Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is lowering the cap on public gatherings and tightening other restrictions in response to the state's growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Northam announced Friday afternoon that both indoor and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people, down from a previous cap of 250 people that had been in effect statewide since July 1.
That reduction and the other changes will take effect at midnight on Sunday night, Nov. 15.
The governor also is prohibiting the on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is after 10 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. In addition, all such establishments must close by midnight.
Northam also is expanding the statewide mask mandate to include children between the ages of 5 and 9. Previously the mandate requiring masks to be worn indoors in public places applied to children ages 10 and up.
“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,” Northam said in a news release.
The number of cases statewide is up about 20% over the past week and nearly 33% in the past two weeks, and hospitalizations are also on the rise. Local and state government officials in Maryland and the District of Columbia have also tightened coronavirus restrictions in the past few days.
Northam noted that while the biggest surge in cases recently has been in Southwest Virginia, all regions of the state are seeing increases. Northern Virginia's current seven-day average of about 400 cases a day is the highest it has been since early June.
While Northam did not impose additional restrictions on retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, he noted that they 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 be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor, he said.
“Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives," he added. "I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work."
In a news conference Tuesday, Northam had said he didn't see a need to tighten restrictions and instead highlighted the state's increased testing capacity.