Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam won’t ease any restrictions prior to Labor Day, citing a likelihood of a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the long holiday weekend.
Speaking during a health briefing Tuesday, Northam said he recognizes the Labor Day weekend is important but plans no changes in restrictions imposed under his emergency declaration, with greater restrictions in place in eastern sections of the state after cases there spiked in July.
“I understand from a business perspective the importance of Labor Day, but we have come too far to go back. I would emphasize the spikes in cases we saw after Memorial Day and July 4. We know we have a lot of tourists that come into Virginia for the Labor Day weekend, so we’re being as cautious as we can,” he said. “If we can keep the numbers down in the communities, then it will allow our schools to reopen sooner, our colleges and universities and our businesses. That’s really the goal of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Statewide, case counts rose in July and declined in early August but are rising again, according to information provided by the Virginia Department of Health.
Virginia’s percentage of positive COVID-19 tests remained relatively flat since July but is also trending slightly upward, he said. Asked what metrics he would consider to further ease restrictions, Northam talked about testing positivity.
“Right now, our positivity rate was 7.4% and is hovering around seven. It has been over 20% and been down in the sixes,” Northam said. “This virus is still out there. It’s alive and well and very, very contagious. Regarding the commonwealth as a whole, I’m not prepared at this time to make any significant changes,” he said.
Northam stopped short of defining a specific metric such as case counts or positivity percentages that would prompt loosening restrictions, but spoke in generalities.
“In order to be where we need to be — a more comfortable place — people need to continue to be vigilant. I can’t say that enough. It’s in our hands, it really is,” Northam said. “We could get this under control very easily if we all did the right thing. All I’m asking of Virginians is to do the right thing.”
Northam also said he is concerned about increasing numbers of new cases in Southwest Virginia, including Roanoke and the New River Valley. He cited the seven-day moving average of about 220 new cases per day, which is up from about 80 per day in July and only slightly lower than more densely populated areas, including Northern Virginia. The region’s positivity percentage is above the state average at more than 9%, he said.
“This is especially concerning for a region where there are fewer hospitals, especially with critical care capability,” he said.
However, the number of cases remains lower in the Mountain Empire. A total 202 new cases were reported across the 10 counties and two cities of far Southwest Virginia during the past seven days, an average of 28.8 cases per day, state health department figures show.
Testing positivity rates were 4.5% in the Cumberland Plateau Health District and 7% in the LENOWISCO District but 11.3% in the Mount Rogers Health District. On Tuesday, Mount Rogers officials reported multiple outbreaks in churches and other faith-based settings, including one church with more than 40 cases.
“We value our faith communities and the support and encouragement they provide during these trying times,” Mount Rogers Director Dr. Karen Shelton said in a written statement. “We want these communities to continue to be able to provide these important services and implore both faith leaders and congregants to take steps to keep themselves and their communities safe.”
She urged that gatherings occur outside if possible, those involved maintain social distancing, wear face coverings, practice hand hygiene and not pass items between congregation members.
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