Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday a midnight-to-5 a.m. stay-at-home order and stricter mask-wearing rules to address a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the state, as jurisdictions in Maryland impose equally stringent measures.
Starting Monday, Virginians will be “asked to stay at home” from midnight through 5 a.m. unless they are commuting to or from work, and masks must be worn indoors and outdoors in public settings where social distancing is not possible, Mr. Northam said during a press conference.
“It’s … a reminder that you should stay home while you can the rest of the day,” the Democrat said. “If you don’t need to go out, go home. This is just plain common sense.”
Virginia’s new COVID-19 rules, which will be in effect through Jan. 31, mirror some of the stricter tactics recently adopted by jurisdictions in neighboring Maryland, which also is experiencing a rapid increase in infections.
Baltimore will shut down all indoor and outdoor dining Friday, and Anne Arundel County will do the same, beginning Wednesday. Prince George’s County is banning indoor dining and limiting outdoor dining to 25% capacity, starting Wednesday. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is calling for closing indoor dining and limiting public gatherings to 10 people.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Thursday that such decisions by county and city leaders don’t “compute with [most] of the advice that we have gotten.”
“I don’t know where that decision came from because in all of our hundreds of discussions with all of the top public health doctors, epidemiologists and experts, they told us from the very beginning that outdoor dining is safe — that outdoors is better than indoors,” the governor said at a press briefing.
Public health officials had warned about a surge in COVID-19 cases this winter as colder weather drives people indoors and in close quarters for holiday celebrations and as the public wearies of protocols and protections intended to stem the spread of the disease.
In announcing the midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew and stricter mask-wearing rules, Virginia’s governor urged continued vigilance while adding that enforcement of virus restrictions “will also be stepped up.”
Asked what measures will be taken, Mr. Northam said that “it will be similar to what we’ve been doing” but he has asked state officials to “increase” enforcement.
State officials reportedly have sent out 181 enforcement letters for violations. The penalty can result in a Class I misdemeanor charge that can carry a 12-month jail sentence and fine of up to $2,500.
“We receive the most complaints about people not wearing masks in businesses — mostly restaurants, brick-and-mortar facilities, the grocery store and convenience stores,” the governor said.
Exceptions for the curfew include people commuting to or from work, picking up food or goods, and in need of medical assistance.
Mr. Northam also said social gatherings will be limited to 10 people, down from 25. Recreational sports will be limited to 25 spectators per field for indoor sports and two guests per player for outdoor sports.
“The virus, we know, spreads when people are around each other in groups. When groups are smaller, it spreads less,” he said. “That’s one more reason why it’s important to stay home.”
In addition, the mask mandate will be expanded to include indoor public places “shared by others,” as well as outdoor public places when unable to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from non-family members, according to the order.
“If the virus starts to come under control, we may be able to loosen up, but if not, we may have to take further action,” said Mr. Northam, who last month tightened rules on masks, alcohol sales and closing times at restaurants and bars, and limited capacity for gatherings.
Virginia health officials reported Thursday that more than 2,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of more than 80% in the past four weeks.
Moreover, 3,915 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed, bringing the total to 271,043, and 51 more deaths raised the toll to 4,335.
On Wednesday, the state recorded 4,398 new cases, the largest number since the pandemic began.
Mr. Hogan noted that Maryland recently invested $50 million for counties “to help keep restaurants afloat, and keep restaurant employees working by providing money for heaters, and tents and filtration systems and things to keep people safe dining outdoors.”
He said indoor dining “is an issue if there are people crowded into bars and restaurants and not wearing masks” and that the state “took actions” to address that.
Under Mr. Hogan’s orders, customers must wear masks when not eating or drinking in restaurants and bars, which are limited to 50% capacity indoors and must close indoor dining from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily.
Contact tracing data shows that indoor dining is the fifth most common link to infections, he said.
“It is a death sentence for a number of these small businesses, so we will take those actions only when we really absolutely deem them to be essential to saving lives and stopping the hospitals from overflowing,” the governor said.
Mr. Hogan was asked about some jurisdictions’ recent decision to restrict capacity at various places to 25%, down from the statewide limit of 50%.
“I respect their right to be able to do that, but we’re not going to be dictated to what we should do based on what one or two other people have decided to do,” he said.
He later equated the local officials’ restrictions to “a few actions” by the federal government but “mostly [leaving] it up to the governors to make our own decisions.”
Mr. Hogan most recently announced new restrictions last month, which included reduced operating hours and capacity at restaurants and bars, as well as reduced capacity at gyms and retail, religious and other establishments.
“We believe at this point we’re taking the right steps at the right time,” he said. “I imagine we will have further things to talk about next week sometime.”
Maryland health officials on Thursday reported that 1,720 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number since the pandemic began.
Moreover, 3,202 new cases were confirmed, raising the total to 225,855, and 49 additional deaths brought the total to 4,850.
Mr. Hogan said he is set to discuss regional approaches to the pandemic with Mr. Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday.