By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam has no plans yet to tighten restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, in spite of a statewide rise in cases of COVID-19, he indicated during a press briefing today.
“I want to reassure Virginians, we are not seeing spikes like Florida or Texas. Florida had more than 15,000 new cases in one day. We had fewer than 1,000,” Northam said.
But Virginia is at risk for larger COVID-19 spikes if the pandemic isn’t taken seriously. Risk factors include Virginia sharing borders with five other states and Washington, D.C., and its “big tourist hub” in Hampton Roads, the governor said.
Virginia is performing an average of 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day, and the percentage of positive tests has risen from a low of 5.9% to 6.8%.
The state’s Eastern health region had its percentage of positive tests rise to 10.1%, with an average of nearly 350 new cases daily, up from about 60 in early June.
A large number of the new cases are from the Tidewater area, the governor noted.
He also attributed the increase in COVID-19 cases to young people socializing and not wearing masks. The number of cases in people ages 20 to 29 increased 250%, Northam said.
Northam is awaiting recommendations from Hampton Roads health officials, and if stricter health guidelines must be reintroduced, he will consider applying the changes on a regional basis, not punishing areas that are doing well.
For now, Virginia will rely on “stronger enforcement of the existing regulations, because, quite frankly, of the noncompliance,” he said.
That means restaurants and other businesses, particularly in Hampton Roads, may receive unannounced visits by agencies such as the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control), and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“Your license will be on the line,” Northam warned business owners who are not complying with regulations.
He suggested that “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” signs should be changed to “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Mask, No Service.”
Northam reminded business owners that they do not have to serve customers who do not follow regulations, and if customers refuse to leave, business owners can call the police and charge the customers with trespassing.
Additional actions that may be taken include the Virginia ABC establishing an earlier cutoff time for selling alcohol or the governor reducing the maximum number of people allowed at a single gathering from 250 to 50.
Northam had strong words for those who are not following the rules: “You are being selfish, and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing to help us all beat this virus.”
About $50 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding was designated for Virginians who have lost their jobs or other sources of income during the coronavirus pandemic and need help making rent or mortgage payments.
As of July 14, the program was running for nine days, and more than 900 households were served, equaling one rent or mortgage payment made every six minutes, Northam said.
Since March 15, 938,559 Virginia unemployment insurance claims were made, and 91% of eligible claims were paid within 14 days.
The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) has increased its staff by 550% and is receiving more than 60,000 phone calls per week.
The VEC and Virginia Career Works will hold a virtual hiring event July 28.
The Virginia DMV has reopened 41 locations (including Onancock) by appointment only and is serving 7,000 customers daily, with 533,000 appointments scheduled, Northam said.
“If we want to return to something like normal life, what we used to have, then we all have to do the right thing. We all have a responsibility … we are all in this together.”