For a while, and in retrospect probably too long, Gov. Ralph Northam tried to give Virginians a chance to step up and take the steps to fight the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic by wearing masks, maintain social distancing and act like adults.
In Southwest Virginia, such expectations were widely ignored, so reductions in crowd sizes are back into place now throughout the Old Dominion, capacity limits are reduced, masks are now required for younger residents and restoration of high school sports are in jeopardy.
“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” the governor said.“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.”
- Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
- Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
- Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: 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.
- On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 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 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.
Virginia is average 1,500 cases of COVID -19 a day, up from a previous peak of 1,200. The largest spike has been in Southwest Virginia. Cases in the Old Dominion topped 200,000 a couple of days ago and reached 201,960 in Sunday’s report by the Virginia Department of Health along with 3,800 deaths.
Floyd County saw four more cases in today’s report, bringing the total to 283. That’s also three times the total just three months ago.
“They are rising right now because people are gathering, and they’re not wearing masks,” Northam said a week ago. “If you look at where they are not wearing masks, you see the increased numbers.”
“Every time I see someone not wearing a mask, it’s hard because I know that person is making a choice to take a risk for other people. One of the messages that sometimes gets forgotten is the purpose of wearing a mask is to protect the people around you,” said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, during her weekly news briefing last Tuesday.
Dr. Morrow is no urging localities to continue the ban on high school athletics. Private schools in Roanoke have already done so. So have Richmond public schools. Nationwide, the Ivy League college football conference has suspended winter sports and the ban may continue for the rest of the academic year.
“The entire country is out of control,” Dr. Dara Kass, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York who treated numerous Covid-19 patients this spring and had the virus herself, tells The New York Times. “When you see the Dakotas and Montana and Oklahoma and Utah and Iowa and Texas — all these states — overrun with cases, it’s jarring to know that no matter what we do here, it’s going to depend on the action or inaction of leadership and people everywhere else.”
With Thanksgiving coming week after next, the health experts worry that increased family gatherings will bring more increases, more hospitaizations and more deaths.
There is no genetic immunity that prevents you from giving this virus to your mother or your grandfather or any other loved ones in the house. I’m not saying don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. But if you are planning to gather with people outside of your household, think about ways to do it more safely.
Doctors and health leaders around the nation are using social media to try and urge people to take the precautions that are necessary to help bring this life-threatening pandemic under control.
“This means that individual citizens and families must take matters into our own hands. Strict adherence to social distancing is essential,” Dr. Dan Johnson, a Nebraska Medicine anesthesiologist writes on Facebook. “If things get completely out of control, every family in Nebraska will be affected either by a death or by serious illness.”
On Twitter, Dr. Angela Hewlett, an epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, specifically called on the governor to increase “directed health measures,” noting that the number of hospitalizations in the state was “skyrocketing.”
“Our community and our hospitals are suffering,” she said. “We are not an unlimited resource.”
The advice that should be followed is “be safe.” We should also be smart, a trait that is sadly missing right now.