New COVID-19 Restrictions in Hampton Roads, Eastern Virginia
*This story was reported by VPM intern Jakob Cordes
Gov. Ralph Northam announced new restrictions on Hampton Roads, citing a recent spike in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
Northam began his press conference on a hopeful note, claiming Virginia had avoided the spikes seen in other states. He also said cases had remained below their earlier peaks in three of the four health regions. However, overall coronavirus cases in Virginia have increased dramatically over the past month, driven by outbreaks in the Hampton Roads and Eastern Shore localities.
The governor said that they were now testing 12,000-17,000 people a day, surpassing their initial goal of 10,000 tests a day. The positivity rate overall has fallen since the beginning of the outbreak, except in the Hampton Roads region, which is undergoing a new spike in cases.
Due to that spike, Northam issued a new executive order taking effect Friday at 12 a.m., affecting only the Hampton Roads region. The order mandates that no alcohol be sold or consumed onsite after 10 p.m., and that all restaurants close before midnight, effectively shuttering bars. “This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads,” Northam said, describing people who meet to drink during a pandemic as “selfish.”
“We all know that alcohol changes your judgment,” Northam said. “You just don't care as much about social distancing after you've had a couple of drinks. That's when the virus gets spread.”
The governor is also restricting indoor dining to 50% capacity, and prohibitng gatherings of more than 50 individuals. This order effectively moves Hampton Roads back into phase II of reopening, which ended on July 1.
Northam also gave an update on the second half of federal CARES Act funding, which will be distributed this week, totalling $645 million. The federal government requires that 15% of the funds be distributed directly to localities; Northam said Virginia is giving nearly half of those funds directly to local governments. The money can be used for rent assistance, food security, PPE purchases, and remote learning adoption, depending on the priorities of local communities.
Northam didn't give an update on what the new restrictions would mean for school reopenings. Although many districts are holding virtual-only reopenings, others are planning on hybrid approaches with some in-person instruction. If COVID-19 cases increase, it could require sudden changes for school systems, teachers, and students and families.