Virginia governor slaps new restrictions on Hampton Roads after COVID-19 surge

Ralph Northam

By Bruce Potter/

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam praised the Northern Virginia region’s response to the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, while he slapped more restrictions on the Hampton Roads area due to a surge in cases there.

At the same time, Northam was highly critical of the federal government’s response to the crisis, especially its failure to develop a national testing plan, as many Northern Virginia residents report having to wait a week or more for test results. His comments came during a news conference in Richmond that followed a meeting earlier in the day with Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus response task force. It was only Northam’s second news conference since June 25, although he indicated he may resume more regular briefings.

Northam noted that in Northern Virginia, the number of cases has been reduced by more than two-thirds since the region hit its peak in late May. “It’s happened because people are doing the right thing and following the guidelines,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the Hampton Roads area, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, cases have been increasing over the past month and positivity rates for COVID-19 tests are over 10%, a level considered necessary to maintain control of the virus. Northam said the area is reporting significantly higher numbers of cases among people in their 20s and younger and cited increased socialization at events such as large birthday parties and backyard barbecues.

“We need to act to turn this around,” he added.

He announced increased restrictions on localities in the Hampton Roads area that will take effect at midnight Thursday:

No alcohol can be sold or consumed in restaurants after 10 p.m.
All restaurants must close by midnight.
The maximum capacity for indoor dining at restaurants, wineries, breweries and food courts will be reduced to 50%. Under Phase Three of the state’s reopening plan, which began July 1, those venues could operate at 100% capacity as long as social distancing guidelines were followed.
Public gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, including indoor and outdoor parties. The maximum size for public gatherings elsewhere in the state remains at 250 people under Phase Three.

“This effectively closes all bars,” Northam said. “You just don’t care about social distancing as much after you’ve had a couple of drinks.”

Northam said the restrictions will be in place for at least two to three weeks while his administration evaluates their effect on the region’s coronavirus numbers. He warned he would not hesitate to reinstate restrictions elsewhere in the state that experience similar surges.

“All options are on the table,” he added. For example, in response to a question, he noted he is watching the actions of other states that are requiring residents returning from hot spots elsewhere to quarantine for 14 days.