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Virginia announces new COVID-19 restrictions

As the United States sees record levels of coronavirus cases, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued new statewide measures to further mitigate the spread of the virus, including limiting gatherings to 25 people, expanding the state mask mandate to include younger children, enforcement of face covering violations and an alcohol curfew.

According to a press release issued by the office of Gov. Northam Friday, Nov. 13, while Virginia’s COVID-19 case count per capita and positivity rates remain low compared to other states, all five of the commonwealth’s health regions are experiencing increases in cases of the novel coronavirus and hospitalizations associated with the virus.

“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,” Northam said Friday. “We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse. Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”

According to the release, in an effort to mitigate further spread of the virus, the following measures will took effect at midnight Sunday, Nov. 15:

Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.

Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians ages 5 and above are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 that requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.

Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a class one misdemeanor.

On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart.

According to Friday’s release, all five of the commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate of more than 5%, and though hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35% the last four weeks.

Under the new restrictions, the total number of spectators of a sporting event, indoor or outdoor, cannot exceed 30% or less of the occupancy load of the certificate of occupancy for the venue, if applicable, or 25 spectators per field.

It is noted in reference to the restrictions that the presence of more than 25 individuals performing functions of their employment or assembled in an educational instructional setting is not considered a “gathering” and therefore is not applicable to the new guidelines.

Individuals may attend religious services of 25 or more people provided that persons remain six feet apart when seated and practice proper physical distancing at all times, though family members may be seated together. Religious gatherings must include mark seating and common areas where attendees can congregate in six-foot increments, any items used to distribute food or beverages must be disposable, used only once and discarded, routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently-contacted surfaces must be conducted prior to and following any services, and signage must be posted at the entrance to provide health reminders regarding distancing, gatherings, options for high risk individuals and staying home if sick.

Individuals attending religious services must wear cloth face coverings. If services cannot be conducted in compliance with these requirements, they must not be held in-person.

Gyms and fitness centers cannot exceed 75% of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy. Additionally, the total number of attendees (including both participants and instructors) in all group exercise and fitness classes cannot exceed 75% of the minimum occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy or 25 persons.