After seeing crowds fill Virginia beaches over the warm spring weekend, Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday issued a new executive order that reinforces the call for residents to remain at home, but also closes beaches, campgrounds and university classrooms.
“Our message today is clear: To stay home,” Northam said to kick off his thrice-weekly COVID-19 public briefing. “… It is clear that more people need to hear this basic message—stay at home,” he said.
“Our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are putting their lives and health at risk every day, working to help people who are sick with this virus. I am so very grateful to all of you,” Northam said. “But this weekend, some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed. Everyone who is gathering in a crowd at any place around the state is putting themselves and others at risk.”
The order will remain in place until June 10.
Northam said Virginians should remain at their homes unless it was necessary to get groceries, medical care or go to work. However, under two COVID-19 related executive orders enacted so far there is no penalty for making unnecessary trips. Also, restaurants providing carry-out service and retailers limiting access to up to 10 people may remain open.
Only gatherings of 10 or more people are subject to criminal penalty, a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Under the order, residents are urged to remain at home, unless pursuing nine categories of activities:
• Obtaining food, beverages, goods, or services as permitted in Executive Order 53;
• Seeking medical attention, essential social services, governmental services, assistance from law enforcement, or emergency services;
• Taking care of other individuals, animals, or visiting the home of a family member;
• Traveling required by court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care;
• Engaging in outdoor activity, including exercise, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements;
• Traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work;
• Traveling to and from an educational institution;
• Volunteering with organizations that provide charitable or social services; and
• Leaving one’s residence due to a reasonable fear for health or safety, at the direction of law enforcement, or at the direction of another government agency.
The new order came the same day that the number of confirmed cases in Virginia surpasses 1,000. Northam pointed out that between the time between contact and showing symptoms, and the further turnaround time for COVID-19 tests, those numbers lag.
“We know that number unfortunately will continue to rise,” Northam said. “What we’re seeing now is the result of how people interacted two or three weeks ago.”
Northam said state leaders are working with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify sites to erect temporary hospitals. The commonwealth has 18,500 medical beds, including 2,000 intensive care unit beds. Pandemic modeling being conducted by FEMA and panels of state experts indicate that more beds will be needed in the coming weeks, although there isn’t yet agreement on what the full impact of the outbreak will look like.
These orders, he said, are meant to help prevent a surge of hospitalizations overwhelming health care systems. Simultaneously, hospitals and governments are seeking ways and funding to expand the number of hospital beds available. On Friday Virginia was approved for federal funding for the National Guard response to the pandemic, and is seeking further federal funding for unemployment support, legal services, food assistance, and transitional shelter assistance, Northam said.
“This is an unprecedented and difficult time, and it will be hard for people, I understand that,” Northam said. “But I have faith in you as Virginians. We need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly, and we will get through this together.’