Gov. Ralph Northam during a press conference on Tuesday, July 28

Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a press conference in Richmond on Tuesday, July 28.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday a new executive order aimed at slowing the rise of COVID-19 cases in the Hampton Roads area that will prohibit the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m., limit restaurant capacity and ban social gatherings of more than 50 people.

During an afternoon press conference, Northam said the measures would be limited, for now, to the Hampton Roads area. The localities where the new executive order applies are: the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Williamsburg, Newport News and Poquoson as well as James City County and York County. 

The governor said he will continue to watch the coronavirus metrics from around the state and take further action if trends warrant it.

“All options are on the table,” Northam said several times during the press conference, his first in about two weeks.

The new executive order and public health emergency order, which will go into effect at 12 midnight on Thursday, July 30, in the Hampton Roads area will:

  • Ban alcohol sales and consumption at bars and restaurants after 10 p.m.
  • Order all eating and drinking establishments to close by 12 midnight.
  • Limit indoor dining to 50% capacity, which will apply to restaurants as well as food courts, breweries, wineries and distilleries. 
  • Ban public and private social gatherings of more than 50 individuals, including indoor and outdoor gatherings. 

“This is about stopping the spread of COVID-19 in Hampton Roads. It happens when too many people gather together, when too many people are non-compliant and, as I’ve said before, when too many people are selfish,” Northam said.

He added: “And we all know that alcohol changes your judgment. You just don’t care as much about social distancing after you’ve had a couple of drinks. That’s when the virus gets spread and that’s why we are taking this action.”

Northam said his actions would “effectively close bars” in the Hampton Roads area.

Northam also stressed, however, that pandemic trends in most areas of the state have stabilized, most notably in Northern Virginia, where the percent-positivity rate on COVID-19 tests has averaged about 5.7% for the last several days.

Statewide, the percent-positivity rate on COVID-19 tests fell to 7.3% on Tuesday, down from 7.7% last week, he added.

The metric is an indication there is enough testing to identify most cases of COVID-19. Northam also noted that the number of COVID-19 tests given across the state has averaged more than 17,000 a day – far exceeding his initial goal of 10,000 tests a day – and could be one reason positive cases are rising.

But Northam said the percent-positivity rates in Hampton Roads-area health districts are concerning in that they have ranged between 9.9% and 18.6% in recent days.

New cases, he added, are rising especially among young people.

“Our local health directors and their teams have been clear. They are seeing a significant shift toward younger people testing positive. People in their 20s and even younger,” Northam said. 

“They’re seeing increased socialization with non-household members, such as birthday parties, backyard barbecues and other celebrations,” he added. “So we need to act to turn this around.”

Northam noted other challenges around the state, including that some COVID-19 tests – particularly those conducted by retail outlets -- are taking as long as 14 days to produce results.

Northam said the problem seems to be the result of increased demand for testing across the country, limited supplies of testing reagents and backorders on equipment that allows for the rapid return of COVID-19 tests.

Northam noted that he met earlier in the day with Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, and expressed his concerns about testing issues. Northam blamed what he called “a chaotic process” regarding testing that might have been avoided “with better leadership” on the national level.

When asked about Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s recent announcement that visitors to the district would be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in the nation’s capital from certain states, Northam said he’s not ready to take a similar step but is “closely watching” pandemic numbers in surrounding states.

Northam noted, however, he would advise Virginians who travel outside the state, perhaps on vacation, to voluntarily self-isolate when they return to Virginia, especially if they have high-risk family members in their households.

Northam dedicated much of his remarks to encouraging Virginians to continue to follow public health advice – by wearing face masks, frequently washing their hands and staying home as much as possible – and praised residents for reaching out to help their neighbors and strangers through the ongoing crisis.

But he also noted that the state must act to halt rising case numbers to fully reopen businesses and send Virginia’s children back to school. In many school divisions across the state, the new school year will begin with mostly virtual instruction because of ongoing concerns about the virus.

“If we’re going to have our children go back to school safely, the numbers have to come down,” Northam said. 

Sending children back to school in areas of the state where there is community spread of COVID-19, he added, “is a recipe for disaster.”

“We want our children to be back at school. We want our businesses to reopen, but we need to reduce the number of cases of COVID-19 in our communities,” he said. 

This report has been updated to include the list of localities that will be covered by the new executive order.

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