Virginia is announcing new measures to fight COVID-19 as cases of the virus have spiked across the country.
Among the requirements set to go into effect at midnight Sunday, attendance at indoor and outdoor gatherings will be reduced from 250 people down to 25, and the age at which children must wear masks in indoor public spaces will be lowered from age 10 to 5.
"COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are," said Gov. Ralph Northam in a release Friday afternoon. "We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse."
The following measures will take effect at midnight on Sunday:
- Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
- Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
- Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor.
- On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.
Northam is also sharing a new video to update Virginia residents on additional steps the commonwealth is taking to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of about 1,200 in May, according to officials.
State officials say that while Virginia's case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests and hospitalizations.
"Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I'm tired, and I know you are tired too," Northam said. "But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives."
One of Virginia’s GOP leaders in the General Assembly issued a statement sharply critical of the governor’s announcement, pointing out the governor said no new restrictions were planned just days ago at a news conference on COVID-19.
Virginia's new measures are the latest in a series of rolled-back reopenings and stepped-up safety efforts around the region.
The District of Columbia now requires travelers from all but four states get tested for COVID-19, once before travel and again if they plan to stay in the District for more than three days.
In Maryland, state officials rolled back capacity limits at indoor dining establishments and urged people against traveling to states where coronavirus is spreading too fast.
Montgomery County has reduced capacity limits at many businesses, including for indoor dining, to 25%. The county previously stopped giving waivers for alcohol sales after 10 p.m.
Prince George's County is tightening restrictions and requiring masks be worn outdoors.
And in Frederick County, Maryland, the Board of Health decided to implement new regulations in both the county and the city of Frederick starting at 5 p.m. Friday to help slow the spread of COVID-19.