will monitor data in other regions and take necessary action if cases rise dramatically.
“We’re going to do everything that we need to do to keep people safe and to keep the pandemic under control and really try to get it in our rear view mirror,” the governor said.
Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s health commissioner, said the state was reporting 922 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The state has averaged from 900 to 1,000 active cases per day in recent weeks, with the number hitting 1,500 on some days.
In her weekly media briefing Tuesday, Dr. Molly O’Dell of the Virginia Department of Health said cases in the Roanoke-Alleghany region are still rising, but the pace has slowed from three initial weeks after state restrictions on several businesses were lifted.
“Our cases are still up, but they are not as quite as steep,” she said.
O’Dell is the director of communicable disease prevention for the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts.
As of Tuesday, 1,938 people living in the Roanoke and Alleghany Health Districts have tested positive for the virus. There were 264 active cases, with 74 reported since Monday.
“What we are seeing as we have progressed through the phases, coupled by people getting so fatigued by the chore of social distancing, hygiene and the use of face coverings, cases have gone up,” O’Dell said.
Most active cases in the two health districts can be traced to infected families or 12 outbreaks at: Four work sites that are not restaurants, two long-term care facilities, two restaurants, one health care facility, one congregate living, one related to a funeral and one related to Myrtle Beach travel.
O’Dell said two people who had COVID-19 more than three months ago were found to be positive again when they were tested before having surgery.
She said both people did not have symptoms the second time and they are considered reinfections and not new cases.
Health officials have not been able to determine how the individuals were reinfected, but they are conducting contact tracing to prevent spread of the virus.
Twenty-six people were hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday. Since the pandemic started in the two health districts, 27 people have died.
Cumulative cases by locality in the two districts on Tuesday were: Roanoke City, 1,028; Roanoke County, 503; Botetourt County, 183; Salem, 103; Alleghany County, 56; Craig County, 16; and Covington, 15. There 32 cases from unknown localities.
Bath County, which is part of the Central Shenandoah Health District, was reporting four cumulative cases.
O’Dell has repeatedly stressed the need for facial coverings, hand washing and distancing, even outdoors.
“The more the air is circulating, the better, but it still does not mean you don’t need social distancing and face coverings,” she said.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.