Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he will increase enforcement of coronavirus protocols, especially in the Hampton Roads area, which has seen a recent increase in COVID-19 cases mostly among young people.
“So I want to reassure Virginians we are not seeing spikes like Florida or Texas. Florida had more than 15K new cases in one day; we had fewer than 1,000,” Mr. Northam said at a press conference in Richmond.
“But we don’t live in a vacuum,” he added. “We border five other states and the District of Columbia. Hampton Roads is a big tourist hub for the East Coast. If we don’t take this seriously now, we could see bigger increases across our commonwealth. That’s why we are taking action today to head this off.”
Mr. Northam said since early June there has been a 250% increase in the number of 20- to 29-year-olds diagnosed with the coronavirus in Hampton Roads, the metropolitan region in Southeast that includes the coastal cities Norfolk, Newport News and Virginia Beach.
He said that, statewide, the number of cases has increased and the positivity rate of tests has risen from 5.9% to 6.8%.
There have been slight upticks in almost all regions of Virginia. In Southeast, the seven-day average of new cases was 60 a day in early June, but on Tuesday it was 346 a day, with a positivity rate of just over 10%, Mr. Northam said.
The Democratic governor said most Virginians have been complying with the coronavirus prevention guidelines, but he said the only way to end the public health crisis is for everybody to cooperate in practicing social distancing and wear masks.
“If everybody doesn’t cooperate, we are not going to get there, and if they don’t [cooperate] … there are going to be consequences,” Mr. Northam said.
Mr. Northam said he is directing teams consisting of members of health departments, Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and other licensing agencies to conduct unannounced visits to make sure people and businesses are in compliance.
The Virginia Department of Health is deploying an additional 100 agents to conduct visits all over the state with an extra focus in Hampton Roads.
Businesses can lose their licenses and permits if they are egregiously violating the guidelines, Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said at the press conferences.
Mr. Northam encouraged businesses to enforce the face mask requirement, and said it’s just like the signs that read, “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” but now it’s “no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.”
He also said he is considering reducing the size of gatherings, which is limited to 250 people in phase 3.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan sent a letter to county leaders Tuesday expressing concern about increasing infection rates among young people, adding that the positivity rate of Marylanders under the age of 35 is now 84% higher than those over 35.
“An increasing number of COVID-19 cases have been connected to non-compliance with public health requirements, particularly in bars and restaurants,” the Republican governor wrote. “Businesses that fail to comply with the state’s orders put their customers and employees at grave risk, and jeopardize our safe, effective, and gradual recovery.”
Mr. Hogan said at least 12 other states have had to close bars and restaurants again, adding that he doesn’t want to be forced to take the same action in Maryland.
Meanwhile, the District recorded its fifth consecutive day without a coronavirus-related death.