Northam Announces Curfew, New Limit on Social Gatherings to Curb COVID-19 Spread

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a series of new guidelines today (Thursday) aimed at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control as case numbers soar in Fairfax County and throughout the state.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 14, all Virginians will be expected to stay at home between 12 and 5 a.m. unless they are traveling to and from work, obtaining food and goods, or seeking medical attention.

While the modified stay-at-home order only applies to those early morning hours, Northam urged people to stay home whenever possible during other hours of the day as well, stating that he “strongly” encourages people to telework if they can.

“We already have strong public health measures in place, and with these additional steps, we can turn this around,” Northam said. “Virginians, if you don’t have to be out, stay at home. Whenever we are around other people, we all need to wear a mask, indoors and out.”

The new COVID-19 mitigation measures that take effect on Monday also include an expansion of the state’s existing requirement that all Virginians 5 and older wear a mask in indoor public settings.

Now, all individuals 5 and older will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor settings other than their own home and in all outdoor public settings when within six feet of another person.

The limit on indoor and outdoor social gatherings has been reduced from 25 to 10 individuals. Like before, this rule applies primarily to parties, celebrations, and other social events, but not religious services, workplaces, and schools.

The prohibition on alcohol service in dining establishments after 10 p.m. remains in place, and all restaurant workers are required to wear a mask, even if they don’t interact with customers face-to-face.

Northam said that state agencies will step up their enforcement of social distancing, cleaning, and mask-wearing requirements for businesses. Virginia has issued 181 letters for COVID-19 rule violations so far.

However, the governor declined to follow the lead of some neighboring jurisdictions in shutting down indoor dining, stating that social distancing requirements already significantly reduce the capacity of restaurants.

Despite calls for a statewide return to virtual learning from teachers’ unions in Northern Virginia, Northam also did not introduce any new guidelines for educational institutions, leaving decisions regarding school operations up to the discretion of local officials.

“Local leaders know what’s right for their community,” Northam said. “We’re going to keep working with local leaders to make sure they have the information they need to make the right decisions.”

Virginia is now averaging 3,700 new COVID-19 cases per day, three times higher than the peak of 1,200 daily cases in May. The statewide testing positivity rate is 11%, and more than 2,000 Virginians are currently hospitalized, an 80% increase over the last four weeks.

The Fairfax Health District recorded 440 new cases today, and its seven-day average hit a new high of 501.9 cases after reporting a single-day record of 725 new cases on Dec. 8.

During his announcement, Northam played a video from a healthcare worker named Emily who has been working in a COVID-19 intensive care unit over the past month. She described holding patients’ hands as they died and putting an “ungodly” number of people in body bags.

“I cry a lot. This is real,” Emily said. “…If you could stop just one case by wearing a mask or staying home when you didn’t have to go out, it would help us so much.”

Images via Governor of Virginia/Facebook, Virginia Department of Health

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