As COVID-19 cases surge nationally, Gov. Ralph Northam announced new restrictions limiting public and private gatherings to no more than 25 people along with other measures that went into effect at midnight Sunday.
The measures include stopping alcohol sales at 10 p.m., stepping up enforcement of existing COVID state guidelines and expanding the state’s mask mandate.
Northam’s announcement comes ahead of the holiday season when many officials are worried that families will gather indoors and potentially further spread the virus. The state is averaging 1,500 new cases per day, up from a previous statewide peak of 1,200, according to a news release.
The restrictions do not apply to schools or churches or limit the capacity of restaurants and other businesses. A spokeswoman for Northam said that the gathering restrictions would mean a restaurant, including breweries and wineries, cannot seat groups over 25 people or host private parties and social events.
But, they can still have more than 25 people on their premises.
Northam said in a news release that he didn’t want to wait until cases surge in Virginia.
As of Monday morning, the Virginia Department of Health reported 221,038 cases of the novel coronavirus in Virginia, with 14,096 hospitalizations and 3,942 deaths across the commonwealth.
“We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” he said in a statement. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”
In his update Friday, Rappahannock Rapidan Health District Director Dr. Wade Kartchner shared similar concerns.
“It has been a difficult week for the health district. We have seen cases rising in the district overall. Our seven-day moving average of new cases is higher than we have seen so far in this pandemic,” he said.
While a majority of the local cases are due to an outbreak at a correctional facility and do not pose a direct risk to the community at large, he said the district is seeing increasing numbers outside that situation that is cause for concern.
As of Monday morning, Orange County reported 540 overall cases, 33 hospitalizations and its seventh death.
In the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District, there are 4,2376 cases, 225 hospitalizations and 59 deaths, as of Monday morning.
“Our people are tired. Our contact tracing and case investigation team members are working seven days a week. Our epidemiologists and emergency planning staff folks have been working nothing but COVID-19 since February, working around the clock to mitigate the spread of the disease,” Dr. Kartchner said. “It still consumes our lives and thoughts as public health professionals.”
He urged citizens across the district to “let the process work.”
When a case is identified, the most important thing to happen from a public health standpoint is to isolate that person from everyone else so that they no longer can transmit illness to anyone else, he explained.
“Our team will then work to identify those who are close contacts and appropriately recommend quarantine for those persons,” he said, noting that it doesn’t happen immediately.
“For most rapid tests, we get the result the next day from the test provider. This means that the infected person knows the result of their test much sooner than our team does. This goes on social media and people flood our team with demands to know why they haven’t been contacted yet,” he said.
Dr. Kartchner encouraged residents of the district to understand the process, exhibit common sense and isolate or quarantine themselves, pending health district officials beginning the tracing process.