Coronavirus in Virginia

Virginia to Set Curfew, Add Stricter Mask Mandate

Before Gov. Ralph Northam announced new restrictions, he shared an ICU nurse's plea for residents to be more careful. "I put an ungodly number of people in body bags"

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What to Know

  • Virginia will have a curfew starting Monday that will require most residents to stay home between midnight and 5 a.m. 
  • The governor will expand the state's mask requirements to include outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible and all indoor areas shared with others, except for households.
  • The state’s cap on public gatherings will be reduced from 25 people to 10.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced new measures to combat the coronavirus Thursday that include a stricter mask mandate and a curfew that will require most Virginians to stay home between midnight and 5 a.m.

Residents also are asked to stay home at other hours whenever they can as the virus continues to devastate the state. 

“If you don’t need to go out, stay home,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference Thursday. 

The executive order is set to take effect on Monday and also will reduce the state’s cap on public gatherings from 25 people to 10. Northam is expanding the state's longstanding mask requirements to include outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible and all indoor areas shared with others, except for households. The current mask mandate requires only that masks be worn in indoor public settings.

The modified stay-at-home order will have some exceptions, including for Virginians traveling to work and seeking medical attention. The mask mandate does not apply to children under five. The executive order will be in place through the end of January. 

We’re losing more [COVID-19 patients] than we’re keeping. I put an ungodly number of people in body bags that I wasn’t prepared to do, that I wasn’t prepared to give up on

Virginia ICU nurse Emily

There also will be new restrictions on spectators for recreational sports, with 25 people per field for indoor sports and two guests per player for outdoor sports.

Schools were asked to consider moving sports outside whenever possible.

Northern Virginia Bureau Reporter Drew Wilder breaks down new coronavirus restrictions in Virginia.

Northam's directive aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus at a time when the state, like much of the country, is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. Virginia is faring better than many other states, but has reported more than 3,000 daily cases in recent days and it's total coronavirus-related death count stands at more than 4,300.

Hospitals in the state's southwest have struggled with capacity after seeing a sharp rise in cases, and some school districts around the state have discontinued in-person learning. 

The governor began the news conference with remarks on video by an ICU nurse in the state. 

“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,” the nurse, identified as Emily, said. 

She said she cried a lot at home. 

“We’re losing more [COVID-19 patients] than we’re keeping. I put an ungodly number of people in body bags that I wasn’t prepared to do, that I wasn’t prepared to give up on,” she said. 

Virginia officials said last week they expect to receive enough vaccine doses by the year’s end to begin inoculating nearly all of its health care workers and long-term care facility residents — if two COVID-19 vaccine candidates receive authorization from federal regulators. 

"If [Pfizer is] approved, we can expect vaccinations to begin in Virginia within 24 to 48 hours. Just as soon as this weekend, possibly," Northam said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

Jennifer Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University, explained how some people tend to ignore policies like these health restrictions when the issue has become as political as COVID-19.

"All of that has a profound effect on how people perceive public policy and when they're not getting those calming messages that would be really helpful, when they're getting contradictory messages, it just sort of dilutes what people hear from public policy and makes them less likely to respond in the sort of desired or intended way,” Victor said. 

Northam's office said ahead of the news conference that the "mitigation measures will be nuanced and in-line with our targeted, data-driven response."

The governor repeatedly said that if he implemented new restrictions, they would likely be regional and not statewide.

On Wednesday, Virginia announced more new coronavirus cases in a single day than ever before and hit a record-high number of hospitalizations.

Unified messaging from both parties, as well as scientists and doctors, would greatly improve the public response to health restrictions, Victor said.

More than 23,000 Virginians have been diagnosed with the virus and 3,940 have died.

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.

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