With COVID-19 cases rising, Northam adds new rules statewide

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday announced substantial new statewide restrictions on gatherings and certain businesses in an effort to slow rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The governor’s office said in a news release that the state’s gathering ban will be reduced from 250 to 25, the state’s mask requirement will be applied to younger children, and alcohol sales will be prohibited at dining establishments after 10 p.m. Those and other new restrictions will take effect Sunday at midnight.

“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 statement.

The gathering ban will apply to events such as weddings, but won’t impact schools or restaurants. Restaurants were already subject to capacity limits due to rules requiring that patrons remain socially distanced.

The new rules will also strengthen the state’s ability to enforce compliance with measures such as mask-wearing and distancing in grocery stores, big-box retailers and other businesses deemed “essential.” Previously, those types of businesses were exempt from health department enforcement.

The mask requirement, which previously applied only to children ages 10 and up, now applies to children 5 and older, the news release said.

The changes come as the disease caused by the coronavirus is surging across the U.S. at what experts say is an alarming pace. Newly confirmed infections per day in the U.S. are shattering records at nearly every turn, hitting more than 153,000 on Thursday and pushing the running total in the U.S. to about 10.5 million, with about a quarter-million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Some school districts around the country are moving to halt in-person instruction, and other governors have tightened restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

Collectively, Virginia is faring better than many other states. There were 233 new cases per 100,000 people in Virginia over the past two weeks, which ranks 43rd in the country for new cases per capita, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project.

But over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by just over 392, an increase of 34%, according to AP’s analysis. One in every 787 people in Virginia tested positive in the past week.

Case counts have been increasing with particular intensity in southwest Virginia, where cases were sparse early in the pandemic.

Northam ordered most non-essential businesses to close and issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March, instructing residents to stay home except under limited circumstances such as going to work, seeking medical attention or buying food and other necessities. The Democratic governor began lifting statewide restrictions in May, using a multiphase approach and allowing some localities with higher numbers of COVID-19 cases to keep restrictions in place longer.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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