Recognizing an increase in COVID-19 cases in parts of the state, particularly in the Hampton Roads area, Gov. Ralph Northam is increasing enforcement of the state’s rules around the coronavirus.
As of July 14, Northern Virginia is seeing an average of 153 new cases of COVID-19 a day, down from a high of 685 new cases in late May. The eastern region of the state, which includes Hampton Roads, is averaging 347 new cases a day, the highest rate since the pandemic began in early March.
“If we don’t take this seriously now, we could see bigger increases across the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a news conference Tuesday. “It’s clear that step one is stronger enforcement of the existing regulations.”
Regional health districts have the authority to enforce face covering rules and physical distancing regulations in restaurants and places where people gather, Northam said.
State licensing agencies will be conducting unannounced visits to establishments, as needed, and the state health department is shifting an additional 100 staff members to its existing team of 500 inspectors.
“If you own a restaurant or business and you are not following the regulations, your license will be on the line and we will not hesitate to take action as needed,” Northam said.
The governor also called on businesses to lead in enforcing customer compliance.
“If a patron of your establishment is violating the rules, you have the ability to say ‘no,’” Northam said, then referencing signs often seen in store windows. “It should be no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.”
Among other regulations planned, state alcohol officials are drafting requirements for restaurants to stop selling alcohol earlier.
“This is not the end of the actions we may take, but the beginning,” Northam said. “These enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules.”
The state may also consider reducing allowed gatherings from 250 people to 50 people.
“This is about our health and our wellbeing,” Northam said. “It’s going to take all of us to move forward safely.”
If spikes in cases continue in parts of the state, the governor said he’ll look to limit more restrictions to areas with hotspots, rather than the broad statewide actions taken in the earlier months of the pandemic.