HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Governor Ralph Northam announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday after the Commonwealth saw case numbers rising again in November.
Starting at midnight on Sunday, November 15, the restriction on gatherings will now drop from 250 to 25 people. All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
The new measures also limit on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol, prohibiting sales after 10 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 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.
Additionally, children 5 years old and over need to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The restriction was previously set at 10 years and older.
"Our numbers do not appear to be rising as rapidly as some states, but I do not intend to wait until they are," Northam said in a video statement. "We are acting now, so things don't get worse."
Virginia, this is in our hands.https://t.co/pX5pGcZYno— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) November 13, 2020
Enforcement in essential retail businesses is also strengthened. 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.
The governor's office did clarify on Friday that gatherings of 25 does not apply to religious services or restaurants. It is only if a group or person is hosting a private party of 25 or more. They also said the masks restriction does apply to private schools.
Virginia has seen more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases statewide every day since October 27, with a spike on November 7 of 2,103 cases reported in a day.
The Commonwealth has also seen a daily rise in the percent of positive COVID-19 tests since October 31.
"I know everyone is tired of the pandemic and tired of restrictions on our lives, but for the sake of your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, our healthcare providers, and even the person you pass in the grocery store, please keep following the guidelines," said Northam.
Health officials are worried people have become complacent.
"We're facing a multi-factorial thing. It's COVID fatigue. It's indoor gatherings and all that cold weather does to enhance viral transmission," said Dr. Edward Oldfield from Eastern Virginia Medical School.
Thanksgiving is of particular concern to health officials. Dr. Oldfield recommends a virtual dinner this year.
"If you do have people over it's best to do it outside, limit the number of people, wear masks as much as possible, use physical distancing within the house," he said.