Northam calls for stronger enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines

Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 11:43 AM EDT
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Governor Ralph Northam began his briefing on Tuesday with case numbers, which have been increasing statewide. Testing numbers have also continued to increase.

Northam said that Virginia’s percent positivity rate has been increasing and ranging between 5.9 percent and 6.8 percent, which “is still a good number,” considering this range has stayed under 10 percent. On average, there have been 10,000 tests administered daily statewide.

Northern Virginia, which holds 2/3 of the state’s population, reports that the number of new COVID-19 cases has gone “down dramatically,” with a positivity percent of 6.7 percent.

The southwest region of the state is seeing a small increase in cases, but has a 4.8 percent positivity rate. Northwestern Virginia has a 5.9 percent positivity rate. Central Virginia has a 6.6 percent positivity rate.

Eastern Virginia has had a large increase in cases, according to Northam. In recent days, the area has averaged with 346 newly reported cases each day, with a 10.1 percent positivity rate that continues to rise. According to Northam, this higher number has to do with people who are socializing without wearing a mask or social distancing.

Northam then said the state should increase the enforcement of face coverings and social distancing. One idea is for the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia ABC teams to conduct unannounced visits to establishments as needed. Northam said that this would happen across the state, but be more focused on Hampton Roads.

If a restaurant or a business is not following guidelines, their license could be on the line.

Northam also reminded business owners that they have the right to deny service to someone who is not following the mask mandate or social distancing guidelines.

“No shirt, no shoes, no mask... no service,” Northam said.

A plan to impose an earlier cutoff for alcohol sales at restaurants is also being considered. Northam said there would be more to come on this soon.

Northam warned that Virginia is considering other actions as needed, such as a smaller limit on in-person gatherings. In Phase 3, the in-person gathering limit was capped at 250, an additional 200 people from Phase 2.

One viewer asked Northam if these guidelines could be applied only to certain regions of Virginia at the end of the briefing, and Northam said this option has been considered and further decisions will be made as the state continues to move forward.

The state continues to perceive shipments of personal protective equipment, and no Virginia hospitals have reported any shortages.

Individual school boards and universities will continue to make decisions regarding this school year.

Northam also provided an update on the rent and mortgage relief program. The program has been running for nine business days and has served more than 900 households.

938,559 Virginians have applied for unemployment, and a virtual hiring event will happen on July 28. More information on that will come soon.

Virginia’s DMV locations continue to reopen. 41 have reopened so far, but are by appointment only.

“I want to remind Virginians that we have come a long, long way since March thanks to sacrifices made by everyone,” Northam said.

Governor Ralph Northam will address the commonwealth for the first time since June on Tuesday at 2 p.m. for his latest briefing concerning COVID-19 in the state of Virginia.

On July 1, the governor officially announced that Virginia would move into Phase 3 of his ‘Forward Virginia Plan.’ In Virginia, Phase 3 meant limiting the occupancy of physical spaces and limiting in-person work-related gatherings.

Nonessential retail businesses are permitted to fully open in Phase 3, along with restaurants with the exception of bar seating, and social distancing is required.

Fitness centers are open at 75 percent capacity, and entertainment venues at 50 percent. The in-person gathering limit was raised from 50 people during Phase 2 to the current limit of 250 people. Through it all, Northam’s mask mandate remains in effect.

On Northam’s June 25 briefing via Facebook Live, the governor said it would be the end of his twice-per-week briefings. Instead, he would hold briefings only as deemed necessary. Northam announced on his Facebook page on Monday that he would hold another briefing concerning COVID-19 numbers, pop-up inspections by the VDH and possibly more restrictive measures for Virginians.

You can watch each of the governor’s briefings through WHSV’s livestream at or on the WHSV News app. That livestream can also be watched through our Roku and Amazon Fire apps. You’ll also be able to watch it live on this story during the briefing.

The statewide situation in Virginia

As of Tuesday, July 14, Virginia has had 72,443 total cases of COVID-19, including confirmed lab tests and clinical diagnoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

That’s a rise of 801 positive cases since Monday, July 13, out of 17,427 tests newly added to the system, which comes out to 4.6% of the newest tests coming back positive.

Virginia officially entered Phase 3 on Wednesday, July 1. Nonessential retail businesses are permitted to fully open, along with restaurants, as long as there is no bar seating. Gyms can be open at 75 percent capacity, and entertainment venues can be open at 50 percent capacity. There is a 250-person gathering limit.

Executive Order 63 will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, making it mandatory for almost all Virginians to wear face coverings when entering businesses. You can learn how that can be enforced here.

Executive Order 55, the ‘Stay at Home’ order first signed by Northam on March 30, is now a ‘Safer at Home’ order, encouraging Virginians to continue staying home whenever possible as the safest way to prevent COVID-19′s spread and specifically telling Virginians vulnerable to the virus to stay home except for essential needs.

Virginia's state of emergency, which was originally set until June 10, was extended by Governor Northam on May 26 to run indefinitely.

The Virginia Supreme Court’s judicial emergency, which suspended all non-essential, non-emergency court hearings, expired on May 17 and court hearings across most of Virginia resumed on Monday, May 18. But a few weeks later, on June 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia acted on Gov. Northam’s request to halt all eviction proceedings through at least June 28.

DMV offices in Virginia began gradually reopening on Monday, May 18, and continue to open up more customer service centers around the state for appointments to handle business that can only be carried out in-person.

Extensions have been granted to people with expiring credentials for themselves or their vehicles, like licenses and registrations, and Virginia State Police have not been enforcing inspections.

More information on Virginia entering Phase 3 can be found here.

What to know about preventing the virus

Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you’re encouraged to check both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.