Northam bans events with 100+ people
Governor also orders local government offices closed in Peninsula region, where a cluster of cases has erupted and one Virginian died.
Following Virginia’s first COVID-19 death and a growing cluster of cases in the Peninsula, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued a ban on all events with more than 100 people across Virginia. He also ordered local government offices closed in the Peninsula region, which includes Newport News and Williamsburg.
The statewide events ban applies to public special events such as festivals, parades, conferences and gatherings in auditoriums or stadiums, Northam said. It does not ban or limit “normal operations” such as shopping, traveling, dining or working, but Northam urged Virginians to voluntarily avoid social gatherings and stay at home or telework if at all possible. Hours after Northam’s announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that organizations cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.
Additionally, the governor ordered all local government offices closed in the Peninsula Health District — which includes Newport News, James City County, York County, Williamsburg, Poquoson and Hampton — through at least March 30. Vital local government services such as policing and trash pickup will continue in the region.
“What we’re trying to achieve here is the kind of social distancing that experts tell us is critical to stopping the spread of the virus,” Northam said during a Sunday news conference in Richmond. “I urge Virginians, particularly in areas where there are known outbreaks such as the Peninsula, to please stay home.” If people had plans to go to churches, restaurants, or bars, he said, “I would urge you to rethink those plans. Ask yourself if it’s really that important that you go out right now. Social distancing now can save lives later. These are critical steps to reduce and slow the spread of this virus.”
As of Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported 45 cases of coronavirus in the commonwealth, including a state employee with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which has its headquarters in Chesterfield County and is one of the key state agencies coordinating the state’s response to the pandemic. “VDEM leadership has made appropriate notifications to others who may have also been exposed, and is currently working closely with the Virginia Department of Health,” the agency said in a news release.
Among the other newly reported cases is a person who attended a program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Larrick Center on March 5 and 6. According to VCU President Michael Rao, the person was a not a VCU employee or student. “To the best of our knowledge, the individual did not have symptoms while attending the program,” Rao said in a statement issued Sunday. “Out of an abundance of caution, VDH has asked VCU to reach out to those who may have been in contact with the individual so that program participants are aware of the situation and have information on monitoring their health.”
Virginia’s first death from coronavirus occurred in the Peninsula region Saturday. Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said Sunday that there is a cluster of eight related cases in the area and the Virginia Department of Health is doing investigations on about 300 people who came in contact with those who have been infected. State health officials are “very concerned about the likelihood of community spread” of the virus in the Peninsula area, Oliver added.
A pediatric neurologist, Northam reminded Virginians to take “basic health precautions,” including washing hands with soap and water, covering one’s mouth and nose when one sneezes or coughs, staying at home if they feel ill, and avoid touching one’s face.
“We can get through this together but it is everyone’s responsibility to keep each other … healthy and safe,” the governor said.
President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency Friday, a day after Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia, closing all K-12 schools in the state for the next two weeks.
The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic Wednesday. There are nearly 160,000 novel coronavirus cases worldwide, with more than 5,800 deaths reported, as of Sunday afternoon. Nearly 3,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the United States, with nearly 60 deaths reported.