Governor: State will step up enforcement of masks, distancing
ABC, health department will do unannounced drop-ins at businesses
Gov. Ralph Northam said that because the number of daily COVID-19 cases has shot up more than five-fold in the Hampton Roads region in the past month, he will increase social distancing and mask enforcement at businesses, starting immediately.
Daily positive cases have gone from an average of 60 a day to 346 a day in the Eastern Virginia region since early June, Northam reported Tuesday.
“We are going to get much stricter in enforcing these guidelines,” added Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner. The Virginia ABC and health inspectors will conduct unannounced visits to restaurants, stores, bars and other public spaces — all over the state, but mostly focused on southeastern localities, and Northam said that businesses’ licenses are “on the line” if they are found in violation of the state’s mask mandate or ban on gathering at bars.
He also asked business owners to step up their enforcement and refuse service to people who don’t wear masks. If customers don’t leave, businesses can call police because the customers are trespassing. “It’s just like the signs,” Northam said. “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.”
Northam added that he expects to announce earlier cutoff times for alcohol sales at restaurants, with details to come soon. He also said that he may scale back the allowed size of gatherings, which is currently at 250 people in Phase Three of Northam’s reopening plan. Some rollbacks may take effect only in certain regions, the governor added.
In examining the state’s positivity rates by region, Northam said that all regions — except for the Eastern region, where the rate is 10.1% — remain between 4% and 7%. The rise in positive cases in Virginia Beach and other localities in Hampton Roads is mainly due to a surge among people between the ages of 20 and 29, many of whom are socializing in large groups with no masks, the governor said. In the past month, the positivity rate among this age group has risen 250%.
“You are being selfish,” Northam said, addressing people who refuse to wear masks. “This is not political. This is about our health and well-being.”
In other updates, Northam said that 938,559 Virginians have applied for unemployment since March, and 900 households have received rent and mortgage relief from the state’s $50 million fund, which has been available for nine business days. Also, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will soon release its labor standards to keep workers protected from spread of the virus.
With regard to schools’ reopening this fall, Northam added that localities’ school boards will make final decisions for their school systems, using guidelines issued last month by the Virginia Department of Education, and local health department information. Also, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is currently reviewing reopening plans for colleges.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Northam said. “Everybody has to feel safe.”