Richmond Times-Dispatch

Va. to impose curfew, tighten mask rules, limit groups to 10

Northam urges fighting virus by staying at home

- BY MEL LEONOR

Virginia will be under a nightly curfew from midnight until 5 a.m., and social gatherings will be limited to 10 people under new public restrictio­ns meant to stem the surge of COVID-19 that take effect early Monday.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the restrictio­ns Thursday afternoon, citing an untamed spike of COVID19 cases in the state in the middle of the busy holiday season.

“Virginia will go into a modified stay-athome order,” Northam said during a briefing with reporters. “The virus, we know, spreads when people are around each other in groups. When groups are smaller, it spreads less. That’s one more reason why it’s important to stay home. If you don’t need to be out, we ask you to stay home.”

The Northam administra­tion declined to further tighten restrictio­ns on restaurant­s and bars, arguing that existing restrictio­ns are sufficient.

The new restrictio­ns go into effect a minute into Monday, and expire Jan. 31. Northam said restrictio­ns could

be lifted early or extended, depending on the state’s trends. (The governor’s new executive order incorporat­es two others he issued previously.)

“We don’t want to extend this but we may have to. It all depends on what the virus is doing next.

And that depends on what you do,” Northam said, speaking into the camera to Virginians watching.

The state on Thursday also tightened its guidance on mask wearing to align with new guidance the federal Centers for Disease Control issued last week.

All Virginians ages 5 and over will now be required to wear masks indoors when sharing the space with other people who are coming within 6 feet. That includes private residences. The amended executive order says the restrictio­n does not apply to people inside their personal residence, but administra­tion officials are encouragin­g Virginians to wear masks when hosting visitors, or when visiting others.

Masks are now also required outdoors when coming within 6 feet of other people.

Over the past week, the state has averaged 3,800 new COVID-19 cases per day, a staggering number compared with the state’s previous peaks.

The positivity rate — the share of people testing positive among everyone tested — is now at 11%. Just three months ago, that rate was 4.8%, below the World Health Organizati­on’s suggested 5% target, which would suggest the spread of the virus is under control.

While state and fed

eral health officials have touted an impending vaccine, it may be months until the general public has access to it, making social distancing crucial to keeping cases low and hospitals from breaching their capacities, state officials said.

Virginia is following the lead of North Carolina, which this week implemente­d a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew amid a surge of cases there.

Virginia’s curfew will start later, at midnight. As it’s done in the past, the Northam administra­tion said it will rely on education and public goodwill, not enforcemen­t, to foster

compliance.

“The purpose is to be a step beyond what we’ve done with the 10 p.m. alcohol restrictio­ns. We know people tend to get less vigilant late at night, especially with alcohol involved,” Northam spokespers­on Alena Yarmosky said.

The curfew will include broad exceptions for work and essential needs, but it will not include exceptions for visits with friends and family outside people’s immediate households.

“The goal is not off the street, but in your residence,” Yarmosky said.

The Northam adminis

tration is also again dropping the limit of people who can gather in private or in public for socializin­g. Last month, the administra­tion set the limit at 25. It will now drop down to 10, reflecting the limit in place during the strictest phase of the pandemic in the spring.

The decision comes 15 days before Christmas and on the first day of Hanukkah, likely forcing many extended families to reconsider their holiday plans.

Does not apply to businesses, churches

The gathering limit doesn’t apply to businesses, places of worship and other specific venues, which are currently operating under their own, venue-specific restrictio­ns.

Those restrictio­ns appeared to remain unchanged Thursday, with the exception that all restaurant­s, dining establishm­ents, food courts, breweries, microbrewe­ries, distilleri­es, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight, in line with the curfew. Those establishm­ents were already operating under a restrictio­n that cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m., and guidelines on social distancing and masking.

The Northam administra­tion said Thursday that it is stepping up enforcemen­t of those guidelines, and sanctionin­g businesses found out of compliance.

Nicole Riley, state director of the National Federation of Independen­t Business, said the group is glad Northam “did not further restrict small businesses,” but is concerned that Northam’s modified stay-at-home order will reduce the number of people coming into retail shops and restaurant­s.

“Continued restrictio­ns will only increase the likelihood more and more small businesses will not survive especially with no additional financial relief from either the federal or state government,” Riley said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, called the governor’s curfew order “blatantly unconstitu­tional” and questioned how it would save lives.

The administra­tion on Thursday also doubled down on its workplace guidance urging workplaces that can telework to do so.

“The message is clear. If you can work from home, please do it. If you don’t need to go out, please stay at home,” Northam said.

The governor reiterated that the state is not making policy for colleges and universiti­es, arguing that local communitie­s “are working very hard to make thoughtful and responsibl­e decisions at the local level, because local leaders know what’s right for their community.”

At the same time, Northam said the state is working to ensure teachers are prioritize­d to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down an order by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that set limits on gatherings in places of worship in parts of the state hit hard by COVID-19.

Virginia Senate Republican leaders said of Northam’s actions Thursday: “While we are relieved he abided by the recent decisions of the Supreme Court and did not attempt to force further restrictio­ns on churches, the imposition of a statewide curfew smacks of martial law.”

While the state is not issuing new restrictio­ns specific to places of worship, Northam urged the state’s religious leaders to encourage healthy behaviors among their communitie­s.

“For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in a pew for

God to hear your prayers. So I strongly call on our faith leaders to lead the way,” Northam said. “Worship outside or worship online is still worship.”

 ?? JOE MAHONEY/TIMES-DISPATCH ?? At Skipwith Academy on Forest Avenue in Henrico County, Jovita Pope teaches Earth science to students. In a newrule, Virginians ages 5 and up will be required towear masks indoors and outdoors when comingwith­in 6 feet of others.
JOE MAHONEY/TIMES-DISPATCH At Skipwith Academy on Forest Avenue in Henrico County, Jovita Pope teaches Earth science to students. In a newrule, Virginians ages 5 and up will be required towear masks indoors and outdoors when comingwith­in 6 feet of others.

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